The Israeli government claims that Justice Richard Goldstone’s recent Washington
op-ed exonerates the country from the Goldstone Report’s charge that IDF
forces committed war crimes during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict. Not so fast.
Goldstone backed away from a particularly controversial charge in the report –
one that Human Rights Watch, for example, never made.
But the allegations
of serious laws-ofwar violations remain and have yet to see the credible
domestic investigations that they require.
Goldstone’s shift focuses on
his allegation that Israel had an apparent policy to target civilians.
now says that information from Israeli investigations “indicate that civilians
were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.”
Watch investigated some – but far from all – the cases addressed in the
Goldstone Report. We examined, among others, instances in which Israeli troops
fired at and killed 11 Palestinian civilians who had been waving white flags,
and cases in which Israeli drone operators fired on and killed 29 people from
the same family, including five children playing on rooftops, even though drone
technology offers the capacity and time to determine whether the targets were
These cases were too isolated for us to conclude that they
reflected a policy decision to target civilians – a position with which
Goldstone now agrees.
But Goldstone has not retreated from the report’s
many documented allegations of serious laws-of-war violations by IDF forces –
violations that cost many civilian lives. These include Israel’s indiscriminate
use of heavy artillery and white phosphorous in densely populated areas and its
massive and deliberate destruction of civilian buildings and infrastructure
without a lawful military reason. This conduct was so widespread and systematic
that it clearly reflected Israeli policy.
GOLDSTONE’S COMMENTS about
Israeli investigations were similarly nuanced and limited. First, he wrote, the
investigations “established the validity of some incidents that we investigated
in cases involving individual soldiers.”
In other words, Israeli
investigations have not disproved the Report’s allegations of apparent war
crimes by particular soldiers. Second, Goldstone shares the concerns of the
recent UN experts’ report that Israel has concluded few inquiries and that its
proceedings lacked transparency.
In fact, Israel’s investigations look
good only by comparison with Hamas, which has done nothing to investigate its
war crimes. As the recent UN experts’ report notes, the IDF has investigated the
conduct of individual soldiers in some 400 alleged cases of operational
misconduct in Gaza. But the UN report raised serious doubts about the
thoroughness of these investigations. To date, Israeli military prosecutors have
indicted only four soldiers and convicted three. Only one soldier has served
jail time (7.5 months) for stealing a credit card.
Human Rights Watch has
also documented the IDF’s failure to investigate many serious allegations of
abuses. In some cases closed by military prosecutors, Human Rights Watch found
evidence that strongly suggests violations of the laws of war.
important, Israel has failed to investigate adequately the policy-level
decisions that apparently resulted in wide-scale attacks in Gaza. Those
decisions are obviously the most sensitive because they involve senior
Moreover, as the UN report points out, the impartiality of the
Military Advocate General in charge of investigations must be questioned because
he would be expected to have taken part in those policy decisions. Israeli human
rights organizations have repeatedly called for independent, non-military
investigations into the IDF’s conduct during Operation Cast Lead, but the
government has refused.
The government is neglecting these crucial
details in its effort to bury the Goldstone Report. Even after Goldstone’s
op-ed, many of the report’s serious allegations remain unaddressed. Will the
Israeli government live up to its duty to credibly investigate these charges and
hold violators to account? The writer is executive director of Human Rights