The 575-page report presented last September to the U.N. Human Rights Council is now so famous that it is routinely referred to by one word: Goldstone. As in, Richard Goldstone, the South African jurist who headed the four-person mission that concluded there was strong evidence that Israel violated international law and may have committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
The report, and Goldstone’s subsequent statements to this newspaper — in which he sought to both justify his problematic work and distance himself from its consequences — did a terrible injustice to Israel. The report’s myopic analysis irresponsibly ignored the complicated reality faced by the Israel Defense Forces in fighting Hamas terrorists, who at times appeared to display as little regard for their own civilians as they did toward the citizens of Sderot whom they shelled continuously for years. And by raising the specter of war crimes, the Goldstone Report antagonized an already isolated Israeli public and risked poisoning the atmosphere for a true and necessary accounting of Israel’s role in Gaza’s suffering.
Yet in its own, painful way, the Goldstone Report has been a revealing exercise. It revealed that the Israeli military has made a genuine attempt to investigate many of the charges contained in the report, and done so with welcome transparency — posting its latest response in English online, for instance. Nineteen incidents involving shootings of civilians during Operation Cast Lead have been turned into criminal cases, and two senior IDF officers have been disciplined.
Even more surprising, the IDF reached out to several human rights groups for help in conducting its investigation, including B’Tselem, Adalah, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and, most notably, Human Rights Watch, the NGO that some Jews love to hate. As our Gal Beckerman has reported, this outreach marks a new, serious tone on the part of Israeli investigators, and stands in marked contrast to the vitriol aimed at these groups by some politicians and activists. If the IDF can talk to human rights workers, shouldn’t those who say they wish the best for Israel take note?
But the real contrast is with Hamas. A summary of its 52-page response to Goldstone was made public only in Arabic, full of bluster and dissembling. Hamas only refuted one of Goldstone’s findings, contending that the missiles launched against southern Israel were aimed at military targets, not civilians — a statement so utterly ridiculous that it discredits everything else Hamas says.
Of course, Hamas is hardly the standard by which Israel should be judged. Unanswered, still, is whether Israel will conduct an independent, nonmilitary inquiry into Operation Cast Lead, as it should. There is a particular need to examine allegations that the IDF unlawfully utilized white phosphorus, as well as other instances involving deaths of civilians.
Even such an inquiry won’t erase the stain of the Goldstone Report, but it will show that Israel can continue to rise above it.