David Miliband: ‘Goldstone’s findings are credible and serious….’
- a response

Published: 3 March 2010
Briefing Number 252

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Summary:  This Briefing challenges the commonplace claim – made by such figures as British Foreign Secretary David Miliband - that the findings of the UN’s Goldstone Report are “credible and serious”.  Key arguments:   

- Richard Goldstone admits that Palestinian witnesses could not speak freely for fear of Hamas reprisals

- Goldstone admits that the Report lacks legal weight 

- the Report disregards Hamas use of Palestinian civilians as human shields, thus contradicting the findings of senior UN officials and Human Rights Watch

- the Goldstone team avoided asking Palestinian witnesses probing questions

- the Goldstone team accepted Hamas photographic evidence at face value, while questioning the reliability of Israeli photographic evidence

- the Goldstone team denies finding evidence that Hamas fighters dressed in civilian clothes, despite the many reports about this

- Goldstone team member Christine Chinkin publicly condemned Israel for committing war crimes months before the fact-finding mission began, and  another team member Desmond Travers publicly made known his pre-existing prejudices about Israel, again months before the mission began

- We also highlight the story of Israeli doctor Mirela Siderer, who was disfigured in a Palestinian rocket attack.  She testified to Goldstone, but was effectively ignored.  How can a mission with such standards be regarded as “credible”?

David Miliband – the findings in Goldstone are “credible and serious”

On 15 September 2009, Judge Richard Goldstone released the report of his ‘Fact-Finding Mission into Gaza’.  The mission comprised four members, including Goldstone himself, Professor Christine Chinkin, and retired colonel Desmond Travers.  On 2 December 2009, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband stated in Parliament (as quoted in Parliament Today) that:

“the Goldstone Report makes credible and serious allegations which should be investigated…..” 

Richard Goldstone is acknowledged to be an international jurist with a track record of accomplishments.  But was the Goldstone Report “credible and serious”? And if not, why not?  

This Briefing shows that the approach of the Goldstone mission to the evidence, and the beliefs of team members, each undermine the Report’s credibility. (This Briefing helps to explain why the US House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution (No 867) on 3 November 2009, by a 344-36 majority, describing the Goldstone Report as “irredeemably biased” against Israel). 
Palestinian witnesses were afraid to speak freely for fear of Hamas reprisals:  Paragraph 440 of the Goldstone Report states that “those interviewed in Gaza appeared reluctant to speak about the presence of or the conduct of hostilities by the Palestinian armed groups… from a fear of reprisals….” Nonetheless, they served as the key source of information for the mission.  How can these Palestinian witnesses be trusted regarding the context in which Israel struck, or the events they personally experienced?
The Report’s findings lack legal weight: The Report is written in the tone of a judicial, criminal investigation. Yet Richard Goldstone later backtracked on the value of its findings, and their legal weight.  In an interview dated 16 October 2009 with the US magazine Jewish Forward, Goldstone says that “if this was a court of law, there would have been nothing proven….” 

The team did not check the evidence they heard against other available sources:  Richard Goldstone has stated that “we carefully checked the evidence against other established facts and reports….” (source: Jewish Chronicle interview, 23 October 2009).  But the next bulletpoints show the opposite.  The Goldstone team turned a blind eye to “established facts and reports”.  In the words of the Economist, Goldstone showed “wilful blindness to other evidence” (from Economist editorial, 19 September 2009)

The Report disregards Hamas use of Palestinians as human shields: The Report claims that the mission could find “no evidence” of the use by Hamas of Palestinians as human shields. Therefore it takes no account of the core challenge which Israel faced in trying to curb Palestinian missile and rocket attack. Goldstone’s conclusion contradicts the conclusion of Human Rights Watch in its 2009 report which states that:

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

And Goldstone also contradicts the findings of John Holmes, the head of UN Humanitarian Affairs, who said in a speech to the UN Security Council on 28 January 2009 that Hamas had made “reckless and cynical use of civilian installations” (report: Ha’aretz, 28 January 2010).  How can the Report be trusted when the Goldstone team concluded it could find “no evidence” of this?  

Goldstone’s team avoiding asking Palestinian witnesses probing questions:  In June 2009 the Goldstone team questioned key Palestinian witnesses at the UNRWA HQ in Gaza city.  The four witness statements – from members of the al-Silawi family, Muhammed Fouad Abu Askar, Wail al-Samouni, and Khaled Muhammed abd Rabbo – reveal that the Goldstone team never asked about activities which could have proven dangerous to innocent Palestinian civilians.  Nor did the Goldstone team ask the witnesses about:

  • the launching of rockets into Israel from Palestinian residential areas, or the firing of anti-tank missiles against Israeli targets in the midst of Palestinian residential areas;
  • the seizing of private homes from which to ambush IDF forces, and the laying of booby-traps in such homes; or
  • the links between witnesses whom it questioned and Palestinian terrorist groups and militias (with whom they were often in fact involved).

