What Future for the Goldstone Report? Beyond the Name

20 Apr

            Ever since it first struck the raw nerve of Israeli political consciousness I thought it misleading to associate the Goldstone Report so exclusively with its chair, Judge Richard Goldstone. After all, despite his deserved prominence as an international jurist, he was the least qualified substantively of the four members of the mission. Undoubtedly, part of the intensely hostile Israeli reaction of their highest political leaders had to do with the sense that Goldstone as a devoted Zionist had been guilty of betrayal, even of ‘a blood libel’ against the Jewish people, because he seemed to be elevating his fidelity to the ‘law’ above that of tribal loyalties, and according to Tel Aviv he should never have been mixed up with such a suspect entity as the UN Human Rights Council in the first place.  


What should be observed, and stands out over time, is the degree of importance that even the extremist Israeli leadership attaches to the avoidance of further stains on their reputation as a law abiding political actor. This seems true for the Israeli leadership even when the assessing organization is the UN Human Rights Council that Israel, as well as the U.S. Government, never misses the chance to denounce and defame. Implicit in this Israeli search for vindication is their implicit acknowledgement that the UN is after all a major site of struggle in the ongoing legitimacy war being fought against Palestinian claims of self-determination. This acknowledgement of importance has been expressed more recently by Netanyahu’s inappropriate insistence that in view of the Goldstone retreat the UN retract the report in its totality.


This assessment was embarrassingly confirmed by the reaction of the U.S. Senate to Goldstone’s Washington Post op/ed of April 1st when two weeks lateron it unanimously passed a resolution calling on the UN “to reflect the author’s repudiation of the Goldstone report’s central findings, rescind the report and reconsider further Council actions with respect to its findings.” It also asked the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, “to do all in his power to redress the damage to Israel’s repuation.” This ill-informed and inflammatory wording is quite extraordinary, starting with the reference to Goldstone as ‘the author’ of the report, thereby completely overlooking the reality that it was a joint effort, that his input was probably the smallest, and the other authors have reaffirmed their support for the entire report subsequent to the Goldstone retreat. What is mostly revealed by this Senate initiative is the blatant partisanship that is now unquestioned in official Washington. This unsubtle disregard for international law and the authority of the UN should at the very least encourage the Palestine Authority to seek other auspices for any future negotiations with Israel than what is provided by the U.S. Government.


            It is probably true that if Goldstone had not been so vilified for his association with the report it would have likely experienced the same fate as  thousands of other well documented UN reports on controversial issues. By lending his name to the fact-finding mission and its outcome Goldstone became an unwilling lightning rod, the target of vicious attacks but also heralded at the time by fair-minded persons around the world for his fidelity to the law even in the face of such hostile fire. In this regard Goldstone became a sacrificial scarecrow that failed in his appointed role of keeping the birds of prey at a safe distance. In effect, how could Israel attack one of their own if the assessment of their behavior produced findings of severe violations of international humanitarian law? How could such findings be avoided given the widely known characteristics of Operation Cast Lead? There is a double irony present: Goldstone was partly selected to head this sensitive undertaking because as a known supporter of Israel he would make it harder for Israel to complain about UN bias so as to deflect attention away from the message; but precisely because of the difficulty posed for Israel’s propaganda machine by Goldstone’s credibility the level of attack on him reached hysterical heights and evidently exerted such intense pressure that he was eventually led to make an awkward and unprecedented partial repudiation of the report that pleases neither side.


            Two other aspects of the situation are often neglected or misstated. First of all, several other respected international studies had already confirmed most of the conclusions reached by the time the Goldstone  Report was released in September 2009. Other prior noteworthy reports on the international law issues including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, Al Haq, and especially the comprehensive report of an earlier detailed and authoritative fact-finding team composed of internationally respected international law experts under the leadership of John Dugard, a leading South African jurist and former UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine carried out on behalf of the Arab League. Against such a background, in a substantive sense the Goldstone Report did not say anything that was not already well established by a highly credible accountability community of NGOs, journalists, and an array of UN humanitarian workers and civilians who were on the scene during the attacks. Such an overwhelming informed consensus is what makes such a mockery of this effort by the U.S. State Department and the Senate to seize on the Goldstone retreat as a new occasion to repudiate the report as a whole, and throw once more a blanket of impunity over Israeli defiance of international law.


