Goldstone to Haaretz: U.S. does not have to protect Israel blindly
Author of report on Gaza war responds to President's description of him as 'small man' out to hurt Israel.
Judge Richard Goldstone told Haaretz Thursday that President Shimon Peres' remarks criticizing him were "specious and ill-befitting the head of State of Israel."
Peres was quoted Wednesday as calling Goldstone "a small man, devoid of any sense of justice, a technocrat with no real understanding of jurisprudence," who was "on a one-sided mission to hurt Israel."
In Thursday's interview by e-mail with Haaretz, Goldstone said: "I am content to be judged by my actions over the course of my career both in terms of my professional judicial career and my voluntary service."
Goldstone also said he had anticipated that the report would engender considerable criticism. "After all, no one likes to be accused of committing serious war crimes. However, I was surprised at the many nasty attacks made against me personally. In my view, it was a classic case of attacking the messenger rather than addressing the message."
Goldstone also rejected the claim that the fact that he is Jewish was exploited to make it more difficult for Israelis to challenge his conclusions. "I was approached because of my experience with regard to the investigation of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law."
The Goldstone report is expected to be raised for discussion in the United Nations Security Council in the near future, and Goldstone Thursday discussed the possibility that the United States would veto any resolution that would hurt Israel when it comes to the implementation of the report's findings. "I do not believe that any nation should protect another nation blindly. I would prefer to see the United States furnish reasons for criticizing the report. The United States has supported our call for credible investigations by Israel and by the Gaza authorities, whether the PA or Hamas," he said.
Goldstone reiterated statements he has made, as well as those made by a number of Israeli human rights groups, inviting an open, public investigation and categorically rejecting a probe by the Israel Defense Forces of the Gaza campaign. "It does not suffice for the military to investigate itself. That will satisfy very few people and certainly not the victims."
However Goldstone stressed that "in any public inquiry, it would be open to the Israeli government and the IDF to have sensitive security information protected from public disclosure."
When asked how far up the chain of command he felt such a criminal investigation should go, and whether decision-makers in government be its subject, he replied: "A criminal investigation should go as high up the chain of command, both military and civilian, as the evidence justifies."
Goldstone, who is widely considered one of the fathers of transitional justice and has extolled its virtues in achieving peace and reconciliation in post-conflict societies, was asked what role he thought a truth and reconciliation commission - which received international recognition as a tool for probing the South African government's actions during apartheid - could play in contributing to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by establishing accountability in a more constructive fashion than criminal proceedings. Goldstone said he believed it would, "on condition that it is set up to look at allegations on all sides and is established by a democratic process."
Goldstone was asked how he reconciled his finding that kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit should be accorded the privileges of a prisoner of war, and calling for his immediate release as a humanitarian gesture, with the fact that Hamas is a non-state actor not bound by the Third Geneva Convention, which defines the concept of prisoner of war status. Should not Shalit be defined as an illegal abductee, the victim of a war crime, and his release not subject to the goodwill of Hamas?
Goldstone replied: "In no way did we regard Hamas as a state party. We decided that it was in the interests of giving greater protection to people in the position of Gilad Shalit to extend prisoner-of-war status to them. We extended existing norms in order to do that. We based this decision on the military operations being controlled by the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention, i.e., that it was an international armed conflict."
In response to the Israeli allegation that Goldstone's mandate was one-sided, he replied: "This incorrect allegation continues to be made in the attempt to discredit the report despite the fact that it is demonstrably false. The claim is based on a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that I specifically and explicitly rejected."
Goldstone also said that he had "demanded and received a balanced mandate to enable me to investigate allegations of war crimes by all sides. The government of Israel clearly knows this, as it is all a matter of public record that I discussed at the press conference announcing the inquiry and its mandate. I believe that the continued reference to the mission's mandate is yet another attempt to avoid addressing the substance of the report."
Goldstone said he believed that for Israel, "this is unfortunate because the report contains the clearest finding that Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups committed serious war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity. The acceptance of those findings by the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly has been ignored completely by Israel.
"I suggest that Israel has not acknowledged that because it would confer credibility on the report," Goldstone also said.
Goldstone called the allegation that the report encourages terror and negates Israel's right to self-defense "quite untrue and a fallacious attempt to win opposition to what is contained in the report.
"The report is based on the assumption that Israel was entitled to act in self-defense. The investigation was concerned with whether the exercise of the right to self-defense was lawful or unlawful. The condemnation in the report of the rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza is the clearest possible statement against terror, and the endorsement of the report by the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly is probably the first time that the United Nations has recognized Israel's right to act in self-defense against such terror."
Goldstone also said: "Many Israelis are right to feel that the United Nations and its member bodies such as the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly have devoted inordinate and disproportionate attention to scrutinizing and criticizing Israel. This has come at the price of ignoring violations of human rights in other countries, some of them members of those very same bodies. The time has come for the investigation of all violations of international human rights law and international law whenever they are committed, in any state.
"However, this disproportionate focus on Israel does not exempt Israel from respecting international law," Goldstone also said.
"I would suggest that time has come for Israel to look at the allegations not only of the killing and injuring of so many civilians but also the collective punishment meted out to the people of Gaza by the substantial destruction of the infrastructure, and particularly the food infrastructure of Gaza. The debate should continue, not attempt to be silenced."