Ariel Zirulnick
The Christian Science Monitor
April 4, 2011 - 12:00am

Israel targeted Gazan civilians

The Goldstone Report claimed that Israel intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians as a matter of policy, which is a violation of international law. Judge Goldstone's column last week retracted that charge, which may have been the most controversial allegation leveled against Israel in the report.

Paragraph 1,886 from the original report:

“The Mission recognizes that not all deaths constitute violations of international humanitarian law. The principle of proportionality acknowledges that, under certain strict conditions, actions resulting in the loss of civilian life may not be unlawful. … Deeds by the Israeli armed forces and words of military and political leaders prior to and during the operations indicate that, as a whole, they were premised on a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed not at the enemy but at the ‘supporting infrastructure.’ In practice, this appears to have meant the civilian population.”

Paragraph 1,893:

“The Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.”

In his Friday column, Goldstone wrote that while a later Israeli military investigation affirmed that there were civilian deaths as a result of Israel’s attacks, it disproved the finding that civilians were intentionally targeted – a major coup for Israel, which is claiming vindication of its actions, the Monitor reported.

"The most serious of accusation was that Israel deliberately killed Palestinian civilians," said Dore Gold, a former Israeli United Nations Ambassador who debated Goldstone in 2009. "It was like a blood libel for the Israel Defense Force, and contributed directly to the global effort to delegitimize the Jewish state. This is an important turning point."

Israel failed to protect Gazan civilians

In addition to charging Israel with targeting Palestinian civilians, the report also found that Israel failed to take adequate precautions to minimize the loss of civilian life and civilian infrastructure when attacking on noncivilian targets.

The report cited the firing of white phosphorous shells over the UN Relief and Works Agency compound in Gaza City as an example in paragraph 1,919. The use of white phosphorous itself was controversial but, according to the report, not a violation of international law like many claimed at the time. Its “use is, however, restricted or even prohibited in certain circumstances by virtue of the principles of proportionality and precautions necessary in the attack.”

The report also stated that Israel failed to take into account the proximity of civilians and civilian structures to military targets and did not give adequate warning to Palestinian civilians of impending attacks so that they could move to safety.

Hamas targeted Israeli citizens

One of Goldstone’s conditions for leading the fact finding mission was that the panel have the authority to investigate Hamas’s actions as well. Paragraph 1,950 of the report states that because rockets and mortars launched out of Gaza did not have an intended military target, they were a “deliberate attack against the civilian population. These actions would constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.”

That allegation against Hamas, however, was noticeably not retracted Friday in Goldstone’s column. “Our report found evidence of potential war crimes and 'possibly crimes against humanity' by both Israel and Hamas. That the crimes allegedly committed by Hamas were intentional goes without saying – its rockets were purposefully and indiscriminately aimed at civilian targets,” he wrote in The Washington Post.

Gazans were victim of collective punishment

The Goldstone Report examined more than just the few weeks of the Israeli incursion into Gaza. It also looked at what it called the “continuum of policies” that led to Operation Cast Lead. In the report’s conclusions, the mission called the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip – which restricts the movement of people, goods, and services in and out of the territory – “collective punishment” of Gazans.

Paragraph 1,878:

“The effects of the prolonged blockade did not spare any aspect of the life of Gazans. Prior to the military operation, the Gaza economy had been depleted, the health sector beleaguered, the population had been made dependent on humanitarian assistance for survival and the conduct of daily life. Men, women and children were psychologically suffering from long-standing poverty, insecurity and violence, and enforced confinement in a heavily overcrowded territory. … This was the situation in the Gaza Strip when the Israeli armed forces launched their offensive in December 2008.”

Israel and Hamas both urged to investigate

The grounds for Goldstone’s retraction Friday were findings from a follow-up UN report, which found that Israel had investigated more than 400 allegations lodged against its forces stemming from Operation Cast Lead. Those investigations concluded that there was loss of civilian life because of Israeli attacks, but not as a matter of Israeli policy.

An Israeli investigation into its own actions in the conflict was one of the chief recommendations in the Goldstone Report, and the judge acknowledged in his column that Israel has made strides in meeting that request – albeit with some major procedural flaws.

While the length of this investigation is frustrating, it appears that an appropriate process is underway, and I am confident that if the officer is found to have been negligent, Israel will respond accordingly. The purpose of these investigations, as I have always said, is to ensure accountability for improper actions, not to second-guess, with the benefit of hindsight, commanders making difficult battlefield decisions.

The Goldstone Report also called on Palestinian authorities to investigate charges lodged against Palestinians in the conflict – a recommendation that remains unmet, Goldstone wrote.

“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. It was my hope, even if unrealistic, that Hamas would do so, especially if Israel conducted its own investigations. 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.”


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