            The second element that should be kept in mind, but is rarely ever acknowledged even by those who stand 100% behind the report is that it was not, as the media mostly claimed, unduly critical of Israel. On the contrary, in my view, the report was one-sided, but to the benefit of Israel. Let me mention several evidences of leaning toward Israel: the report proceeds on the basis of Israel’s right of self-defense without bothering to decide whether in a situation of continuing occupation a claim of self-defense is ever available under international humanitarian law, although Israel was entitled to rely on force to the extent necessary to uphold specific security interests arising from the rocket attacks. Furthermore, the report did not examine whether the factual conditions prior to the attacks supported any security claim considering the success of the truce to cut rocket fire to almost zero in the months preceding the attacks, a truce that had held until Israel provocatively broke it on 4 November 2008 by conducting a lethal raid within Gaza. Beyond this the claimed security justification seemed artificially fashioned to serve as a rationalization for the Israeli aggressive and unlawful all out military assault against Gaza that was mostly motivated by a series of Israeli claims that were quite independent of security in Gaza. The real goals were as follows: to destroy Hamas; to  induce the return of the captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, to punish Gazans  for voting in favor of Hamas back in 2006. In addition, it was clear that the IDF had been planning Operation Cast Lead for six months prior to launching the attack on 27 December 2008, and for a variety of reasons other than securing southern Israel against rockets: striking hard at Gaza before Obama took office, influencing in Kadima’s favor the Israeli domestic elections that were about to take place, restoring confidence in the IDF after its failures in the Lebanon War of 2006, and sending a message to Iran that Israel would not hesitate to use overwhelming force whenever its interests dictated and without restraint.  


            The Goldstone Report did appropriately emphasize the severe Israeli departures from the law of war by attacking with disproportionate and indiscriminate force against a crowded, mainly urbanized society. But it failed to emphasize a distinctive feature of the attacks—the denial to the civilian population of Gaza of the option to leave the war zone and become refugees, at least temporarily. To keep civilians, especially children, the aged, and the disabled, so confined leaves permanent psychic wounds as has been reported by many post-attack studies and residents of Gaza, but is not disclosed by the casualty figures that count only the dead and the wounded. Part of the public horror of Operation Cast Lead resulted from the 100:1 ratio of war dead, which is a vivid confirmation of the defenseless plight of the Gazan population and the helplessness of Hamas protectors when confronted by the Israeli war machine. Despite this indicator of one-sidedness, the casualty comparison dramatically understated the real losses to the Palestinians. If the psychologically damaged are added to the Palestinian total and the friendly fire victims are subtracted from the Israeli side, reducing their total deaths from 13 to 6 or 7 the ratio of losses is gigantically uneven. In view of this one-sidedness, together with Israel’s initiation of the attacks and its role as occupying power, the report gave excessive emphasis to Hamas violations of international humanitarian law, which should have been noted, but not treated, as was the case, as virtually symmetrical with those of Israel. To treat as balanced that which is so manifestly unbalanced is to falsify the relevant reality.


            As has been pointed out in the media, including by Goldstone, his retraction was limited to the admittedly important issue of whether Israel intentionally targeted civilians as a matter of policy. Even this limited retraction is unconvincing because it rests so heavily on Israel’s self-investigations, which the post-Goldstone UN fact-finding mission jointly headed by an American judge, Mary McGowan Davis and the Swedish judge, Lennart Aspergen, found in their recent report failed to meet international standards. As mentioned previously, the retraction by Goldstone was also seriously undermined by the joint statement of the three other members of the Goldstone mission who publically reaffirmed the report in its totality, which never made the sweeping accusation of Israel that Goldstone retracted!


            Only half satirically, I would think that the Goldstone Report might be time to rechristen the Goldstone Report as the Chinkin Report or blandly let it be henceforth be known as the ‘Report on Israeli and Hamas War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity during Operation Cast Lead.’ Whatever the name, the main allegations have been confirmed over and over again, and it is now up to the governments making up the UN General Assembly and Security Council to show the world whether international criminal accountability and the International Criminal Court is exclusively reserved for sub-Saharan African wrongdoing!


            Many have asked whether the Goldstone retraction will doom the future of the report. In my view rather than performing a funeral rite Goldstone miscalculated, and has given the report a second life. It may still languish in the UN System, thanks to the geopolitical leverage being exerted by the United States to ensure that Israeli impunity is safeguarded once more, but this new controversy surrounding the report has provided civil society with renewed energy to push harder on the legitimacy agenda that has been animating the growing Palestinian global solidarity movement. Never before has the Goldstone Report received such sympathetic attention even from American mainstream sources. Astonishingly, even the NY Times columnist, Roger Cohen, chided Goldstone for trying belatedly to distance himself from the report, going so far as to suggest that his behavior has contributed a new verb ‘to Goldstone’ to the language of politics. “Its meaning: to make a finding, and then partially retract it for uncertain motive.” Cohen’s formal definition—“to ‘Goldstone’: (Colloq.) To sow confusion, hide a secret, create havoc.”


            History has funny ways of reversing expectations. Just as most of the world was ready to forget the allegations against Israel from the ghastly 2008-09 attacks on Gaza and move on, Richard Goldstone inadvertently wakes us all up to a remembrance of those morbid events, and in the process, does irreparable damage to his own reputation while trying to redeem himself in certain circles.


