It will be a while before we see an op-ed piece as newsworthy – and as galling – as that in today’s Washington Post by Justice Richard Goldstone. He is the former member of the Constitutional Court of South Africa who chaired the United Nations mission that issued a report alleging Israel committed war crimes at Gaza. Mr. Goldstone now says that if he had known when he wrote the report what he knows now the report would have been a “different document.”
The justice notes that the United Nations Committee of Independent Experts that followed up on the Goldstone Report has found that Israel launched investigations into more than 400 “allegations of operational misconduct in Gaza,” while what he calls the “de facto authorities,” meaning Hamas, “have not conducted any investigations into the launching of rocket and mortar attacks against Israel.”
Mr. Goldstone characterizes his own report as having found “evidence of potential war crimes and ‘possibly crimes against humanity’ by both Israel and Hamas.” He now says that it “goes without saying” that the “crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional” in that “its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets.” But what he calls the “allegations of intentionality by Israel” were, he now says, “based on the deaths of and injuries to civilians in situations where our fact-finding mission had no evidence on which to draw any other reasonable conclusion.”
He now is crediting the “investigations published by the Israeli military and recognized in the U.N. committee’s report” as having “established the validity of some incidents that we investigated in cases involving individual soldiers” but also indicating “that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy.” He cites the example of one particularly horrifying story, which involved “the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home.” He now suggests an investigation and “appropriate process” is underway in Israel.
In the Washington Post the justice indulges in a certain amount of bellyaching about Israel’s lack of cooperation in his mission’s investigation. He asserts that “the Israeli evidence that has emerged since publication of our report doesn’t negate the tragic loss of civilian life.” But he states: “I regret that our fact-finding mission did not have such evidence explaining the circumstances in which we said civilians in Gaza were targeted, because it probably would have influenced our findings about intentionality and war crimes.”
It is hard to think of a blood libel in recent years as bald as that issued originally by Mr. Goldstone. But it is all too common that accusations made against Israel, when followed by sober investigation, turn out to exonerate the Jewish State. It happened in respect of the massacre at Jenin that turned out not to have taken place. It happened with the shooting of Muhammad al-Durrah.
In his Washington Post piece, Mr. Goldstone also confesses to an error of judgment in respect of Hamas. “Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes,” Mr. Goldstone wrote in the Washignton Post. He said it was his hope “even if unrealistic” that Hamas would step up, “especially if Israel conducted its own investigations.”
He wrote: “At minimum I hoped that in the face of a clear finding that its members were committing serious war crimes, Hamas would curtail its attacks. Sadly, that has not been the case. Hundreds more rockets and mortar rounds have been directed at civilian targets in southern Israel. That comparatively few Israelis have been killed by the unlawful rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza in no way minimizes the criminality.”
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This newspaper is not a psychiatrist, and what is going on in Justice Goldstone’s brain is beyond our ken. There’s a tone to the piece that suggests he is almost wheedling for forgiveness. He now wants the U.N.’s Human Rights Council to condemn Hamas’s “heinous acts in the strongest terms” and also to condemn the recent “inexcusable and cold-blooded recent slaughter of a young Israeli couple and three of their small children in their beds.” The hope is as absurd as his call in the Goldstone Report for Hamas to investigate itself. For Mr. Goldstone to suggest, even by implication, that the U.N. Human Rights Council has any concern whatsoever for truth in respect of Israel simply asks the world to lend credence to a body that would be best disbanded. The fact is that war clouds are scudding over Gaza once again, and the most useful thing Mr. Goldstone could do now, having expressed his regrets, is pack up his briefcase and retire from public life altogether.