Beersheba, Israel — Operation Pillar of Defense was the military offensive fought in the shadow of the Goldstone Report. As a cease-fire was announced November 21 by Israel, Hamas, Egypt and the United States, there was broad agreement, spanning from former army chiefs to the biggest critics of Israel’s conduct during the Gaza War of 2008–9, that Israel showed it had learned some important lessons from this previous conflict.
In particular, there was a common view that the military had acted on some of the criticisms in the United Nations investigation into Operation Cast Lead of 2008–9, known as the Goldstone Report — notwithstanding Israel’s dismissal of the report’s validity in September 2009, when it was released. This time, medical and humanitarian supplies flowed more freely, journalists were allowed into Gaza, and more sophisticated weaponry reduced civilian deaths.
“I think that Israel learned from her mistakes, no doubt about it,” said Bassem Eid, founder and director of the East Jerusalem-based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group.
Cast Lead and Pillar of Defense had sharply contrasting Palestinian death tolls — and not only because Cast Lead lasted far longer and involved a ground invasion that Pillar of Defense didn’t.
Pillar of Defense involved some tragic civilian deaths on both sides. But numbers-wise the first day of Cast Lead alone, Israel killed 230 Palestinians, almost double the number killed from the start of Pillar of Defense up to the cease fire negotiations. By the end of Cast Lead, about 1,400 Palestinians were dead.
Sarit Michaeli, spokeswoman for the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, told the Forward that in the recent conflict, she observed “a different approach in terms of choice of targets, choice of weapons and the open-fire regulations, which was reflected in a lower death toll than in Cast Lead.”
She said that Israel had tried harder to restrict its fire to military targets, had been slower to fire and had refrained from using controversial weapons such as white phosphorous. Michaeli was speaking as fighting was drawing to a close, and she stressed that her assessment was preliminary. She also stressed that B’Tselem still objects to the Israeli military’s view that Hamas alone bears responsibility for the death of Gazan civilians because it operates from among them.