It is up to persons of conscience to seize this opportunity, and press hard for a more even handed approach to the application of the rule of law in world politics. There is much righteous talk these days at the UN and elsewhere about the ‘responsibility to protect,’ contending that the Qaddafi threats directed at Libyans civilians justified a No Fly Zone and a full fledged military intervention from the air undertaken with UN blessings and NATO bombs and missiles, but not even a whisper of support for providing the still beleaguered people of Gaza with a No Fly Zone despite frequent violent incursions by Israel and a debilitating unlawful blockade that has lasted almost four years, a severe form of collective punishment that directly violates Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. This blockade continues to block the entry of building materials needed in Gaza to recover from the devastation caused more than two years ago.




25 Responses to “What Future for the Goldstone Report? Beyond the Name”

  1. Ray Joseph Cormier April 20, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    Having read the Washington Post report of Judge Goldstone’s supposed “retraction” I did not see it that way. He merely stated if the Israeli Authorities had co-operated with the UN investigation, the final report might have been written differently. That did not exonerate Israel in any way.
    You Professor Falk know from experience the Israeli Authorities will not co-operate with you in fulfilling your UN Mandate.

    Internal Israeli investigations are usually a whitewash. The Turkel Commission absolved the IDF Commando Raid on the Mavi Marmara of any wrongdoing questioning only Israeli politicians and the IDF General Staff. The Commandos who conducted the raid were not questioned at all.

    In the early reporting of the incident, it was revealed 1 Commando shot 6 of the 9 people on board himself with a shot to the head. Another Commando was quoted in the JP they were firing warning shots and tossing stun grenades on the deck of the Mavi Marmara as they were rappelling down the ropes.

    The edited grainy video of the Commandos being beaten with clubs on the deck of the ship must be seen in context of what the Jerusalem Post wrote about what those Commandos said in the initial reports, but not questioned by the Turkel Commission. Knowing the Truth was not the objective of that internal Israeli investigation.


    • YM April 27, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

      In reading this long post from Professor Falk, it is clear that he is biased against Israel. Why would Israel want to cooperate with him or any of his UN colleagues? He favors BDS against Israel and doesn’t seem to believe that a Jewish state has a right to exist. He favors an international legal system even though no international law ever protected the Jews and seems to have materialized right after six million were killed, to be used only against the worlds only Jewish state.

      No, I am not going to assimilate, or die for a fake international system. Unlike Mr. Falk, I am a Jew first, an American second and a human a (distant) third (my wife doubts I am a human, actually :))

  2. sudhan April 22, 2011 at 2:53 am #

    In his various articles including the present one, Richard Falk’s point of departure in his political analyses continues to be one of adherence to rule of law in international politics, especially in wars and conflict zones. Such a perspective offers everybody including the major actors in world-affairs a saner approach to resolving the conflicts than the one practised by the powerful nations that ignore international humanitarian law and commit various crimes against humanity, such as the United States has done in its genocidal wars in the twentieth century from Vietnam to the twenty-first century’s wars of aggression in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. America’s closest ally in the Middle East has been the Zionist State of Israel and its destructive war-machine, funded, equipped and oiled by American political establishment. The colonization of Palestine and systematic crushing of Palestinian people has been the hallmark of Israeli politics. Of course, all this with the active support of the United States.

    The question of ethnic and religious identity of an individual, keeping in view that Richard Falk himself is a Jew, is used by many Zionists to attack those who object to the Israeli policies and war crimes. For Zionists truth is what Zionism stands for, the rest is a lie! As a result many principled scholars and writers, including some Jews, who show the Israeli policies and crimes against the people of the occupied Palestine are routinely vilified and mocked by Zionists and Israeli propaganda machine. The responses to Falk in the American political establishment and Zionists world-wide show how the network of falsifiers operates to hide the facts such as those of Operation Cast Lead.

    • Mark April 29, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

      All the hallmarks of a devoted and zealous anti-Zionist. You, in fact, use the exact same terminology found among Islamo-fascists and terrorists. But maybe this is what this site is really all about…..

  3. Tim Haughton April 22, 2011 at 3:16 am #

    As all good propagandists know, the language we use to frame a discourse profoundly alters the thought processes that accompany it (c.f. Sapir-Whorf hypothesis).

    It is a truism that reports of this kind tend to be referred to using a shorthand that favours the chair of the mission, in this instance, Goldstone.

    I agree that the UN’s FFM was systematically biased towards Israel in that it implicitly treated the assault as an act of self defence under the UN charter. I have previously written on Israel’s claims of self defence here:


    And it should be said that Goldstone’s “reconsideration” was based, he claimed, on the McGowan-Davis report. Like a number of people, I went through his op-ed and the McGowan Davis report with a fine tooth comb to see if what he had written stacked up.


