PostScript: Prepare for the next Goldstone

In hindsight, Israel should have cooperated with Goldstone; another such report would be almost inevitable and Israel would do well to be ready for it.

Goldstone 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Goldstone 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It is right of Richard Goldstone to have published a clarification of his views and enlightened the world that Israel is not an apartheid state, something I never assumed he believed.
Being a South African who had the task of leading his country through post-apartheid conciliation, Justice Goldstone knows better than most what apartheid was, and as someone who is intimately familiar with Israel and Jewish values, both in which he has a stake, he knows Israel is not an apartheid state. It has racists, ultra-nationalists, prejudice and discrimination, but not more than most countries in today’s Western Europe. At least you can build a mosque here.
It is not in the apartheid context that we remember Goldstone, but rather as the head of a hangman’s committee put together by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in the form of the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, and its subsequent report issued in September 2009. The report was highly critical of Israel, including charges of deliberately targeting civilians and other “war crimes.”
Not surprisingly, it was less so of Hamas.
Despite a retraction of most of its findings by Goldstone himself in in an op-ed piece for The Washington Post in April this year, the damage was done way back in September 2009, when its publication gave massive impetus to the campaign to de-legitimize Israel, and is still a point of reference for many who remain critical of Israel, no matter what the truth actually is.
It took the findings of a later UN panel, this time an independent one headed by former New York Judge Mary Gowan Davis, and with which Israel cooperated, to get Goldstone to write his retraction.
Goldstone claims in his article that had he and his committee enjoyed the same level of cooperation in the first place, the entire report would have been decidedly different.
Think what you may of Goldstone and his motives, and those of the Human Rights Council that sent him, he has a point. In retrospect, and this is the lesson to be learned from the entire unhappy affair, Israel should have cooperated with the Goldstone Committee. It had nothing to hide. It had evidence as to the true nature of every target bombed, other than those destroyed in the heat of battle, and even here every action and decision down to the lowest operational levels is carefully recorded.
Israel’s explanation for not cooperating with the Goldstone Committee, was that it did not want to give it legitimacy. Unfortunately the decision, if anything, accelerated the campaign to de-legitimize Israel.
Damage, once done, is hard to repair. We should have cooperated with Goldstone.
Israel had every right to be outraged by the equivalency the committee seemed to give Israel, a sovereign state and member of the UN, and Hamas, a terrorist organization, and to be suspicious of the committee’s motives, but it should have swallowed all that and realized the implications of ignoring its presence.
The intelligence community, always quick to say “no” when asked to part with materials, should have been prodded into releasing the pictures and evidence it had as to why specific targets had been attacked. A battery of lawyers from within the army should have been sorting and sifting materials that could have been helpful to Israel of which there were many. Mistakes were made during the war, but no attempt was made to cover them up.
On the contrary, Goldstone now commends the IDF for conducting over 400 investigations into cases of alleged operational misconduct during the Gaza war, something that is very much part of the IDF’s internal ethos and considered standard operating procedure.
Judging from the odd missile here and helicopter attack there, another full-scale military operation in Gaza is not an impossibility. Again, it will be against an enemy deeply entrenched in civilian infrastructure one of the most densely populated parts of the planet. Another Goldstone report would be almost inevitable and that time round Israel would do well to prepare for it, no matter how infuriated by the terms of reference and intentions behind such an investigation.
Now that Goldstone has told the world we are not an apartheid state, and has disclaimed many of his own key findings against Israel in the 2008-2009 Gaza conflict, one could expect some respite from those who continue to question Israel’s legitimacy. This will not happen. Those determined to blacken Israel’s name are impervious to logic, facts or fairness. Israel, however, does not have to supply them with ammunition.
Silence, when accused, is often assumed to be a sign of guilt. Not accepting an international committee’s terms of reference, seems like an evasion, an excuse.
Israel needs to be neither silent nor evasive; it does need excuses. It needs answers to legitimate questions that arise from the reality of asymmetric warfare against a ruthless enemy who has turned Gaza’s towns and cities into battlefields, its hospitals into military headquarters, and the homes of innocent civilians into secret caches for highly explosive weapons.
Israel has the intelligence and information on all this, and next time it goes to war it would do well to pre-sanitize whatever intelligence it can to help explain to the world the reasons for its actions in real time, and not wait for months and months for Richard Goldstone to find his conscience. Given the evidence the world will understand. It is time for Israel to stop being its own worst enemy in this regard.
There are those who have received Goldstone’s observation that this is not an apartheid state with glee, as if Israel was being vindicated of some real and meaningful charge against it. That Goldstone even had to write such an article is questionable.
Ostensibly he was responding to some obscure gathering in Cape Town that met to perpetuate this calumny, but in fact gave the minor event more publicity than the organizers could possibly have dreamed of.
Calling Israel an apartheid state is ludicrous, as any half-educated person knows.
Being charged with war crimes by an official commission of the UN, however, is something else. Israel can do nothing to convince those with closed minds that this is not apartheid South Africa, regardless of what Goldstone writes. Israel is master of its own destiny, however, when it comes to explaining its actions on the battlefield, and would do well to prepare for the eventuality well in advance. In this regard, at least, Goldstone’s advice is invaluable.
The writer is a senior research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. His most recent book, The Anatomy of Israel’s Survival, was published in September 2011.