I am astonished by the report in the Guardian of April 14 that, in response to Judge Richard Goldstone’s recent oped in The Washington Post, the remaining members of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Gaza, namely Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers, have “turned on him,” accusing him of misrepresenting facts in order to cast doubt on the credibility of their joint report. It is regrettable that they did not explain what facts he misrepresented.
I trust they will agree that every intellectually honest person will willingly review previously held convictions if and when relevant new evidence becomes available. To his credit, that is exactly what Judge Goldstone has done.
By contrast, their evidently inflexible belief in the immutability of every sentence of their 500-plus page report reflects an attitude reminiscent of those who refused to look at the evidence presented by Galileo.
If, as they wrote, they “find it necessary to dispel any impression that
subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission’s report
unsubstantiated, erroneous or inaccurate,” it is puzzling that they did
not refute the evidence that evidently influenced Judge Goldstone.
I therefore respectfully ask them to address the following circumstances.
1. Last November, when Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad publicly
admitted that the number of combatant casualties was very close to that
announced by the IDF, it became obvious that their mission was mistaken
in preferring casualty figures quoted by various NGOs.
In clause 361 of the report they stated: “The counterclaims published by
the Government of Israel fall far short of international law
standards.” In the circumstances, it is fair to ask what these standards
are, and whether the claims by the NGOs met these standards.
The claim that the police casualties were civilians is obviously
incorrect, since the Gaza police incorporates the Executive Force,
described by The Telegraph and others as paramilitary. This is confirmed
in clause 413 of the report, which states unambiguously that Executive
Force members were integrated into the civil police, and that members of
the force are resistance fighters. Their footnote 271 states that the
Executive Force consisted of some estimated 6,800 members of the armed
wings of Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees.
2. There is also a glaring lacuna in all the casualty figures quoted,
namely the number ascribed to having been caused by Israel which may
have actually been inflicted by Palestinians. On Feb 2, 2009 Ma’an, the
Palestinian news agency, reported that a senior leader in Fatah
published a list of 181 names of those in Gaza who had been killed,
maimed, beaten or tortured during the Israeli war on Gaza.
3. It is unfortunate that the mission rejected my written suggestion to
call for evidence from former British Army Colonel Richard Kemp, who is
among the most qualified soldiers able to evaluate the circumstances in
which decisions are made in the type of warfare conducted in Gaza
4. In order to arrive at an unbiased opinion, Israel’s actions in Gaza
must be assessed against the backdrop of recent developments in
Afghanistan and Libya, for example, which show conclusively that the
standards by which the mission judged the IDF’s performance are
impossible in practice. Even President Barack Obama, with his impeccable
intentions, has been unable to avoid extensive civilian casualties.
The New York Times
of February 19, 2010 reported that in
Afghanistan the US Air Force now flies twice as many Predator drones as
it did a year ago. They carried out more than 200 missile and bomb
strikes over the past year, and the civilian casualties they caused have
stoked anger and anti-Americanism. Since the start of 2009, the drones
have fired at least 184 missiles and 66 laser-guided bombs at militant
suspects in Afghanistan. I quote these figures to demonstrate that even
with the very best intentions, civilian casualties are inevitable.
The strikes came when troops encountered people who appeared to be
planting bombs, but P.W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution,
said officers had to keep in mind that “not everyone digging by the
side of the road is automatically an insurgent.” Singer’s warning
emphasizes the danger of confusing genuine error with criminal intent in
situations where the combatants are hardly distinguishable from
5. The above applies particularly to the tragic Samouni case, with its
unjustified accusations in the report that have contributed largely to
the vilification of Israel in international media. Israel was accused of
intentionally bombing the Samouni family house and killing its
occupants with no justification whatsoever, but new evidence shows that
Israeli drone photographs of a group of men carrying firewood were
incorrectly interpreted as fighters carrying rocket launchers, and led
to the bombing. I ask you what a reasonable person would have done in
the heat of battle on sighting what appears to be rockets about to be
6. As many of the report’s conclusions are based on eyewitness
testimony, it should be borne in mind that many miscarriages of justice
have been recorded due to such testimony. In a paper “The reliability of
eyewitness reports: The effect of accurate and inaccurate information
on memory and bias,” Jennifer Scheer wrote: “A considerable amount of
research has established that exposure to leading or misleading
suggestions can dramatically influence the accuracy of eyewitness
7. Although some mention is made of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit
in the report, the saddest failure of the UN Mission while it was in
Gaza conversing amiably with the persons holding him captive was its
failure to demand an end to the blatant violation of his right to Red
Cross visits and to receive letters, as required by the Third Geneva
By way of contrast, Palestinian prisoners in Israel enjoy visitation
rights, including conjugal visits, access to telephones, newspapers,
television and radio broadcasts, lawyers’ visits and even academic
studies at state expense.
I would very much appreciate a considered response from them.The writer is a commentator on current
affairs. His website is www.2nd-thoughts.org; a special reference to
the Goldstone Report can be found at