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Op-Ed: Gazans Learn From Goldstone Report

Interview with Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor Legal Advisor: "If one accepts the Goldstone report, terrorists in future asymmetric conflicts can learn from it that it is worthwhile to deliberately operate in areas where civilian harm is greatest."
Published: Monday, June 02, 2014 5:38 AM


After Israel’s Cast Lead campaign in 2008, the United Nations Human Rights Council assigned a highly biased mandate to a commission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone.

It read: ‘to dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission, to be appointed by the President of the Council, to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law by the occupying Power, Israel, against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression, and calls upon Israel not to obstruct the process of investigation and to fully cooperate with the mission.’

“This mandate thus called for an exclusive investigation of Israel. In addition, it included several statements that pre-judged the investigations such as claiming that Israel had indeed committed violations of human rights and humanitarian law, that Israel was an ‘occupying power’ and that it had engaged in ‘aggression.’ This manifest prejudice is why earlier former United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson refused to head up the Commission.”

Anne Herzberg is Legal Advisor for NGO Monitor. Prior to moving to Israel, she was a litigator in New York. Together with Prof. Gerald Steinberg, she edited a book titled, The Goldstone Report “Reconsidered.”A Critical Analysis.   


...the report was clearly crafted as an indictment of Israel with every source used to bolster its conclusions of Israeli guilt and to paint Israel in the worst light possible.
"Prior to their appointment, each of the mission members had made prejudicial statements against Israel regarding its conduct during the war. Three of them – Goldstone, Hina Jilani, and Desmond Travers – signed a widely publicized March 2009 letter initiated by Amnesty International, accusing Israel of ‘gross violations of the laws of war.’ It also stated that ‘events in Gaza have shocked us to the core.’

"The fourth member, Christine Chinkin, signed a letter published in the Sunday Times of London on January 11, 2009, declaring Israel’s actions to be a ‘war crime’ and denying that the operation was a legal form of self-defense.

“The Goldstone mission was flawed from the very beginning in almost every respect. This included the biased mandate, the selection of the mission members and proceeding from an assumption of Israeli guilt. There was also a lack of transparency in its investigatory process and heavy reliance on and secret involvement of political advocacy by NGOs such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.

"Furthermore, there were conflicts of interest between mission members and these NGO’s, there was failure in seeking out a wide range of source material and the public hearings in Gaza which were more akin to a show trial. There were also secret hearings in Geneva and many more legal defects.

"At no point did the Goldstone Commission meet international standards for fact-finding such as those enacted by the International Bar Association

“There were also many flaws in the report. Rather than a genuine fact-finding investigation aimed at promoting greater understanding of an event, the report was clearly crafted as an indictment of Israel with every source used to bolster its conclusions of Israeli guilt and to paint Israel in the worst light possible.  

“Goldstone falsely claimed that he was going to investigate all sides in the conflict. Yet all 36 incidents upon which the report is based, focused on Israeli actions and none on Hamas. To create a façade of balance, the authors of the report included a few paragraphs mentioning rockets by Hamas and the treatment of Gilad Shalit. They were not investigated in any detail by the mission and constitute a minute percentage of the 450-page report.

"Other major problems which have been highlighted by many legal experts, even ones highly critical of Israel, include reliance on invented legal standards. As legal expert Yuval Shany from Hebrew University stated, the report ‘sets a standard that no one applies and no one can meet.’ 

“The report even condemned Israel for employing methods intended to limit civilian harm such as providing Palestinians with warnings in leaflets and SMS messages of impending attacks. The report almost exclusively relies upon unverified  -- and in some cases fabricated -- claims by NGOs. Wherever exculpatory evidence was available, the report discounted or twisted it to fit its predetermined narrative.

“The central malicious claim of the report is that Israel deliberately targeted civilians to ‘punish’ Gazans.  The report refuses to accept that Hamas used human shields by embedding in civilian areas in Gaza. Not only does the report fail to condemn Hamas, it actually accuses Israel of using human shields.

“If one accepts the Goldstone report, terrorists in future asymmetric conflicts can learn from it that it is worthwhile to deliberately operate in areas where civilian harm is greatest. Damage to international humanitarian law is of lesser concern, as almost all credible legal experts in the field have rejected the report’s terribly flawed legal analysis.

“In April 2011, Goldstone admitted in a Washington Post article that the central premise of the report, that Israel deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians, was wrong. He falsely claimed however, that his commission had reached erroneous conclusions based on evidence it had at the time.

"The truth is that it willfully ignored evidence which was already right in front of them.”