Goldstone Panel Colleagues Rebut Judge's Mea Culpa

Other members of fact finding Gaza mission imply that Goldstone's about-face was the result of intense political pressure, stressing that they remain staunchly behind the Goldstone report.

PARIS - Two weeks after Judge Richard Goldstone seemingly retracted key elements of his UN fact finding mission report on Gaza, the three other members of his team published a statement accusing him of misrepresenting facts in order to cast doubt on the report.

Pakistani human rights lawyer Hina Jilani, London School of Economics professor Christine Chinkin and former Irish peace-keeper Desmond Travers implied that Goldstone's about-face was the result of intense political pressure. The three stressed that they remained staunchly behind the report, which accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Cast Lead.

The statement from the three was sent to the Guardian newspaper, which published it on their website yesterday morning.

The Goldstone report has been the object of fierce controversy since its inception, and the Israeli government energetically rejected its conclusions. The United States has also rejected the report, calling it flawed and one-sided.

The three do not actually mention Goldstone by name directly in their statement, but leave no doubt as to their target.

Goldstone published an op-ed in The Washington Post on April 1 retracting a central tenet of his report on the 2008-2009 Israeli military operation in Gaza, that Israel had potentially committed war crimes by targeting civilian Palestinians in the three-week conflict.

Goldstone explained that evidence had since come to light as a result of subsequent Israeli military investigations into the conflict that showed Israel had not targeted civilians as a matter of policy.

Had he known that then, he wrote, "the Goldstone report would have been a different document."

In their response, the other three members wrote that "aspersions cast on the findings of the report ... cannot be left unchallenged," saying some have "misrepresented facts in an attempt to delegitimize the findings and to cast doubts on its credibility."

Jilani confirmed to The Associated Press that she and her colleagues disagreed with Goldstone's latest assessment, saying in a telephone interview that she could not see anything of substance now in the public domain that merits a rethinking on the findings of the report.

Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said the Israeli position about the Goldstone document remains the same.

"The whole process was deeply tainted by political bias and an extremist dominance over the U.N. Human Rights Commission by nondemocratic countries," he said, adding that the Israelis are still studying the implications of Goldstone's newspaper article.

"We will try to take whatever steps are possible in order to minimize the unjust damage caused by the original report," he said.

The Guardian rebuttal stated "calls to reconsider or even retract the report, as well as attempts at misrepresenting its nature and purpose, disregard the rights of victims, Palestinians and Israeli, to truth and justice."

The statement also addressed "personal attacks and the extraordinary pressure placed on members of the fact-finding mission," a seemingly thinly-veiled reference to pressure and criticism by many in Israel and the Jewish world on Goldstone, a South African Jew and self-described Zionist.

"Had we given in to pressures from any quarter to sanitize our conclusions, we would be doing a serious injustice to the hundreds of innocent civilians killed during the Gaza conflict, the thousands injured, and the hundreds of thousands whose lives continue to be deeply affected by the conflict and the blockade," the three wrote.

A central part of Goldstone's op-ed was a final report by American judge Mary McGowen Davis, noting that Israel had taken measures to investigate allegations of wrongdoing while Hamas had not.

The three other members of the panel wrote that of 400 investigations, only three have been submitted for prosecution and only two have led to minor punishments.

"The mechanisms that are being used by the Israeli authorities to investigate the incidents are proving inadequate to genuinely ascertain the facts and any ensuing legal responsibility," they wrote.