For the Goldstone team to ignore such circumstances reveals bias, a lack of seriousness, and a lack of desire to establish the truth. (The Arab language Palestinian witness statements are dissected by Jonathan Halevi in his report ‘Blocking The Truth of the Gaza War’, published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs – Vol 9 No 10, dated 18 September 2009 – see www.jcpa.org).
The Goldstone team accepted Hamas photographic evidence and doubted Israeli photographic evidence:  The Goldstone Mission examined about 1,200 photographs as evidence.  Regarding Israeli photographs the Report states that “it is not reasonably possible to determine whether those photographs show what is alleged”.  No doubt is cast by the Goldstone Report on photographs provided by Hamas.  Is this a serious and credible approach?  

Goldstone denies finding evidence that Hamas fighters wore civilian clothes, despite many journalists’ reports on this:  The Goldstone report stated it could find “no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat in civilian dress” (Report, paras 493 and 1750).  Yet several journalists in Gaza reported seeing exactly that (eg reports in New York Times, 6 January 2009; Times (London), 12 January 2009; The Associated Press 20 January 2009, and many others).  Details of these and other media reports on this topic can be found in ‘The Goldstone Report: A study in duplicity’ published by CAMERA on 2 October 2009 – see www.camera.org). How can the Goldstone team be trusted when their findings are so plainly out of line with known and relevant facts reported by independent sources?

Professor Christine Chinkin, a member of the four-person Goldstone team, publicly stated her conclusion months before the investigation began:  Christine Chinkin, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, was a signatory to a letter published in the UK-based Sunday Times on 11 January 2009 which accused Israel of committing “atrocities” and “war crimes” in Gaza.  Chinkin thus publicly prejudged the outcome of the investigation into Israel’s conduct which had not yet begun.  How can an investigation team on which she serves as a member possibly have credibility?

Desmond Travers, another mission member, publicly made known his pre-existing prejudices about Israel well before the fact-finding mission began:  The military expert on the Goldstone team was Desmond Travers, a retired Irish army officer.  Travers too had made known months before the Goldstone team began its work his intense hostility towards Israel, and his suspicion of its conduct and motives.  In the Middle East Monitor of 2 February 2010 Travers states (without a shred of evidence) that Israel have “taken out and deliberately shot” Irish peacekeeping forces in South Lebanon.  In the same article Travers accuses Israel of using thermal signature devices to monitor how many Palestinians are in a house, and then deliberating firing rockets into the most crowded ones.  In addition, he claims that “something like two” rockets fell on Israel in the month before the war: yet in fact there were at least 32 rocket attacks in the space of just three days prior to the war. Months later, Travers was appointed to the Goldstone team (For more on Desmond Travers see New Revelations about the UN Goldstone Report, from Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, February 2010, by Dore Gold and Jonathan Halevi – www.jcpa.org). 

Postscript:  How Richard Goldstone ignored the witness testimony of severely injured Israeli doctor Mirela Siderer

Richard Goldstone has claimed that “we based our findings on what we saw with our own eyes and the evidence we heard with our own ears……” (from Jewish Chronicle interview, 23 October 2009). 

That is not how Dr Mirela Siderer sees it.  She is an Israeli doctor who was seriously injured, and permanently disfigured, in 2008 by a Palestinian rocket which was fired from Gaza and struck the medical clinic where she worked in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.  On 29 September 2009 Dr Siderer confronted Goldstone face-to-face in Geneva, arguing that her case was given only a passing and “humiliating” mention in his report.  She said:

“Judge Goldstone, I told you all of this, in good faith.  You sent me a letter saying “your testimony is an essential part of the Mission’s Fact-Finding Activities”.

But now I see your report. I have to tell you, I am shocked….. Why did you completely ignore my story?  My name only appears in passing, in brackets, in a technical context.  I feel humiliated.

Why are there only two pages about Israeli victims like me, who suffered thousands of rockets over eight years?  Why did you choose to focus on the period of my country’s response, but not on that of the attacks that caused it….?”

Dr Siderer’s statement powerfully undermines the claim to seriousness and credibility in how the Goldstone teams’ approach to the evidence.              

For the exchange between Dr Siderer and Richard Goldstone see the website of UN Watch (www.unwatch.org)

Other Beyond Images and related resources on the Goldstone Report

Briefing 251 (7 February 2010) – ‘The Goldstone Report was even-handed. It criticises Hamas as well as Israel…..’

Briefing 250 (31 January 2010) – ‘The UN HRC is anti-Israel but Goldstone secured a balanced mandate and Israel should have cooperated…”

Briefing 245 (22 October 2009) – ‘The IDF and the Israel-Hamas war 2009: Colonel Richard Kemp’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council’

Briefing 244 (9 October 2009) – the Goldstone Report on Gaza: the best single response by an Israeli diplomat
Briefing 234 (5 February 2009) – ‘The context for the Israel-Hamas war of 2009’

Briefing 233 (2 February 2009) – ‘Gaza Palestinian victims of Hamas human rights violations and war crimes’

Israel’s own investigations: For information on Israel’s internal investigations into Operation Cast Lead, see the various documents and updates which are regularly posted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website - www.mfa.gov.il.