Goldstone: crying foul shouldnt derail justice

If a police investigator helped put together a big case file but later told a newspaper he'd altered some of his views on the investigation that would, I think, be unusual. But it wouldn't invalidate the original findings.

This – the material that might end up in a court of law – would stand or fall in terms of its own credibility. And that's what courts are for, to test the evidence. Similarly Richard Goldstone's remarks in a newspaper article about the UN's investigation into the 2008-9 Gaza conflict don't suddenly trump a 575-page, UN-ratified report.

As I said at the time of this horrible conflict (and many times afterwards), both Israel's military offensive and the behaviour of armed Palestinian groups appeared to bear the hallmarks of war crimes. While Goldstone says that what he’s learnt since the report’s publication in September 2009 means the report “would have been a different document”, this doesn’t mean that its central concern that both sides may have committed war crimes is now null and void. And, let’s not forget that it's far from being the only persuasive evidence on the matter. Far from it.

Take, for example, this:

Ofer, a fighter in the Golani Brigade (an elite combat unit of the Israeli army) who was in the first wave of the ground offensive, said: “The first time we went in, we were given orders to target our machine guns at every suspicious point that could be used to fire upon us. And we shot at anything that moved. The civilians in the area had already been told that we were coming in, so I don’t feel bad for anyone hurt there. If they remained there, they must have been Hamas…”

Or this:

On 4 January, [an] ambulance crew was attacked in Beit Lahia, in the north of Gaza. In mid-morning the ambulance had answered a call to rescue several young men, some injured and some dead, who were in Abu ‘Obeida Street after an Israeli strike. The ambulance was staffed by driver Khaled Yousef Abu Sa’ada, 43, and two paramedics, 26-year-old Ala’ Usama Sarhan and 34-year-old Arafa Hani ‘Abd al-Dayem, a father of four and a science teacher by profession, who had been volunteering with the emergency services for eight years. Driver Khaled Yousef Abu Sa’ada [said] : We came about 15 minutes after the missile strike. None of those lying in the road had any weapon; they were just civilians, all young men; their bodies were scattered, not together. The paramedics picked up the first injured man and put him in the ambulance; then they picked up a second man and were transferring him from the stretcher to the ambulance when the shell hit the ambulance. Arafa fell, badly injured and the patient had his head and legs blown off.”

For dozens more examples (including of Palestinian armed groups firing rockets indiscriminately into Israel) have a look at the full 117 pages of Amnesty’s report on the conflict (from which these two examples are drawn).

On the one side Hamas' failure to cooperate with the international justice process has been lamentable. It just won't face up to its responsibilities. Meanwhile, Israel's response, while not actually shutting up shop, has itself been poor. First by refusing to deal with the original Goldstone-led investigation; then allowing only underpowered and limited investigations by the military authorities (effectively putting on a show of properly investigating); and now latching onto Goldstone's newspaper remarks to try to get the whole thing derailed.

If you or your colleagues are the subject of a criminal investigation you can’t simply demand the investigation be dropped because you interpret comments made in a newspaper article as ones that back you up. There’s more to international justice than that.

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