UN’s Goldstone Report Contains Major Error that Calls into Question Work’s Credibility

The United Nations Human Rights Council in April of this year appointed a fact finding mission, led by South African Justice Richard Goldstone, to investigate the fighting in December and January between Hamas and Israel. That mission, which also included Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Ms. Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, has now issued its Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.

Because of its belief that the UNHRC, Justice Goldstone and Professor Chinkin had prejudged the outcome of the investigation, the government of Israel did not present official testimony to the commission.

Whether one shares Israel’s concerns over bias or not, the report is harshly critical of Israel, with the UN in its official press release charging that:

there is evidence indicating serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law were committed by Israel during the Gaza conflict, and that Israel committed actions amounting to war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

While it also charged that Palestinian missile attacks against Israel may have been war crimes, the vast majority of the report’s 575 pages are taken up with indicting Israel as a serial violator of human rights and the laws of war.

The seriousness of these charges certainly requires meticulous fact finding and painstaking documentation, but this is precisely where the Goldstone report is woefully inadequate.

A prime example of the report’s shoddiness is its analysis of the Israeli attacks on January 15 in the area of the Al Quds Hospital in Gaza City. The report devotes more than eight full pages to this one event (pages 174 to 182), considering on the one hand Palestinian testimony that there were no Palestinian attacks from the area, and also quoting from a prior Israeli report that reached the opposite conclusion.

In discussing that prior Israeli report on the Gaza conflict, The Operation in Gaza: Factual and Legal Aspects, Goldstone and his colleagues reproduce a passage that the Israeli report had quoted from the magazine Newsweek, which included this sentence:

In the Tal-al Hawa neighborhood nearby, however, Talal Safadi, an official in the leftist Palestinian People’s Party, said that resistance fighters were firing from positions all around the hospital.

The Goldstone report then comments on this, questioning the evidence presented by Israel:

While the Israeli Government does not comment further on the specific attack, it would appear to invoke these comments to justify the strikes on the hospital and surrounding area.

612. The Mission understands that the Israeli Government may consider relying on journalists’ reporting as likely to be treated as more impartial than reliance on its own intelligence information. The Mission is nonetheless struck by the lack of any suggestion in Israel’s report of July 2009 that there were members of armed groups present in the hospital at the time.

One should note first that, of course, Israel did have intelligence information that armed groups were present in the hospital. That’s why they fired back at them.
But more importantly, the UN’s claim here is a breathtaking distortion of what the Israeli report said, for immediately after the quote from Newsweek, the Israeli report presented exactly what the Goldstone report charged was lacking:

174. A report from Corriere della Sera confirms that the grounds, ambulances and uniforms of the al-Quds hospital had been hijacked by terrorist operatives:

Magah al Rachmah, aged 25, residing a few dozen meters from the four large buildings of the now seriously damaged health complex, says about this fact: “The men of Hamas took refuge mainly in the building that houses the administrative offices of al Quds. They used the ambulances and forced ambulance drivers and nurses to take off their uniforms with the paramedic symbols, so they could blend in better and elude Israeli snipers.”

Here’s an image of that portion of the page from the Israeli report:
excerpt from Israeli report

Thus, rather than dealing with the evidence in the Israeli report, Goldstone and his colleagues simply ignored those parts that disproved their charges. If Justice Goldstone and his eminent colleagues can’t even accurately characterize and quote from a straightforward Israeli report, why would anyone trust them to do anything more complicated? Like, for example, impartially investigating alleged war crimes.

Whether this was an honest error, or something less innocent, it raises grave questions about the credibility of the Goldstone report. The UN should immediately and forthrightly correct this error and should apologize to the government of Israel. The UN should also withdraw the Goldstone report pending a complete, independent and genuinely objective review of its procedures and its conclusions.

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