In a much debated article published at the beginning of April in The Washington Post, South African judge Richard Goldstone, who prepared the United Nations report on the Israeli attack on Gaza from December 2008, said, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” thus placing himself back at the center of the debates concerning Gaza.
The component making up the main argument of this controversial article was his assertion that Hamas did not fulfill its own responsibilities during the investigation; this was a new assertion reacted to positively by Jewish lobbies and Israel, which faces war crimes charges.
Leaving aside for a moment the reactions of those addressed in the article, the article itself was one that seemed quite isolated from the character of Goldstone, who is himself very diplomatic and justice-minded in style. In fact, even only from the perspective of the use of subjects in the article, it was a piece of writing that contained the impression that it had a clear political agenda and position.
Peres demands apology
After the article was published, Israeli President Shimon Peres called on Goldstone to apologize to Israel. As for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he called on the United Nations to retract the Goldstone Report and asserted that he would engage in international efforts to see the report voided. “Everything we said has proven to be true: Israel did not intentionally harm civilians,” Netanyahu said.
As for Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, he did not find Goldstone’s writings sufficient. Barak asserted that an article in The Washington Post would not be enough, saying that it was “too limited, and comes too late.” As for Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, he said he was not surprised by what Goldstone had written, noting, “We had no doubt the truth would eventually come out.”
In reacting to these new statements from Goldstone, Hamas said it had in fact cooperated at every stage of the investigation. “His retreat does not change the fact war crimes had been committed against 1.5 million people in Gaza,” Hamas spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri said.
With reactions this way, Goldstone, himself a Jewish South African, wrote an article which, while heavily embellished with confusing expressions, had at the same time a content, a style and an approach that in fact all pose a problem that requires light to be shed. To wit, just two days before the publication of this article, assuming that he did not change his mind during that time, he gave a speech at Stanford University in which he said that “all of the inquiries that have taken place up until now show us that the realities are just as documented in the report.” These words must have some meaning to them. There is no doubt that no one can really answer with certainty what it was that caused Goldstone to change his mind with such severity and along such strong lines in the two days before the Post article. One thing is for certain: Ever since the publication of “The Goldstone Report,” campaigns of slander and allegations against the South African judge by his own flanks have broken this man’s resistance.
When you read Goldstone’s article in The Washington Post, you feel as if you reading admissions from someone trying to save hostages around him. And you perceive that as he backs these hostages, he is also trying to protect, despite all the vigilance around him, his own inner consistency and esteem. The really sad aspect of it all is that Goldstone will never be forgiven by his Israeli and Israeli lobby friends, who have, ever since the publication of the report, been attacking his own moral and ethical values with a frenzy. The situation is really a tragedy, as what we see is a hero of justice who came to the conclusion that Israel really had used disproportionate force and had committed war crimes, now backing away from this same report as his own prestige and personal consistency are damaged.
Going beyond this, a message from a Jewish judge with international renown to other Jews has put this man into a very difficult position. This report, whether you see it as just Goldstone’s alone or as belonging more to the United Nations Human Rights Commission, will always be viewed by history as linked with Goldstone’s true identity. As it stands, in his much-debated recent article, he tries to distance himself from this situation by saying, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” Here he tries to lob the ball into the other court, and isolate himself from the situation.
Of course, statements from figures such as Netanyahu and Lieberman in the wake of the article in the Post do not in and of themselves mean that any truths have been undone in connection with the process of the investigation.
In the end, Goldstone is himself a lawyer. The ambiguous and equally flexible expression he uses in his article, “[The Goldstone Report] might have been a very different document,” could be in regard to many things. When he says, “If I had known then what I know now,” what exactly is he trying to say? If only he had known about the rules that govern his society, and the cruelty of those who create scapegoats? Or if he had only known that the report itself would quickly become the subject of many so-called investigations in Israel, or that Israel would from the very start of the process engage in under-the-table games of fancy footwork?
The answers to these questions cannot be supplied by whether or not the other three members of the commission that prepared this report will in fact wind up backing away from its essential findings.
And in fact, the allegations made in Goldstone’s article that Israel did not intentionally target civilians do not conflict with the original report, nor does he indicate that they do.
As I see it, the important point of the article published in The Washington Post is the ambivalent approach to the event in which 29 civilians belonging to the al-Simouni family were killed in a raid, and the fact that Goldstone even brought this event up in his article, where he says: “The most serious attack the Goldstone Report focused on was the killing of some 29 members of the al-Simouni family in their home. The shelling of the home was apparently the consequence of an Israeli commander’s erroneous interpretation of a drone image, and an Israeli officer is under investigation for having ordered the attack. While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is under way, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly.”
These expressions in and of themselves are a key point that shows the direction the report will take from now on, and Goldstone here gives out a strong signal.
*Yusuf Ergen is a political analyst based in Ankara.