New Israeli report on Operation Cast Lead confirms Goldstone report’s main findings

by Yaniv Reich on July 22, 2010

Defense Minister Ehud Barak described it as “false, distorted, and irresponsible“.  Information Minister Yuli Edelstein called it “anti-Semitic“.  Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren said it “insidiously… portrayed the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents“.  Foreign Minister Lieberman argued that its true purpose “was to destroy Israel’s image, in service of countries where the terms ‘human rights’ and ‘combat ethics’ do not even appear in their dictionaries“.  And the US House of Representatives banded together in bipartisan harmony to pass a resolution (344–36) that called “on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration” of it.

For nearly a year now, vicious attacks on the Goldstone report and on Judge Goldstone himself have been the thing for Israel’s numerous apologists to do.

There is just one not-so-minor problem with this knee-jerk criticism of the report and infinite stream of ad hominem libel against its main author.  A majority of the most damning—and damaging—war crimes that are alleged to have taken place have now been confirmed by the IDF’s own investigations into the matter, themselves only conducted in an effort to derail the Goldstone report’s referral to the International Criminal Court.

IDF confirms over 20 gravest findings of the Goldstone Report

Several of the most dramatic instances of war crimes, which previously stirred Israel’s defenders into fits, are now publicly admitted by the IDF in the recent update to its official response (which can be found here).

Some examples of war crimes include:

  1. White phosphorous in urban areas: This one is probably the most famous admission that emerged after a series of easily disproved lies.  Israel’s initial response was one of absolute denial, indeed indignation, that people would suggest it had used banned chemical weapons in densely populated areas.  But the steady stream of photos and videos depicting phosphorous burns on children and buildings eventually forced Israel to admit it had used these prohibited weapons.
  2. The murder of two unarmed Palestinians carrying white flags of surrender.
  3. The Al-Fakhura Street incident: Israeli mortar fire at a site adjacent to a UN Relief Works Agency compound resulted in multiple civilian deaths.
  4. The use of innocent Palestinians as human shields: The Goldstone report explains that in order “to carry out house searches as human shields the Israeli soldiers took off AD/03’s blindfold but he remained handcuffed. He was forced to walk in front of the soldiers and told that, if he saw someone in the house but failed to tell them, he would be killed. He was instructed to search each room in each house cupboard by cupboard. After one house was completed he was taken to another house with a gun pressed against his head and told to carry out the same procedure there. He was punched, slapped and insulted throughout the process.”  The new Israeli report identifies this anonymous human shield AD/03 and confirms this episode.  Other cases of human shield use, e.g. Abbas Ahmad Ibrahim Halawa and Mahmoud Abd Rabbo al-Ajrami, were also confirmed.
  5. Al-Samouni family massacre: The Israelis attacked two houses of the Samouni family, killing 23 people in total.  Subsequently, they prevented the Red Cross and PRCS from providing care to the wounded and dying for three days.  Confirmed by Israel and the subject of a military investigation.
  6. Firing on Al Maqadmah and other mosques during prayer time.

In total, a quick scan through the IDF’s new report provides direct confirmation of more than 20 of Goldstone’s findings.  A number of these are the subject of internal IDF investigations, which are infuriating large swaths of the military.  Of course, decent people everywhere should hope that those investigations are conducted in the most unbiased and professional manner possible, and that justice is served appropriately to all those who have committed war crimes.  I am not holding my breath, but it’s good to throw this wish out there.

Israel admits it did not minimize civilian casualties

The IDF report states: “IDF orders include the obligation to take all feasible precautions in order to minimize the incidental loss of civilian life or property” [emphasis added].  Israelis accept this statement as an article of faith and become unglued at the suggestion that “everything possible” wasn’t done to ensure the safety of innocent people.  This expression of faith is often followed by the questions: “What? Do you think Israel wants to kill civilians?”  These questions are of course answered far more accurately with data on casualties than with ideological blindness.

They are also answered, however, through inadvertent slips in the public relations machine that shapes international media coverage of Israel/Palestine.  Today, we are treated to a spate of articles across the English and Hebrew-language press (e.g. here and here) about how Israel “promises” to do a better job of not killing innocent human beings next time around.

“The IDF has … implemented operational changes in its orders and combat doctrine designed to further minimise civilian casualties and damage to civilian property in the future,” it said.

“In particular, the IDF has adopted important new procedures designed to enhance the protection of civilians in urban warfare, for instance by further emphasising that the protection of civilians is an integral part of an IDF commander’s mission.”

Perhaps in a future “update” the IDF can enlighten the world as to how it was previously taking “all feasible precautions” and yet finds only now new tactics to protect civilians.  Perhaps the IDF spokesperson can further explain how emphasizing to its soldiers that “protection of civilians is an integral part” of the mission is considered an “operational change” from earlier practice.  One must presume that protection of civilians has not been given sufficient attention until now, and only Goldstone’s courageous and now confirmed report has forced Israel to reconsider the meaning of “all feasible precautions” and “minimize civilian casualties”. As Magnes Zionist has pointed out, Israel seems to think it can get away with a “I didn’t do it but will try harder next time” approach.

