Judge Richard Goldstone, author of a controversial United Nations report highly critical of Israel’s actions in Gaza, has defended his role in an interview with the JC.
The South African jurist said he was “a traditional Zionist” who found it hard to understand the suggestion that he had betrayed Israel by agreeing to lead the inquiry. “On the contrary, I believed that what I agreed to do would be in the interests of Israel and the region,” he said.
He also revealed that he had not anticipated the strength of reaction against the report from Israeli leaders “from whom I expected better”.
The report, commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which endorsed it last Friday by 25 votes to six, accused Israel of firing on civilian targets and the disproportionate use of force, and Hamas of attacking Israeli civilians.
“The evidence that we found in respect of some of the incidents clearly indicated an intentional targeting of civilians and civilian sites,” he said.
But he explained that his four-person inquiry team “did not apply a criminal standard of proof — proof beyond a reasonable doubt. We based our finding on what we saw with our own eyes, and the evidence we heard with our own ears.”
Whether any Israelis would end up charged with war crimes, he said, would depend on whether there were “good-faith domestic investigations,” and also on the attitude of the permanent members of the Security Council.
As support appeared to be growing in Israel for an independent inquiry into its conduct in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in December and January, Judge Goldstone said: “I certainly hope that Israel will launch its own… investigation. A refusal to launch such an inquiry will be fairly interpreted as an attempt to hide the true state of affairs.”
At an Israeli Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, several ministers, including Likud’s Dan Meridor and Labour’s Isaac Herzog, backed an official inquiry as a way of warding off international proceedings against Israeli officers and ministers.
But there is stiff opposition to this from the IDF — supported by Defence Minister Ehud Barak — whose top brass privately accuse the pro-inquiry ministers of “leaving the army out in the cold”.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has instructed Justice Minister Ya’akov Neeman to form a special task force to deal with any legal actions being taken against Israeli officers and officials over war crimes allegations.
He has also asked him to campaign with other Western governments to change the laws of war in order to be more relevant to anti-terror operations.
Although the United States voted against the report last week, Britain chose to cast no vote at all in a gesture that apparently reflected concern at Israel’s use of white phosphorous during Cast Lead.