UPDATED: Dec. 7, 2009
Nov. 17, 2009
Dear Justice Goldstone,
You've frequently accused critics of presenting ad hominem arguments against you instead of dealing with the substance of the Report prepared by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict which you headed. I have several specific questions about the substance of the report arising from statements made there and from your own subsequent comments on November 5th at Brandeis University. I hope that you will clarify these points and address my concerns.
The Mission concluded that Israel may be guilty of war crimes based on the assumption that the country's military forces and leaders deliberately targeted civilians. In order to reach this conclusion, the Mission ignored or discounted available evidence that contradicted that assumption while ignoring the weaknesses in testimony and evidence that imputed to Israel the motive of targeting civilians. This gives rise to the following questions.
1) Questions regarding the al Bader flour mill and denying sustenance to civilians
At the debate, you mentioned the damage to a flour mill in Gaza (the al Bader flour mill) as one of the incidents that convinced you that civilians were intentionally targeted. The Report is more specific, stating that the mill was attacked "for the purposes of denying sustenance to the civilian population" which it charges may constitute "a war crime."
A) How can you reconcile this imputed motive with Israel's act of transferring 14,208 tons of flour into Gaza during the war an average of 618 tons/day which is not only significantly more flour than the 220 metric tons the Al Bader mill could have produced in a day; but well over the 450 tons/day that the UN and the World Food Programme says Gaza needs?
Clearly if Israel's intention was to deny flour to Palestinian civilians, it would not have facilitated the import of almost triple the amount produced by the mill that was damaged.
B) And more broadly, how can you reconcile the imputed motive of purposefully denying sustenance to the civilian population with Israel's implementation of a daily humanitarian recess during the war in order to facilitate the transfer of humanitarian supplies?
C) Why did the mission fail to investigate or mention the fact that Hamas repeatedly seized shipments of humanitarian goods that were sent into Gaza from Israel and interfered with their distribution to the point where UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon issued a demand to Hamas to release the goods? Why did the Mission avoid charging Hamas with "denying sustenance to the cvilian population"? (See, for example, "Hamas raids aid trucks, sells supplies" and "Statement by UN Secretary-General Demanding Immediate Release of Humanitarian Goods Seized by Hamas" )
The Report states (in Paragraph 933) that "the aim of the strike, if not military, could only have been "to destroy the local capacity to produce flour." But given that this local capacity is dependent, in any case, on the importation of wheat, it would have been unnecessary for Israel to carry out a military air strike for that purpose. Had Israel's intention been to deny Gazans the "local capacity to produce flour," it could have permanently suspended the transfer of grain something which it did not do. On the contrary, it facilitated the transfer of both grain and flour into Gaza.
D) Given the above and given the Report's observation (in Paragraph 929) that "the building was one of the tallest in the area and would have offered extensive views...", wouldn't it be more logical to conclude that the strike was against enemy fire and/or surveillance? Why did the Mission dismiss the possibility that the air strike was against a source of Hamas fire and/or surveillance?
If the Mission dismissed this real possibility solely on the basis of the mill owner's testimony, shouldn't they have taken into consideration the circumstances of the witness's testimony? He might reasonably have covered up for Hamas operatives, fearing retribution were he to incriminate them.
2) Questions regarding the al-Maqadmah mosque and the military use of mosques
During the Brandeis debate, you cited the firing on the al-Maqadmah Mosque as another attack that affected you and convinced you that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians. You described with complete certitude despite Israel's denial that civilians who had gathered for prayer inside a mosque were intentionally targeted during a large (combined) service by a missile fired "by IDF ground forces." (You even corrected your use of the qualifier "presumably" to present this definite accusation.) There was no question, you said, of any secondary explosions that would suggest the mosque had been booby-trapped or used to store explosives.
