The U.S. House of Representatives will vote on Tuesday on a resolution calling on President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the ‘Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’ in multilateral fora.”
Headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, a former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the U.N. report found that evidence indicates both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during Israel’s 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip, dubbed “Operation Cast Lead”, which began on December 27, 2008.
The report recommended that allegations of war crimes by both parties be investigated.
The current text of the proposed Congressional resolution, H. Res. 867, contains numerous factual inaccuracies, beginning with the assertion that the U.N. inquiry had “pre-judged” its findings and was “one-sidedly” mandated to “investigate all violations of international human rights law and International Humanitarian Law by … Israel, against the Palestinian people … particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, due to the current aggression”.
The actual mandate adopted on April 3 was “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”
The quoted text is not from the April 3 mandate, but from U.N. General Assembly resolution S-9/1 on January 12, 2009, which resulted in the later appointment of the mission by the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Also, omitted in the draft resolution’s reproduction of the text are the words “occupying Power” before “Israel”. Under international law, the occupying power is in fact obligated to investigate allegations of war crimes and violations of human rights.
The draft U.S. resolution states that the Goldstone report “makes no mention of the relentless rocket and mortar attacks, which numbered in the thousands and spanned a period of eight years, by Hamas and other violent militant groups in Gaza against civilian targets in Israel, that necessitated Israel’s defensive measures”.
But this criticism itself ignores the fact that even if Israel’s military operations were justifiable as “defensive measures”, Israel would still be legally obligated to conduct its operations in accordance with international law, and to conduct investigations into alleged war crimes conducted by its own forces.
The draft resolution also makes no mention of the relentless siege of Gaza by Israel, or the fact that Hamas had been strictly observing a cease-fire agreed to in June, only firing rockets after Israel had first violated that truce with repeated attacks against Gazans, a continuation of the crippling siege, and an airstrike and invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces on November 4 that ultimately resulted in the complete breakdown of the truce.
It also makes no mention of the fact that the Goldstone report contains a section dedicated to examining the impact of rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian militants on southern Israel, or that mission’s efforts to do so were impeded by Israel’s refusal to cooperate.
The draft resolution states that the U.N. mission “included a member who, before joining the mission, had already declared Israel guilty of committing atrocities in Operation Cast Lead by signing a public letter on January 11, 2009, published in the Sunday Times, that called Israel’s actions ‘war crimes’”.
That letter to the Sunday Times also stated, “We condemn the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel and suicide bombings which are also contrary to international humanitarian law and are war crimes.”
But criticism of the Goldstone report on the similar basis that one of its members had beforehand declared Hamas guilty of war crimes is lacking in the draft resolution.
It calls the Goldstone report’s findings “that the Israeli military had deliberately attacked civilians during Operation Cast Lead” “unsubstantiated”. In fact, the 575 page report provides extensive documentation for its findings.
The draft resolution states that “the authors of the report, in the body of the report itself, admit that ‘we did not deal with the issues … regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas and second-guessing decisions made by soldiers and their commanding officers ‘ in the fog of war.’”
This is an outright fabrication. Those words do not in fact appear in the body of the actual report.
Those words actually come from an alleged e-mail from Richard Goldstone in which he explained why the U.N. report did not rely on a Colonel Kemp for its inquiry. The full text of the statement from that e-mail, replacing the part omitted in the draft resolution, reads “we did not deal with the issues he raised regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas…” (emphasis added).
The draft resolution states that Richard Goldstone had been quoted in the October 16 edition of the Jewish daily Forward as saying, “If this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven”.
But omitted is the further context of that remark in the same article, which added, “He recalled his work as chief prosecutor for the international war crimes tribunal in Yugoslavia in 1994. When he began working, Goldstone was presented with a report commissioned by the U.N. Security Council based on what he said was a fact-finding mission similar to his own in Gaza.
“’We couldn’t use that report as evidence at all,’ Goldstone said. ‘But it was a useful roadmap for our investigators, for me as chief prosecutor, to decide where we should investigate. And that’s the purpose of this sort of report.”
The draft resolution asserts that the Goldstone report “in effect, denied the State of Israel the right to self-defense”, but offers no supporting evidence for this.
The Goldstone report found that “While the Israeli Government has sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of its right to self-defence, the Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.”
The draft resolution states that “the report usually considered public statements made by Israeli officials not to be credible, while frequently giving uncritical credence to statements taken from what it called the ‘Gaza authorities’, i.e. the Gaza leadership of Hamas”, but offers no examples from the report.
The report does, in fact, question the credibility of Israeli officials. It notes in one instance that “it considers the credibility of Israel’s position damaged by the series of inconsistencies, contradictions and factual inaccuracies in the statements justifying the attack.”
In another example illustrating Israel’s lack of credibility, it “acknowledges that significant efforts [were] made by Israel to issue warnings”, but that “The credibility of instructions to move to city centres for safety was also diminished by the fact that the city centres themselves had been the subject of intense attacks”.
The Goldstone report also observed, “By refusing to cooperate with the Mission, the Government of Israel prevented it from meeting Israeli Government officials, but also from travelling to Israel to meet Israeli victims and to the West Bank to meet Palestinian Authority representatives and Palestinian victims.”
The U.N. report also noted that “In establishing its findings, the Mission sought to rely primarily and whenever possible on information it gathered first-hand. Information produced by others, including reports, affidavits and media reports, was used primarily as corroboration.”
The draft resolution asserts that “notwithstanding a great body of evidence that Hamas and other violent Islamist groups committed war crimes by using civilians and civilian institutions, such as mosques, schools, and hospitals, as shields, the report repeatedly downplayed or cast doubt upon that claim”.
The “great body of evidence” is an apparent reference to remarks from Israeli officials found to be demonstrably lacking in credibility, which were commonly simply repeated by U.S. officials and the mainstream media.
The U.N. mission did examine “whether and to what extent the Palestinian armed groups violated their obligation to exercise care and take all feasible precaution to protect the civilian population in Gaza” and found that “Palestinian armed groups were present in urban areas during the military operations and launched rockets from urban areas”.
But it “found no evidence, however, to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.”
While there is no evidence that Hamas deliberately used civilians as human shields, the Goldstone report “investigated four incidents in which the Israeli armed forces coerced Palestinian civilian men at gunpoint to take part in house searches during the military operations” and concluded “that this practice amounts to the Use of Palestinian civilians as human shields and is therefore prohibited by international humanitarian law.”
The draft resolution, besides calling upon the White House and State Department to reject the Goldstone report and its recommendations, also “reaffirms its support for the democratic, Jewish State of Israel, for Israel’s security and right to self-defense, and, specifically for Israel’s right to defend its citizens from violent militant groups and their state sponsors.”
It makes no similar mention of the right of Palestinians to security and self-defense from Israel and its U.S. sponsor.
Human rights groups, including the Israeli organization B’Tselem, have called upon the international community to implement its recommendation that suspected violations of international law be investigated.