x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Goldstone does not clear Israel of civilian deaths

Israel has seized on recent statements by Judge Richard Goldstone to justify its 2008 war in Gaza. But tepid investigations into the conflict cannot absolve Israel of its responsibility for the many civilians killed during that war.

Two years ago, the Israeli government was infuriated by the Goldstone Report, which concluded that the country's defence forces had intentionally targeted civilians during Operation Cast Lead in 2008 - a three-week war against Hamas which cost more than 1,400 Gazan lives.

In the past two days, Israeli ideologues have crowed equally loudly over an opinion article written in The Washington Post by Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who presided over the earlier report. In this Post article, Mr Goldstone writes that new information indicates that Israel did not intentionally kill civilians.

In one example, the shelling of a home that killed 26 members of a single family was, in short, a mistake.

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have us believe that this revision of the report's findings amounts to a blanket exoneration of the 2008 war. True to form, he went on the offensive against the "smear" campaign initiated by the Goldstone Report and subsequent condemnation of Israel at the United Nations. In Israel's isolated position, very few in the international community will agree.

We also remain unconvinced by Mr Goldstone's reasoning. He cites new information recently disclosed by the Israelis, which shows that investigations into civilian deaths are ongoing. But "investigation" is a relative term in Israel. Soldiers who were convicted of using Palestinian children as human shields during the war were simply demoted.

There will be more information disclosed about Israel's policy during its offensive. But the acts of that war - cluster bombs and white phosphorous raining down on neighbourhoods, schools and homes levelled by artillery, children and families killed in the streets - remain indelible crimes.

The Israeli military may not have deliberately intended to kill civilians, but they deliberately targeted densely populated civilian areas, leading to a large-scale loss of life. It is casuistry of a morally bankrupt nature to argue that there is a difference between the two.

It has always been doubtful whether Israeli politicians or generals would be held accountable for the war crimes and crimes against humanity alleged in the original Goldstone Report. Even more so, Israel's own investigative process has been feeble.

In this recent article, Mr Goldstone concludes that Hamas "indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets", which shows that its crimes were intentional. But he spares Israel that same rigorous standard. It remains to be seen if high-level officials approved of the murder of civilians; what is clear, however, is that there was at least a criminal disregard for civilians' safety during that brutal pounding of Gaza.