The Report, similarly, devotes 27 paragraphs (a 21 paragraph section, plus an additional 6 separate paragraphs) to this incident, making it the linchpin of the theory that Israel was guilty of committing war crimes by targeting places of worship. While the Report refers to allegations of mosques being used for military purposes and notes that it cannot rule out the inappropriate use of other mosques by Palestinians, the Mission nevertheless chose not to further investigate these possible war crimes by Palestinians and dismissed or ignored the readily available pictorial and testimonial evidence indicating that this was indeed the case. Instead, the Report concluded (Paragraph 486) that "The Mission is unable to make any determination on the general allegation that Palestinian armed groups used mosques for military purposes," and further attempted to cast doubt on this possibility by noting that "in the one incident it investigated of an Israeli attack on a mosque, it found no indication that the mosque was so used."
According to the Report, the conclusions about the al-Maqadmah mosque are based on testimony from witnesses who had been inside the mosque at the time it was struck and relatives of victims who provided testimony about the chaos surrounding the event. In addition, the Mission visited the site six months after the event to document evidence of destruction and was given photographs purportedly taken immediately after the event. (Why were these photographs deemed reliable by the Mission, while at the same time photographic evidence of a weapons cache located in a Jabaliyah mosque were not considered reliable enough to determine that mosques were utilized as weapons storehouses?)
However, regardless of how reliable the testimony and evidence were, it is evident that there was considerable lack of clarity regarding the circumstances of the event. The eyewitness testimony and evidence described by the Mission pertains to the damage in the mosque and the injuries of the people.
There was no evidence regarding who shot the projectile, where it was shot from, or even what weapon was used. (The witnesses, of course could not determine this from their standpoint. The Report, in Paragraph 828 vaguely refers to "something" which had "penetrated the concrete" outside the mosque's doorway and, in Paragraph 829, to "small metal cubes" lodged in a wall in the mosque. It acknowledges in Paragraph 836, "The Mission is not in a position to say from which kind of aircraft or air-launch platform the missile was fired." And based on your own reference at the debate to firing by ground troops, apparently the Mission was not even clear whether it was an air-to-ground missile or a ground-fired projectile that caused the damage in the mosque.)
A) Given the chaos and confusion surrounding the event and the lack of knowledge of the weapon, its location and who fired it, how can you possibly express such certainty about the circumstances of the event, much less the motive of the shooters?
There are other pertinent facts to consider:
1) Hamas is believed to be in possession of advanced anti-tank weaponry, such as the Konkurs, Kornet, and Sagger missiles.
2) Of the15 people portrayed by the Report as innocent civilians killed in the event, five were ascertained from Hamas Web sites to have been operatives for Iz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas's terrorist wing, while two others were ascertained to have been operatives for Al Quds Brigade, Islamic Jihad's terrorist wing that is, almost half of those killed were fighters against Israel. One of them, Ahmed Abu Ita of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was reported to have gone to the al-Maqadmah mosque at the time of the event in order to "meet friends".
(The Hamas Web Site postings include personal histories, militant histories, and details about the fighters' specific anti-Israel missions, which included the preparation and firing of mortars and rockets toward Israel, preparing tunnels for the Brigades' use, fighting IDF forces, etc. See "How the Goldstone Commission Understated the Hamas Threat to Palestinian Civilians" by Col. Jonathan Halevi and the Hamas sources cited there. The level of detail about these fighters rules out the possiblity of their having been "adopted" as "martyrs" after the fact.)
B) More specifically, given the above, how can you be so positive:
i. that it was Israel and not a Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighter who fired or (misfired) the projectile?
ii. that assuming it was an Israeli missile, it was not targeting fighters who may have been congregating outside the mosque? Given that so many of the dead were Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighers and that the mosque was designated as a meeting place, how can you rule out the possibility that fighters were not meeting near (outside the mosque)?
iii. that the shooters were aware that the mosque was full of worshippers, or that any type of prayer service taking place at the time?
C) Given the Report's insistence that "the precision and sophistication of the Israeli armed forces" were taken into account to determine that Israel had deliberately targeted the mosque, and given the Report's own description that the missile did not hit the mosque directly according to the Report, it hit outside the mosque, a finding that completely supports Israel's denial that it fired on the mosque, how can you conclude the people within the mosque were targeted?
Surely, if this were a case of Israel deliberately targeting worshippers, the precision missile would have hit the mosque itself and not outside the mosque.
