"If I had known then what I know now," Judge Richard Goldstone wrote on Friday in The Washington Post. "The Goldstone Report would have been a different document."
"While the investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report have established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers, they also indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy," Goldstone wrote
The comment marks the recanting by Goldstone, who chaired the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, of charges that Israel deliberately targeted civilians during Operation Cast Lead. The operation, which commenced on 27 December 2008 and concluded on 18 January 2009, was aimed at stopping terrorist rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli civilians in southern Israel. Most military observers regard the operation as having had only limited, short-term success.
"Our mission was in no way a judicial or even quasi-judicial proceeding," Goldstone continued, noting a common misconception about his eponymous report. "We did not investigate criminal conduct on the part of any individual in Israel, Gaza or the West Bank. We made our recommendations based on the record before us, which unfortunately did not include any evidence provided by the Israeli government. Indeed, our main recommendation was for each party to investigate, transparently and in good faith, the incidents referred to in our report. McGowan Davis has found that Israel has done this to a significant degree; Hamas has done nothing."
"Simply put," Goldstone concluded, admitting the egregious error of assuming Hamas would follow the report's recommendations, "The laws of armed conflict apply no less to non-state actors such as Hamas than they do to national armies. Ensuring that non-state actors respect these principles, and are investigated when they fail to do so, is one of the most significant challenges facing the law of armed conflict. Only if all parties to armed conflicts are held to these standards will we be able to protect civilians who, through no choice of their own, are caught up in war."
Goldstone insisted the purpose of his report was “never to prove a foregone conclusion against Israel,” and that he was the one who had insisted on changing the original mandate adopted by the Human Rights Council, “which was skewed against Israel.”
He maintained that Israel, like any other sovereign nation, “has the right and obligation” to defend itself and its citizens against attacks from abroad and within. “Something that has not been recognized often enough is the fact that our report marked the first time illegal acts of terrorism from Hamas were being investigated and condemned by the United Nations,” he wrote.
He added that he had hoped the inquiry would have begun “a new era of even-handedness at the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose history of bias against Israel cannot be doubted.”
Goldstone went on to note that his report recommended that each party investigate the incidents that were raised. Israel did so; Hamas did not.
“At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case... That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality... In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise,” he admitted.
“So, too, the Human Rights Council should condemn the inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called on the United Nations to cancel the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead following an op-ed piece written by the author of the report, retired South African Judge Richard Goldstone.
“Everything we said was proven to be true,” said Netanyahu. “Israel did not willfully harm civilians. Israel's investigating institutions are trustworthy, while Hamas investigated nothing.
“The fact that Goldstone withdrew his conclusions must lead to the cancellation of the report once and for all. We expect this farce to be rectified immediately."
Defense Minister Ehud Barak added that in order to repair the damage done by the report, the judge should present his current conclusions to all the international bodies to whom he presented the original report – and not merely give his opinion in an op-ed piece.
The IDF is “a moral army that operated according to international law,” Barak said.