Goldstone accepts mayor's offer to visit Sderot

Goldstone to see Kassam

South African jurist Richard Goldstone on Sunday accepted an invitation from Sderot Mayor David Buskila to visit his city, which has suffered thousands of Gazan rocket attacks in the past eight years. In an e-mail he sent to Buskila, Goldstone wrote, "I fully share your hope that peace will come to your region and when I next visit Israel, I would like to accept your invitation to visit Sderot." He wrote the letter two days after the UN Human Rights Council acceded to a request by the Palestinian Authority to defer until March its vote on whether to endorse the report by Goldstone's fact-finding mission, which accused Israel of committing war crimes during its offensive in the Gaza Strip last December and January. Israel has said that the report is biased and inaccurate. On Thursday, Buskila wrote Goldstone a message in the name of three small children killed by Palestinian rockets in Sderot in 2004; Dorit Benisian, two, Yuval Abebeh, four, and Afik Zahavi, four. "Afik was a beautiful boy, who was on his way to nursery school, just like any child in the world," Buskila said. Dorit and Yuval were playing together when they were killed, he added. "Their blood cries out from the ground," he said. "There is no atonement, no forgiveness for the blood of a young boy whose short experience of life hadn't taught him that hatred and wars exist." "In Sderot there are children who will not grow old and children who lost parents," Buskila said. "The entire world, including you, stood silent in the face of our children's frightened eyes. You were silent in the face of each and every one of the 8,000 Kassam rockets that landed in our city." He noted that these attacks took place within Israel's sovereign borders. Buskila told Goldstone he should pray that the murderers who had received his support would not turn around and kill other children elsewhere in the world. "I invite you to witness up-close the suffering of the residents of Sderot that make up the other part of the equation that you were not familiar with and did not bother to get to know." Goldstone told Buskila he would visit Sderot next time he was in Israel and said he had been prevented from doing so until now by the Israeli government. In his e-mail to Buskila, he defended the work of his mission. "We set out the details and an analysis of the terror that the firing of rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip caused to the people of southern Israel, including Sderot, and especially to the children," Goldstone wrote. And, he added, "We stated that the firing of rockets and mortars at civilian targets in southern Israel constituted serious war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity." Buskila immediately thanked Goldstone for his prompt response in a return letter. "The IDF and the Israeli government were restrained for eight years, at the time when we were abandoned to the arbitrariness of war criminals," Buskila told Goldstone, adding that the IDF did its best to minimize the loss of Palestinian life in Gaza.