Judge Richard Goldstone speaks to Al Jazeera on 15 September 2009 about his commission's Gaza Report
By Gal BECKERMAN The Forward
October 07, 2009, issue of October 16, 2009
At Odds: Richard Goldstone, in his New York office, says his report
on Gaza presents only tentative findings. But the document
makes bold allegations that haven’t been scrutinized.
The incident detailed in paragraphs 713 through 716 of the Goldstone Report, if accurate, was a moment of indiscriminate terror.
A hundred members of the extended al-Samouni family are gathered together in one house, ordered there by Israeli soldiers patrolling their Gaza neighborhood of Zeytoun as part of Operation Cast Lead. Five men step out of the house to collect firewood. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a missile strikes them, fired, possibly, from an Apache helicopter. Two or three more missiles follow, this time aimed directly at the house. In all, 21 family members are killed, among them many women and small children. When the surviving al-Samounis attempt to leave and make their way to Gaza City, they are told by an Israeli soldier to return to the house, to “go back to death.”
A few pages later, in paragraphs 822 through 826, there’s another scene of seemingly unprovoked violence. In a mosque on the outskirts of Jabilyah, somewhere between 200 and 300 men and women are gathered for the evening prayer. An explosion rips the front door off its hinges and flings it all the way across the room. A missile has struck the mosque’s entrance, killing 15 people, some kneeling mid-prayer. A boy sitting by the door has his leg blown off.
The details are hard to turn away from, but they have, in fact, been largely ignored. Instead, the heated conversation about the Goldstone Report, the United Nations fact-finding mission led by Richard Goldstone, an internationally respected jurist and a South African Jew, has revolved mostly around political questions — charges of imbalance, lack of context and a history of anti-Israel bias on the part of the U.N. Human Rights Council, which gave Goldstone his charge.
Goldstone’s findings themselves have, meanwhile, been left largely unexamined. The 36 specific incidents he focuses on in his report paint a disturbing picture of an Israeli army purposefully targeting unarmed civilians. But the facts of the report are built mostly on testimonies of Palestinian eyewitnesses, which have received little scrutiny or verification. Critics also call attention to parts of the commission’s work that they say was sloppily done, without sufficient cross-examination and double checking of information. Alternative interpretations of the incidents described are not considered, let alone fully explored.
Israel’s decision to refuse to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission as it was doing its work—a decision questioned even by some critics of the report—doubtless played a role in this. Tellingly, in an interview with the Forward on October 2, Goldstone himself acknowledged the tentative nature of his findings.
“Ours wasn’t an investigation, it was a fact-finding mission,” he said, sitting in his Midtown Manhattan office at Fordham University Law School, where he is currently visiting faculty. “We made that clear.”
Goldstone defended the report’s reliance on eyewitness accounts, noting his mission had cross-checked those accounts against each other and sought corroboration from photos, satellite photos, contemporaneous reports, forensic
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