D) Why has the Mission avoided coming to a definite conclusion about other mosques being used by Hamas armed groups for military purposes and ignored or dismissed evidence of this?
i. More specifically, why was the Mission "not able to investigate the allegation of the use of mosques generally by Palestinian groups for storing weapons"? And why did they ignore freely available video evidence of secondary explosions in mosques, suggesting the storage of weapons there?
ii. Given that the Mission considered statements by graduates of the Rabin Pre-Military Academy to constitute "strong corroboration" of "trends" demonstrating alleged IDF misdeeds, why were their accounts of "coming under fire from Palestinian combatants positioned in a mosque" not similarly considered strong corroboration of the fact that Palestinians launched attacks from mosques? (Again, while the Mission did not rule it out, it declined to make any determination that this was the case.)
3) Questions regarding the Report's dismissal of allegations that Palestinians engaged in combat wearing civilian dress or used hospitals and ambulances for military purposes
A) The Report asserts in Paragraphs 495 and 1953 that the Mission "found no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat in civilian dress." However, many journalists in Gaza and Palestinian eyewitnesses described seeing Palestinian fighters in civilian dress. These were cited in news reports published by some of the world's largest newspapers. (See details in our attached study.) Why did the mission not investigate Palestinian eyewitnesses or journalists who provided detailed descriptions of this?
B) Similarly, why did the Mission choose to ignore readily available video evidence and news reports of Palestinians directing civilians to areas where attacks were being launched? (See details in attached study.) The Mission thereby concluded (in Paragraphs 35, 494 and 1953) that they found no evidence to suggest this was the case.
C) The Report asserts in Paragraph 487 that "the Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities and that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes."
i. Why did the Mission choose not to visit the al-Shifa Hospital or investigate allegations that Hamas leaders and fighters used this hospital as a base, especially given the testimony by a captured Islamic Jihad fighter to this effect and the determination by Israeli intelligence that Hamas utilized al-Shifa Hospital as a meeting and distribution center for their operatives? (The testimony is summarized in English on Israel's Shabak (Security Agency) site: and the intelligence findings in this article.)
Surely, such serious allegations warranted further investigation.
ii. Why did the Mission choose to ignore Palestinian witness Magah al Rachmah's assertion (cited in an article by Lorenzo Cremonesi in the Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, that Hamas men used the Al Quds hospital as well as ambulances?)
Even if the Mission did not want to rely on this one newspaper article, why did they not independently follow up with the witness or journalist about such serious allegations which might have impacted the conclusions of the investigation?
4) Question regarding the acceptance of false and contradictory Palestinian testimony as "credible and reliable"
A) Given the ample documentation by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights that the al Zeytoun area was frequently the site of "armed clashes" between "resistance fighters" and the IDF (see details in our study), why did the Mission consider the contradictory testimony by Wa'el el-Samouni that al Zeytoun was "a pacifist area" with no "resistance operators whatsoever" to be "reliable and credible"?
Does the Mission thus consider the documentation by the Palestinian Center for Human Rights to be unreliable and not credible?
Although we have many more questions about discrepancies, contradictions and double standards in the Mission's Report, we are limiting our questions for now in order to afford you the time to carefully respond. Our study providing the supporting details related to our questions is attached.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA)
UPDATE: Justice Goldstone "Answers" CAMERA's Letter
Dec. 7, 2009 Justice Goldstone has consistently tried to defend his report from criticism by claiming that "no one has been able to show any error of substance in the report nor any of its findings" (see, for example, South Africa's Sunday Times, Nov. 15), but when faced directly with the above questions, how did he respond?
In answer to a follow-up call by CAMERA on Dec. 7th about whether he had received our letter, Justice Goldstone responded:
I confirm receipt of your letter. I have no intention of responding to your open letter.
Dear Ms. Hollander,
In the same type of double standard that typifies the report, Justice Goldstone refuses himself to answer questions or provide clarification about the substance of his mission's findings, yet slams Israel for having refused to cooperate with or answer the questions of his investigating team.
The real question now is how long can Justice Goldstone continue to hide behind the deceptive argument that no one has addressed the substance or findings of the report?