Military expert on Goldstone report ‘severely biased’

By Anshel Pfeffer, February 11, 2010

An investigation by an Israeli think tank has alleged that the military expert on the UN’s Goldstone Commission, Desmond Travers, was so biased against Israel that the commission’s report was a travesty of the truth.

And in an interview last week, Colonel Travers — who retired from the Irish Army in 2001 — accused “Jewish lobbyists” of strongly influencing Britain’s Middle East policy.

Of the four members of the commission headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, Colonel Travers was the only one with military experience and served as the commission’s expert on all matters military.

While most of the attention so far regarding the Commission’s report has been centered on Justice Goldstone, the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs (JCPA) has, in recent months, been investigating the role Colonel Travers played in the inquiry. On Wednesday, JCPA head Dr Dore Gold presented the findings of a report compiled by former IDF Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan D Halevi.

The report criticises the way Colonel Travers conducted interviews with Palestinian witnesses and quotes extensively from interviews he gave to the media which allegedly prove a severe bias against Israel and its armed forces.

Who is Travers?

Colonel Desmond Travers served in the Irish Defence Forces for 40 years. He served with UN and EU peacekeeping forces around the world, including in former Yugoslavia, Cyprus and Lebanon, where he was military observer for the UNIFIL force. During that period, he lived for two years in northern Israel. Since his retirement in 2001, he has taught military affairs at the Institute of International Criminal Investigations in The Hague.

The JCPA cites interviews Colonel Travers conducted with witnesses in Gaza, which are on the UN’s website, in which he did not ask those who told him of attacks on their homes by Israeli forces whether they themselves were members of Hamas or other Palestinian organisations.

He also neglected to ask whether their homes had been used to store rockets and weapons.

He did, however, ask two Palestinian psychologists to explain how Israeli soldiers are capable of murdering children in front of their parents, as if it were a fact that such murders had occurred.

In an extensive interview last week with London-based Middle East Monitor, Colonel Travers added a whole new list of allegations to those included in the report. Among other things, he claimed that Israel used unmanned airborne vehicles (UAVs) capable of seeing through walls in order deliberately to target and bomb homes in which large numbers of Palestinian civilians had taken shelter.

According to the JCPA report, the IDF does not even have this technological capability.

In the interview he also claimed that in the month before the Gaza operation, Hamas had only fired two rockets at Israel, despite the fact that, in just three days that month, 32 rockets had been fired.

Colonel Travers also rejected out of the hand the notion that Hamas had used mosques to store weapons.

He described Israeli photographic evidence of this as “spurious” and said he would not believe any photographs presented by Israel. Indeed, in an interview with Harper’s Magazine last October, he said that any such charges “reflect Western perceptions in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion”.

He also dismissed evidence found in Gaza by former British Army Colonel Tim Collins of secondary explosions in a mosque that had been attacked by Israel, clearly indicating that weapons had been stored there. Despite the Goldstone Report specifically saying that some witnesses in Gaza were reluctant to speak about Hamas’s operations for fear of reprisals, in the interview, Colonel Travers said that he had seen no evidence whatsoever of any Hamas intimidation of witnesses.

Neither Judge Goldstone nor Col Travers responded to requests for comment by press time.

Last updated: 4:58pm, February 11 2010