    Needless to say, some of his claims were misleading at best, some were flat out lies.

  4. george beres April 24, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    How powerful is the Israeli lobby? Powerful enough to cause a fellow-Jew, Goldstone, to trash his identity as a man of integrity by reversing himself on the U.N. report under his name which describes Israel’s brutal aggression in Palestine. His hypocrisy under pressure is echoed by the untruthful U.S. representative to the U.N., Rice. But Americans persist in buying all Israeli lies, just as Israeli money has succeeded in buying and bribing our federal legislators. – George Beres

    • YM April 27, 2011 at 7:08 pm #

      George, Israeli money? Rather, you mean Jewish money, right?

  5. austinjbay April 25, 2011 at 2:02 pm #

    Professor Falk:

    I unfortunately wasn’t quite certain how to reach you. I currently finished reading State Sovereignty and Human Rights that you published back in 1981 after being introduced to your work by Professor I. Gendzier at Boston University. I had a question for you based on the graph of the U.S. Record on Human Rights and was wondering if you would be interesting in corresponding with me. Your work obviously ended when you published the book and I am specifically interested in the extrapolation of the chart under the Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush Jr., and now Obama administrations.

    Thank you for your time,


    • Richard Falk April 27, 2011 at 8:05 am #

      Austin Bay: Sorry to take so long to respond. I have been traveling, and am now in Cairo observing the uncertainties of an unfinished revolution. I am very interested in your project of graphing the human rights attentiveness of recent American presidents and their administrations. I can be most easily reached via email at

  6. Aiman April 25, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    You have pointed out in several occasions to the “de facto impunity” provided to Israel by superpowers. Such a statement used to cause an outraged reaction and it was considered as a direct accusation to superpowers necessitating defence strategy, but nowadays it seems that no body could care less. Clearly, it is not important at this stage to dismantle this de facto impunity, rather how can we raise awareness about the deficit it causes in the global governance system, how we can again create an outraged reaction amongst all people of consciousness to this statement, because it is obvious that it has been accepted as a de facto state of affair that can’t be treated.

    • Richard Falk April 27, 2011 at 8:02 am #

      Thanks for this thoughtful and provocative comment. I am not sure that you are completely correct. The furious attack on Goldstone was partly a reflection of some anxieties on the part of the Israeli leadership as to the limits of impunity.
      In my view, the selective impunity issue (e.g. Saddam Hussein or Qaddafi will enjoy no such impunity) is part of the wider issue of double standards in international life, as well as the primacy of geopolitics (that is, power trumps law).

      • YM April 27, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

        Professor Falk, I think you are being a little coy here? After all, the Goldstone report wouldn’t have gathered very much attention without Judge Goldstone’s participation; it would have been just another UN report against Israel representing the alternative way of thinking that you and your colleagues personify.

  7. YM April 27, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

    Why isn’t there a Special Rapporteur on human rights in China? In Saudi Arabia? In Iran? In Syria? In…you name it? Why aren’t you condemning power politics in these arenas?

    • Richard Falk April 29, 2011 at 1:55 pm #

      I have written extensively on the degree double standards throughout the UN System, not just the Human Rights Council, weakens international law. There should be SR for all situations involving systematic abuse of human rights, but having said that the UN has a special relationship to the Israel/Palestine conflict. It was via the UN that the whole dynamic of Israeli empowerment and Palestinian disempowerment took place after WW II by proposing a partition of Palestine without any effort to consult the people living there under the British mandate.

      • andrerabanea May 2, 2011 at 4:07 am #

        Richard Falk, is Osama Bin Laden really dead?

      • Richard Falk May 3, 2011 at 3:48 am #

        it is possible! But why throw his body into the sea without a proper burial?

      • Tim Haughton May 4, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

        And on that subject, I will heartily recommend Victor Kattan’s book “From Coexistence to Conquest” which analyses the various manoeuvrings leading up to the establishment of Israel.

        It’s a book I think Richard might already be familiar with!

      • Richard Falk May 5, 2011 at 4:40 am #

        As you rightly suspected, I enthusiastically endorse your recommendation of Victor Kattan’s fine book on the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

  8. norm depalma May 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm #

    Re the Bin Laden killing. In light of the revelation that he was, in fact, killed while unarmed, do you believe that this de facto extra judicial assassination was motivated by the US’s inability to ‘successfully’ prosecute him in future proceedings?
    I await your response and hopefully a lengthy post on the killing in general.

  9. Beau Oolayforos December 12, 2014 at 10:58 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,
    It was heartening to read just now of an upcoming high-level conference in Switzerland, to discuss an issue of which you have consistently, patiently, reminded us: the 4th Geneva Convention as it relates to the OPT. Israeli govt reaction? – it was to accuse the Swiss of violating their own neutrality. The hasbara gets shriller & more irrational by the day.


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