Or perhaps the IDF’s commanders and soldiers got a bit confused by all this talk of “protecting civilians” and that talk of the “Dahiya Doctrine.”

But all of this gives the IDF a bit too much credit, too much benefit of the doubt.  This new report is nothing more than a desperate tactic to try and avoid criminal prosecution for war crimes and possible crimes against humanity in the ICC.  Most of the IDF’s “investigations” have already been dismissed as part of this whitewash, notwithstanding all the irate IDF officers unaccustomed to the pretense of accountability.

All it teaches us is four concrete things: (1) the Goldstone report did a stunningly good job in identifying possible war crimes despite Israel’s concerted non-cooperation with the commission, (2) Israel has by its own admission failed to adequately protect civilians in war, (3) many people owe Judge Goldstone a sincere, begging apology for the disgraceful manner in which he has been treated, and (4) justice for the Palestinian victims of Israeli terrorism is still far away.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 jooliz July 27, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Are we reading the same report?

I haven’t looked through everything yet, but from paragraphs 47-57, dealing with 2 of the “human shield” cases. The report does the exact opposite of confirm the use of human shields.

You said:
“The new Israeli report identifies this anonymous human shield AD/03 and confirms this episode. Other cases of human shield use, e.g. Abbas Ahmad Ibrahim Halawa and Mahmoud Abd Rabbo al-Ajrami, were also confirmed.”

Regarding Abbas Ahmad Ibrahim Halawa and Mahmoud Abd Rabbo al-Ajrami, the report does the exact opposite of confirm the incident:

“50. The consistent evidence was that at no time during the incident were either of the two individuals made to walk ahead of the soldiers or used as human shields. Rather, the two detainees walked surrounded by the soldiers as required by IDF operational procedures, both in order to protect the detainees as well as to reduce the possibility of their escape.
51. The investigation found no evidence to support the complainants’ contention that they were physically abused while in IDF custody. In fact, this contention was contradicted by the records of Mr. al-Ajrami’s medical examination at Shifa hospital soon after the incident. Similarly, the investigation determined that there were no grounds to attribute to IDF forces the vandalism or looting that may have occurred in Mr. al-Ajrami’s home. The investigation noted that Mr. al-Ajrami told investigators that his family had failed to evacuate from the area partly due to their fear of burglaries and looting by other Gaza residents.”

As for AD/03, the report does say they managed to identify him, although they keep him anonymous in the report, and go on to state that he had already opened a complaint with them for investigation (in other words the Goldstone Report in this case, at least, was superfluous). However, then AD/03 derails the investigation into his own incident. The report explains:
“54. At the outset of the criminal investigation, the MPCID contacted AD/03’s lawyer to coordinate an interview with AD/03 at the Erez Crossing … but AD/03 refused the requests. The lawyer asserted that AD/03 refused to be interviewed out of concern for his safety.
55. AD/03 continued to refuse to cooperate even though Israeli investigators explained that such testimony was essential to the criminal investigation. Taking detailed testimony from the complainant, including collection of any materials from the complainant that could be used to further the investigation, is a principal component of an MPCID investigation. The testimony is necessary not only to confirm allegations but also to identify the particular IDF unit and individuals that were allegedly involved…”

In other words, since the complainant wouldn’t speak to the MPCID after repeated attempts to reach out to him, AD/03 refused to cooperate, preventing the Investigation from identifying the unit he was accusing, and stopping the investigation its tracks.

Pending AD/03 providing additional testimony, the case is closed. How is that confirming the episode as described in the Goldstone Report?

Checking this one incident didn’t take much time, but it makes me wonder how many of the other incidents you claim were “confirmed” by Israel, were really just revealed to be groundless or else were similarly incapable of coming to any solid conclusions.

2 Yaniv Reich September 9, 2010 at 9:27 pm


I believe you have confused the argument made by Goldstone as well as the point of this blog post. My contention is NOT that every allegation made in the Goldstone report is a verifiable war crime nor, on the contrary, that every assertion in the Israeli report settles the case. Instead, the remarkable point, which I have tried to highlight here, is that the UN fact-finding mission did a remarkable job identifying shady instances that must be impartially investigated (a far cry from the Israeli report).

On this point, the text you cite and others (e.g. Para 53: “The HRCFF Report describes an incident involving an anonymous witness, AD/03, who alleged that he and others were improperly detained and coerced into assisting IDF forces during the Gaza Operation.27 In reviewing these allegations and cross-referencing them with other available sources of information, Israeli investigators were able to establish the identity of AD/03 and determine that his case had already been reported to the IDF prior to the publishing of the report and was already the subject of a criminal investigation by the MPCID”) confirm that these are real people who were involved in tense and possibly illegal wartime operations, and their treatment warrants further investigation.

That is the point of all this.

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