The Goldstone Reversal

NEW YORK – Justice Richard Goldstone was condemned by many apologists for Israel’s human-rights record for his conclusion that Israel intentionally targeted Palestinian civilians as a matter of policy during the 2008-9 Gaza war. Goldstone’s United Nations-backed report accused both Israelis and Palestinians of war crimes, and called on both sides to investigate, prosecute, and punish their own personnel.

The Israeli government reacted furiously to Goldstone’s efforts. Now he is being condemned by some critics of Israel’s human rights record for retracting his finding of intentionality. The controversy illustrates the care that is required in publishing human-rights reports.

What is not in dispute about the “Goldstone Report” is the fact-finding on which its conclusions are based. In difficult circumstances, and with no cooperation from the Israeli government, Goldstone documented in substantial detail a large number of Israeli attacks that killed many hundreds of civilians, injured thousands, and destroyed a significant part of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.

Goldstone also documented attacks against Israeli civilians by Hamas, and did not restrict himself to a discussion of the notorious rockets indiscriminately fired from Gaza. Goldstone included in his report a detailed discussion of Hamas’s seizure of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and its refusal even to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to see him.