‘The Goldstone Report was even-handed.
It criticises Hamas as well as Israel….’

Published: 7 February 2010
Briefing Number 251

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Summary:   Judge Richard Goldstone claims that his Report on Gaza was ”even-handed”.  What’s the proof?  That it criticises Hamas as well as Israel.  This Beyond Images Briefing refutes this claim, with the following arguments:  

- The Goldstone Report avoids connecting Hamas with the Palestinian squads who have fired thousands of rockets at civilian targets in Israel

- The Report claims it could find no evidence that Hamas use Palestinian civilians as human shields, and is silent on this Hamas practice  

- Hamas have indeed welcomed the Goldstone Report, and Hamas’ second-in-command Musa abu Marzouq says that it “exonerates them from any guilt”

Criticisms of Hamas in the Report have accurately been described by Susan Rice, the US Ambassador to the UN, as being “lightweight and unspecific”

The Goldstone Report and war crimes

In September 2009, Judge Richard Goldstone released the Report of his ‘Fact-Finding Mission into Gaza’, following Israel’s Operation Cast Lead of December 2008-January 2009.   The Report accuses Israel of committing war crimes by deliberately targeting the Palestinian civilian population during the operation.  It also describes Palestinian rocket attacks into Israel as a war crime.

Israeli rejected the findings of the Report, arguing that it took Palestinian evidence at face value without any critical scrutiny, ignored Israeli efforts to minimise civilian casualties, ignored Hamas tactics of exploiting civilians, underplayed the years of Palestinian rocket attacks which provoked the war, and unjustly dismissed Israel’s system of democratic accountability.

Above all they accused the Goldstone Mission of being biased and one-sided, and having a predetermined agenda - to condemn Israel.  But Richard Goldstone rejects this.  He claims that the Report was not one-sided at all, because the Report criticises Hamas as well as Israel. 

But is it correct that the Report “criticises Hamas”? Here are the facts:   

Goldstone avoids the link between Hamas and the rocket-firing squads…..

Hamas and its leaders are not directly accused in the Goldstone Report of responsibility for the firing of rockets.  In an analysis called ‘No wonder Hamas aren’t scared’ (Ynet News, 21 October 2009) Jonathan Halevi of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (www.jcpa.org) points out that the Report actually holds “nebulous Palestinian armed groups” responsible for the rockets, not Hamas.  Thus, paragraph 1747 of the Report, which is one of its key conclusions, states (with our emphasis in bold):

“In relation to the firing of rockets and mortars into Southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups operating in the Gaza Strip, the Mission finds that the Palestinian armed groups fail to distinguish between military targets and the civilian population….  These actions would constitute a war crime….”

There is no mention of Hamas.   In Halevi’s words, Goldstone “viewed the de facto Hamas administration as legitimate in every respect, and made an artificial distinction between it and the ‘Palestinian armed groups’ operating in the Gaza Strip as if such groups did not kowtow to Hamas and had somehow spent eight years methodically launching rockets and mortar shells into Israel in opposition to Hamas policy”.  The Report suggests that the military wing of Hamas, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is not under the control of Hamas.  Instead, Halevi points out that the Report implies that those responsible for the rocket attacks are “anonymous operatives in the field”. Halevi calls this aspect of the Report “a masterpiece of deception”.  Far from being criticised, Hamas are portrayed as being uninvolved, as detached outsiders.  

Goldstone claims he could find no evidence that Hamas use Palestinian civilians as human shields

The Goldstone Report states that the Fact-Finding Mission did not find any evidence of the use by Hamas of Gaza Palestinians as human shields.

Indeed, it also states that “we did not deal with the issues regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas….”

This flies in the face of the conclusion reached by leading human rights monitors.  For example, John Holmes, who is the head of UN Humanitarian Affairs, stated in a speech at the UN Security Council on 27 January 2009 (which was reported the next day in Ha’aretz): 

The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas and indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations are clear violations of international humanitarian law” [our emphasis]

Yet Goldstone is silent on what Holmes calls “the reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas….”

Meanwhile, even Human Rights Watch (HRW) – long-standing critics of Israel - condemned the use of Palestinians as human shields (though they could not bring themselves to condemn Hamas by name for doing so).  HRW say in their 2009 Annual Report:

“Palestinian armed groups unnecessarily placed Palestinian civilians at risk from retaliatory attacks by firing rockets from densely populated areas”

Yet Goldstone said he could find “no evidence” of this practice.  Far from criticising Hamas, Goldstone avoids the criticism that should have been made.

Hamas leaders say that the Goldstone Report ‘totally exonerates’ them

Thirdly, Hamas leaders have welcomed the Goldstone Report.  Hamas second-in-command Musa Abu Marzouq stated as follows on 5 December 2009:

“All paragraphs of the Goldstone Report convict Israel and totally exonerate Hamas from any misconduct.  For instance, the report exonerates Hamas from the accusation of using civilians as human shields and attributes this accusation to Israeli forces.  Likewise, the report exonerated Hamas from all other accusations mentioned by Israel, and even when the report is dealing with the rockets which were launched by Hamas, it speaks about military groups without naming Hamas….”

- from an interview with Musa abu Marzouq, in Al-Mashahid al-Siyasi-UK, 5 December 2009   

That does not sound like a movement which has been “criticised”.

US:  Criticisms of Hamas in Goldstone were “lightweight and unspecific”

Susan Rice, who is the US Ambassador to the UN, commented that:

“The weight of the report is something like 85% oriented towards very specific and harsh condemnation and conclusions related to Israel and very lightly treats, without great specifics, Hamas terrorism and its own atrocities…..”

(from an interview with Rice in The Washington Post, 22 September 2009)

Goldstone’s supposed criticisms of Hamas are, in Halevi’s words, no more than  “lip service”, and “without practical importance for Hamas…”

Some related Beyond Images Briefings

Briefing 250 – The UN Human Rights Council is anti-Israel, but Goldstone secured a balanced mandate and Israel should have cooperated with him….’

Briefing 245 – Richard Kemp’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council
Briefing 234 - The Context for the Israel-Hamas War of 2009

Briefing 233 – Gaza Palestinian victims of Hamas human rights violations