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The report by the commission headed by Judge Richard Goldstone on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza is one of the most serious indictments ever made against the government and the military in Israel. The report states that during the operation Israel committed war crimes and significant violations of international law.

The commission went so far as to accuse Israel of crimes against humanity. According to the report, the operation was intended to punish the civilian Palestinian population with the intentional use of disproportional force. As a result, they wrote, 1,400 people were killed in Gaza and thousands were left without a roof over their heads or a livelihood.

As could be expected following the government's decision to boycott the commission of inquiry, official Israel chose to defend itself with an all-out attack on the document and its authors. Although the report states that the operation had been preceded by the intentional firing of rockets at civilian targets in Israel - which it also describes as a war crime, and perhaps even a crime against humanity - and also notes the improper conduct on the part of Gilad Shalit's kidnappers, the government spokesmen accused the commission of ignoring the circumstances which led to the offensive in the Gaza Strip and said they encouraged terror. The government hopes friendly countries, led by the United States, will stand by Israel in the battle to undermine the credibility of the report and will thwart the threat that it will become a legal indictment in the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

But even if the legal threat is lifted via diplomatic means, the best of those offering explanations will find it difficult to invalidate the findings of the Goldstone Commission - which analyzed dozens of incidents, interviewed 188 people and reviewed thousands of documents. Moreover, a good deal of the findings are consistent with a number of reports filed by voluntary groups, which pointed out violations of the rules of warfare and of human rights during the fighting and the prolonged siege of the Strip.

The cloud of Cast Lead will not dissipate on its own. Israel benefited from the decision to appoint a commission of inquiry following the Sabra and Chatila massacre that occurred during the first Lebanon war. Instead of a futile attempt to reject the report and undermine the legitimacy of the Goldstone Commission, the government would do better to establish a state commission of inquiry to thoroughly investigate the serious accusations that were placed this week on Israel's doorstep. Such a step could prevent a more severe entanglement.