Former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dore Gold debated retired South African Judge Richard Goldstone at Brandeis University on Thursday night. Minutes before the debate began, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an Arab-backed resolution backing the Goldstone report by a lopsided 114-18 margin, with 44 abstentions.
Goldstone authored the recent United Nations Human Rights Commission’s investigative report that charged Israel with war crimes in the three-week Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign that concluded last January.
The judge said in his opening speech that it was a given that Israel had the right to defend itself, that "Israel was fully justified in using military force," but that his committee had been "concerned about the manner in which the military force was used, and whether it was consistent with international law."
He prefaced his remarks by noting that Israel is a democracy and that its citizens are committed to preserving human rights, adding that ”sadly, the same cannot be said of Gaza.”
Although the report is likely to be used as evidence against Israel in any war crimes trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Goldstone said "We did not apply a criminal law standard of 'guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.' The findings that we made for the purpose of any future proceedings would have to be investigated afresh -- this is why we called for independent investigations in both Israel and Gaza."
The South African judge said from the outset that he refused to accept the original Human Rights Commission mandate, which he said was one-sided against
Goldstone claimed that 25,000 to 40,000 homes were partially to completely destroyed during Operation Cast Lead, and more than 200 factories were put out of action. The region's only flour-producing factory was put out of action, he said, and most egg factories were disabled as well. Water supplies, water treatment plants and sanitation plants were bombed, he claimed, adding that agricultural farms were bulldozed, "many, many square miles."
Goldstone also stated that unemployment in Gaza currently stands at more than 60 percent, and that 90 percent of the people in Gaza live on less than one dollar per day.
In justifying the accusations against Israel listed in his report, Goldstone said, "We relied primarily on what we were told, what we heard with out own ears, and what we saw with our own eyes." Moreover, he lamented, "If you regard people as equal human beings, you don't treat them that way. You don't fire rockets at them, and you don't bulldoze their land."
The United States has criticized the report as being biased, and most Israeli leaders from across the entire political spectrum have rejected the accusations.
The debate is the first time Goldstone has confronted a senior Israeli figure. Dore Gold is the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Goldstone began the debate and Gold is responding to him, followed by questions from the audience.
The debate is a program of the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University.