The Dangerous Bias of the United Nations Goldstone Report

It condemns self-defense and lets the aggressor off the hook.

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Dore Gold is the former ambassador of Israel to the U.N. and the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.  

Last year's report by the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza War, known more popularly as the Goldstone Report, is not going away. Originally, it was the initiative of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council, which named South African Justice Richard Goldstone to head it. It was promoted at the time by Cuba, Egypt, and Pakistan—not exactly the beacons of human rights—and had no support from Western democracies. However, the number of states backing the report has been growing. And yet, it remains one of the most potent weapons in the arsenals of international terrorist organizations seeking to render ineffective the capacity of the West to engage in self-defense. 

Strictly speaking, the report was primarily directed against Israel, which was seeking to bring to a complete halt the indiscriminate rocket and mortar fire by the international terrorist organization Hamas against Israeli towns and villages that had been going on for more than seven years. The Goldstone Report alleged that Israeli troops had committed "war crimes" by attacking purely civilian targets in the Gaza War. To make matters worse, the report failed to link Hamas to any violations of the laws of war, even though its continuing rocket attacks on Israeli civilians caused the Gaza War to begin with. There is only mention of anonymous "Palestinian armed groups." It is probably for that reason that the Hamas second in command in Damascus, Musa Abu Marzuq, told the Saudi satellite channel Al-Arabiya that "the report acquits Hamas almost entirely." 

Thus a report that has the stamp of the United Nations makes serious allegations about a state engaged in lawful self-defense, while letting the aggressor, an international terrorist organization, completely off the hook. Israeli President Shimon Peres understandably called the Goldstone Report "scandalous" when he met U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon in Jerusalem on March 20. 

How did the Goldstone team produce such a result? It is essential to understand that its members had a very specific outlook of the nature of this kind of armed conflict that affected their conclusions. Colonel Desmond Travers of Ireland was the senior military figure on Goldstone's panel and probably its most important member after Justice Goldstone. In a wide-ranging interview in Middle East Monitor from February 2, 2010, he utterly rejects that there is something called "asymmetric warfare" in which insurgent forces are introducing civilians into the battlefield against modern armies in a way that changes the nature of warfare. He argues that these ideas are mainly coming from the United States and Israel and they are utterly wrong. This outlook directly affected what Travers and his colleagues looked for, as they gathered evidence, and how they went about the interviews that they conducted with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 

Take, for example, the case of Muhammad Abu Askar, a longtime Hamas member who served as the director-general of the ministry of religious endowments in the Gaza government. He appeared before the Goldstone Panel arguing that his house had been "unjustly" blown up by Israel, though he admitted that he was warned in advance by the Israel Defense Forces, who telephoned him directly informing him that his home was to be targeted and he had better vacate the area. The Goldstone Report concludes that Abu Askar's home was of an "unmistakably civilian nature." If that was the case then Israel would have violated one of the basic principles of international law by failing to discriminate between military and civilian objects and personnel during wartime.

Because the U.N. actually posted on its website video clips with the questioning of Abu Askar by the Goldstone Panel, it is possible to examine how panelists reached their conclusions. They asked him detailed questions about the warning he received. They also asked about the other homes in the area. But the most pivotal question that would help them determine whether Abu Askar's house was purely civilian in nature or was a legitimate military target was not asked. No one bothered to confront him with the unpleasant but necessary question of whether Hamas munitions were being stored in his house. They might have had an inkling that this was a serious possibility if they had also inquired as to whether Abu Askar was more than a Hamas religious functionary but was actually a member of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, which he was.