Goldstone Report Implicitly Validated by the New York Times

In yet another deceptive New York Times report about Israel, correspondent Isabel Kershner misleads readers about the legitimacy and credibility of the Goldstone report.
In the wake of an IDF announcement about the indictments of several soldiers for misconduct during Israel’s 2009 Hamas war, the New York Times published a story (“Indictments in Gaza War Are Announced,” July 6, 2010) implying the Goldstone report—despite Israel’s rejection of it as biased—has been validated by the Israeli military court’s own findings. This implication is conveyed not by the facts reported, but by information omitted.
In fact, the reverse of Kershner’s insinuation is true. After investigating 30 cases cited in the Goldstone report, the court released evidence that directly refutes the Goldstone commission’s conclusions — that the IDF as a whole  is guilty of crimes against humanity for deliberately targeting or ordering the targeting of civilians. Obviously, no individual case of wrongdoing can rationally be construed as support for that sweeping indictment. Moreover, even the evidence in the handful of cases where misconduct was established by the court contradicts the Goldstone commission’s findings.
An accurate and clear report on the Israeli military court decision would have made explicit the fact that the judgements rendered were sharply different from Goldstone’s findings, but no such information was provided to readers who were led to believe the contrary.

Al Maqadme Mosque

Take for example the incident of the al Maqadme mosque. Israel’s military court judged an IDF commander guilty of not having exercised appropriate judgement in authorizing an aerial strike that targeted Hamas terrorists who were firing rockets at Israel from outside a mosque. Shrapnel from the strike penetrated the mosque, causing collateral deaths and injuries, albeit unintentional. (Of the 15 people killed in the mosque, half were Hamas fighters.) The commander had received authorization for the strike from his superiors before it was known that the building near the rocket launchers was an active mosque. Even though the strike was directed at combatants engaged in an act of war, the court nevertheless recommended that disciplinary actions be taken against the commander for not abandoning the strike or updating his superiors when he discovered the nature of the building. The court found his actions to have resulted from an error of judgement rather than an intentional crime against humanity.

This directly refutes one of the Goldstone Report’s centrepiece cases supporting its charges of Israeli “war crimes” and “crimes against humanity.” The report devoted 27 paragraphs to this event, attempting to demonstrate that Israel was guilty of committing war crimes by targeting innocent worshippers. It was later alluded to by Justice Goldstone as the event that most affected him, convincing him that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians. The report proclaimed that “the mosque was intentionally targeted by the Israeli armed forces,” and that “this was an attack on the civilian population as such and not on a military objective.”

It concluded that:

…the Mission finds that the Israeli armed forces have violated the prohibition under customary international law that the civilian population as such will not be the object of attacks …

…the violations also constitute a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of wilful killings and wilfully causing great suffering to protected persons…

Yet Ms. Kershner makes no mention of this. On the contrary. She follows her summary of the Israeli military court’s findings with a deceptively bland citation from the Goldstone report:

In a third case, the chief of staff ordered disciplinary action against an officer who ordered an aerial strike on a militant involved in launching rockets. The man was standing outside the Ibrahim al-Maqadma mosque, the army said, and the shrapnel caused what it called unintentional injuries to civilians inside. The Goldstone report said that an Israeli projectile struck near the doorway of the mosque, in northern Gaza, during evening prayers, killing at least 15 civilians who were mostly inside.

By selectively citing only a small piece of the report that matches the Israeli military’s findings on the mosque incident, the reporter in effect reverses the intent and meaning of the Goldstone report and falsely suggests that the military’s investigation corroborates its accuracy.

Human Shields

In a second incident, the court recommended a disciplinary hearing for a battalion commander who allowed troops to send a Palestinian man, Majdi Abd Rabbo, into a neighboring home harboring terrorists. Witnesses testified that Abd Rabbo had himself volunteered to persuade the terrorists next door to surrender before the house was demolished, and tried several times to do so, to no avail. The court nevertheless decided to hold a hearing, with the view that even the use of a mediator like Abd Rabbo, acting upon his own volition, is a form of the “neighbor procedure” banned by the IDF and Israel’s High Court of Justice.

The Goldstone report, however, presents an entirely different story in which Abd Rabbo is beaten, kicked, forced to strip, held at gunpoint and threatened never to see his family again if he does not agree to act as a human shield. The committee, which accepted Abd Rabbo’s own account without reserve despite what it stated were “minor inconsistencies, which are not, in the opinion of the Mission, sufficiently weighty to cast doubt on his general reliability,” concludes that “Israeli forces coerced Palestinian civilian men at gun point to take part in house searches during the military operations,” that “Palestinian men were blindfolded and handcuffed as they were forced to enter houses ahead of the Israeli soldiers” and that Palestinian men used as human shields were “questioned under threat of death or injury to extract information about Hamas, Palestinian combatants and tunnels.”

Kershner, however, glosses over the fact that the military court’s findings directly contradict the Goldstone report’s version of events. Instead, she writes:

…the military said a battalion command er was indicted on suspicion of deviating from “authorized and appropriate” army behavior and from an Israeli Supreme Court ruling when he authorized a Palestinian man to act as a kind of human shield by entering a house where militants were sheltering in order to persuade them to leave.

The Goldstone report accused Israel of several cases of using Palestinian civilians as human shields during the Gaza war, a practice forbidden by the Supreme Court. The Goldstone report stated that such practices violated international law.

Again, while the selected statements Kershner chooses to highlight are correct and do not contradict each other, the implication that the military court’s findings therefore support the Goldstone report is clearly false.

Civilian(s) Killed Holding White Flag

The gravest case of misconduct referred to in the announcement involves a soldier found guilty of manslaughter for deliberately targeting an individual among a group of people ordered to leave their homes with a white flag. The Goldstone report adopted the view of Palestinian witnesses who claimed that a mother and daughter were shot dead at that time. But since there was conflicting testimony from other eyewitnesses, the court was unable to tie the soldier directly to the death of the two Palestinian women. Nevertheless, there was sufficient evidence for the court to charge the soldier with manslaughter for killing an unarmed person..

But the case of a single soldier who was found to have been acting against military protocol, without authorization, certainly does not support the Goldstone report’s conclusion, which states:

…Israeli armed forces repeatedly opened fire on civilians who were not taking part in the hostilities and who posed no threat to them. These incidents indicate that the instructions given to the Israeli armed forces moving into Gaza provided for a low threshold for the use of lethal fire against the civilian population…

Ms. Kershner, however, does not make it clear that the court’s indictment of an individual acting without authorization negates the above conclusion of the Goldstone commission.

The article thus leaves readers with a false impression that the Israeli military court judgements supports the findings of the Goldstone report, when, in fact, the opposite is true. The article, however, provides yet more evidence for the view that the guideline governing the New York Times’ coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to discredit Israel, if not directly than by implication.

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