Foreign Policy Blogs

Goldstone vs. His Co-Authors

I stand with the FPA Israel blog’s Zev Wexler, The New York Times’ Roger Cohen, and the three Goldstone Report co-authors who are not Richard Goldstone in thinking that Goldstone’s recent recantation is “bizarre,” as Cohen put it.  Goldstone asserts that Israeli military investigations “indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” during Operation Cast Lead.  But, as Goldstone’s co-authors note, these investigations “are operational, not legal, inquiries and are conducted by personnel from the same command structure as those under investigation.”  And, as the Goldstone co-authors and Roger Cohen note, the Mary McGowan Davis UN report that seems to have prompted Goldstone’s recantation specifically states that there is “no indication that Israel has opened investigations into the actions of those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw Operation Cast Lead.”  It seems strange, then, that Goldstone feels confident about the nature of Israeli policy when no investigation into the matter has been conducted.

Also, since the recent flurry of op-eds has produced another round of the debate about the merits of the Goldstone Report and the appropriateness of Israeli military conduct, I’ll engage as well.  Contrary to the assertion of the FPA Israel’s Ben Moscovitch, the authors of the Goldstone Report did not simply assume “that civilians died, therefore the only logical conclusion is that Israel acted inappropriate.”  The Goldstone Report considered many other factors.  The report considered instructions given to IDF soldiers, and specifically, two policies that seemingly lead IDF soldiers to kill civilians.  The first policy, as one solider quoted in the report put it, was “if we see something suspect and shoot, better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy.”  (p. 228)  The second policy, to again quote one of the soliders, was “setting red lines.  It means that whoever crosses this limit is shot, no questions asked… Shoot to kill.” (p. 229)  The report also quotes Israeli Major General Gadi Eisenkot on the Dahiya doctrine, of which he said “[w]e will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great destruction there.  From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases… This is not a recommendation.  This is an plan.  And it has been approved.” (p. 329)

The report also considered the statements of Israeli leaders.  As the report notes, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai stated of Hamas during Operation Cast Lead, “they should be razed to the ground, so thousands of houses, tunnels, and industries will be demolished.” (p. 332)  The report includes another quote attributed to Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, who said, “[w]e are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings… We are hitting government buildings, production factories, security wings and more.” (p. 334)  These statements, as well as others included in the report, suggest that Israeli policy was to target Hamas’ “supporting infrastructure,” which would qualify as civilian targets under international law.

Additionally, the Goldstone Report authors are not actually guilty of “forgoing any investigation into Hamas’s conduct,” as the National Review claims.  As I wrote last year (here and here), the report spends considerable time discussing and condemning the crimes committed by the Gaza authorities.

But the great question underling all of this (and the other main point of Goldstone’s op-ed) is: did Israel benefit from refusing to cooperate with the fact-finding mission when it was drafting the report?  If Israel had participated, would the result not have been as damning?  Would the Goldstone Report not have made its way to the top-three list of Israel’s greatest strategic challenges?  As The International Jurist notes, at least one Israeli has written recently that Israel had more to gain from cooperating.  Perhaps this view will take hold.