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Middle East Reacts to the Goldstone Retraction

Middle East In Focus

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Following Judge Richard Goldstone's turn-around last week regarding the findings of the UN sponsored “Goldstone Report,” Israeli officials and commentators disagreed on what the significance of Goldstone's actions was. The rest of the Middle East region, especially Palestinian government officials and activists, were far more united on the verdict. For them, Goldstone's “amendment” amounted to a capitulation to pressure from Israeli and Jewish groups but did not lessen the burden of Israel with regard to civilian deaths during its armed incursion into Gaza in 2009.

Nabil Shaath, a member of Fatah Central Committee and former Palestinian foreign minister, expresses in the Palestinian daily Ma'an News that he doesn't believe Goldstone's actions undermine the reports general findings, since “that report that bears his name is not his property to discard as he wishes. It is a United Nations document the mandate for which originated with the UN Human Rights Council. Its findings of fact were extensively researched and supported by field investigations conducted by a committee of internationally recognized judges and legal scholars, and the report was confirmed by a resolution of the UN General Assembly.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by various Palestinian human-rights organizations. According to the Palestinian daily Wafa, reacting to Goldstone's op-ed, “In a press conference held in Ramallah, member of Palestinian parliament Mustafa Barghouthi said that from a legal point of view Goldstone’s opinion is worthless. He said that what has been named the Goldstone Report on Israeli war crimes during its military assault on Gaza late in 2008 was approved by the United Nations Human Rights Council and has become a UN document. He said that Goldstone’s retraction was pitiful, and it shows the Jewish lobby’s pressure on Goldstone. He said the retraction paves the way for Israel to commit more crimes against Palestinians.”

A number of representatives of these human-rights organizations also took the step of making their views publicly and formally known by publishing a declaration in the Guardian in which they take Goldstone to task for forgetting something: “One very troubling aspect of your revised position is that your amended understanding of Operation Cast Lead is based on evidence provided by investigations published by the Israeli military. However, as confirmed by the UN-appointed committee of experts mandated to assess domestic investigations, Israel failed to conduct effective investigations into serious allegations of international crimes. Therefore, regardless of the number of investigations carried out, their outcome is what should be relevant. Unfortunately, your op-ed diverts attention from this main issue: justice for victims.”

In addition to the Palestinian politicians and activists, a number of editorial writers across the Middle East registered their views on the recent developments. The editorial board of Gulf News doubts that any “rethinking can justify [the] siege on Gaza.” Moreover, “It is wrong to portray the opinion piece written in the Washington Post last Friday by Judge Richard Goldstone as a retraction of his whole report. Goldstone's article does not query his earlier finding as expressed in the Goldstone Report that Israel used force far in excess of what was required, that it used illegal weapons such as white phosphorus, and that Israel's military assault on Gaza was designed to 'radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.' The report also detailed another war crime of 'wanton' destruction of food production, water and sewerage facilities by Israeli forces.”

In its editorial, Khaleej Times highlights the possibility that Goldstone made the retraction under pressure from various Israeli and Jewish groups. “One can feel sorry for Richard Goldstone,” they write. “His backtracking, under whatever compulsions, is indicative of the fact that he has succumbed to pressure...Justice Goldstone is now morally and professionally on the wrong turf, and his efforts to recast his personal image in the eyes of Israel is unbecoming of his international status….Moreover, such gimmicks of doctoring universal opinion on Israel is nothing more than a cruel joke. It is incumbent upon the world community to prevail over Israel in brokering a permanent solution with the Palestinians….Getting Israel off the hook, time and again, shouldn’t materialize.”

Writing on Jordan Times, Daoud Kuttab, picks up on the theme of the pressure faced by Goldstone, asserting, “For months, the social persecution of Judge Goldstone has been widely publicised. The head of the South African Zionist Federation, Avrom Krengel, boasted to Yedioth Ahronoth’s Aviel Magnezi how the Jewish community pressured Goldstone: 'He suffered greatly, especially in the city he comes from. We took sides against him, and it encourages us to know that our way had an effect.'...The narrative of Judge Goldstone’s committee report, the pressures on him, his humiliating capitulation, coupled with exaggerated gloating by Israeli leaders, will certainly fuel more anti-Semitism than reduce it....In the end, a sane person might conclude that the op-ed penned by Goldstone is most probably, in the final analysis, 'not good for Jews'.”

Similarly, Ilan Pappe, in an article published by the Electronic Intifada, doubts Goldstone's 'U-Turn' came out of the blue. Rather, for him “it comes after more than a year and a half of a sustained campaign of intimidation and character assassination against the judge....Every now and again many liberal Jews seem to liberate themselves and allow their conscience, rather than their fear, to lead them. However, many seem unable to stick to their more universalist inclinations for too long where Israel is concerned. The risk of being defined as a 'self-hating Jew' with all the ramifications of such an accusation is a real and frightening prospect for them. You have to be in this position to understand the power of this terror.”

Evidence of foul play seems also to come from Gulf News' George Hishmeh: “What is shocking is the fact that there were two “significantly different” versions of the Goldstone column. One was sent much earlier to the New York Times. When it was not published, a second version appeared in the Washington Post several days later. The first version, according to an unidentified source, did not include the 'crucial repudiation of the [Goldstone] report’s central thrust,' namely the allegations of war crimes and the intentional targeting of civilian non-combatants.”

Others are less concerned with the politics of the decision made by Goldstone to recant some of his earlier accusations and were more interested in understanding whether Goldstone's actions were significant enough to change people’s views of the report. For Abdullah Saed, writing on the Saudi daily Arab News, the verdict is clear: “Judge Richard Goldstone’s theoretical 'amendment' doesn’t change the evidence and the documented record of Israel’s brutal crimes against the subjugated Palestinians. An array of reputable international organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Breaking the Silence has presented clear evidence to the global community that Israel committed war crimes during Operation Cast Lead.”

Sami Moubayed on Middle East Online finds it strange that “in the original report, Goldstone clearly says that the Israeli system was unfit to 'deal with allegations of serious wrongdoings by armed personnel' according to international principles. It also says that Operation Cast Lead could not be viewed 'in isolation' from Israel's general approach towards the Palestinians, many of which are 'violations of international law'. How he now has faith in Israeli justice when he doubted its international standards only two years ago, remains a mystery. So is the reason behind Goldstone's decision to publish such an article at this particular time.

Finally, Abdul-Hakim Salah, writing on the Palestinian daily Ma'an News, wonders what Goldstone knows now that he didn't know before and asks whether “the South African justice [could] be hinting that the 400 allegations of operational misconduct in a 22-day military offensive were all baseless thanks to the 'significant resources Israel dedicated to investigate those allegations'? Is it possible that the suggested new version of the Goldstone report could end up blaming the 29 victims of the Samouni family for sending the wrong signals to the Israeli drones?...'Simply put,' as Goldstone ended his article, I believe that whether Israel investigates the alleged war crimes, and whether Hamas abstains, can never be the international standard to judge whether war crimes were committed or not.”

 


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