A conference call with Judge Goldstone
October 19, 2009
If you pay any attention at all to the Middle East, you know about the Goldstone Report, the report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. (You can read the report in full here, which I recommend doing rather than taking anyone else's word for what it actually says.)
What may be most remarkable about the report is not its heartbreaking findings, but the ways in which the United States and Israel have colluded to bury it. (For more on this, read Rabbi Brian Walt's post at Ta'anit Tzedek entitled Israel and U.S. Collaborate to Bury Goldstone Report. While I'm at it, I can also recommend "It's so sad that a respected member of the tribe would bash Israel so unfairly", posted on Rabbi Walt's own blog.) [Edited to clarify: that latter post is one in which Rabbi Walt deconstructs the argument implied by the post title! It's an ironic quotation, not an expression of his own beliefs.] In the words of Rabbi Brant Rosen, in his op-ed A Call to Moral Accounting:
Since the report's publication, the UN and commission chair Judge Richard Goldstone have been vilified and disparaged, by both the Israeli government and American Jewish leaders. There has been little consideration of the actual findings, or the fact that Israel refused to cooperate with the commission, or conduct its own investigation.
As a rabbi, this grieves me deeply. For, painful as it is for us to admit, Israel's behavior in Gaza has consistently betrayed our shared Jewish ethical legacy.
Tikkun magazine published an interview with Judge Richard Goldstone on his UN Report on the Gaza War shortly after the report came out, but I haven't seen a lot of other serious American Jewish engagement with the report or its findings.
On Sunday evening, I was part of a conference call -- convened by Ta'anit Tzedek: Jewish Fast for Gaza and co-sponsored by the Brit Tzedek v'Shalom rabbinic cabinet, Rabbis for Human Rights - North America, and Ohalah: the association of Rabbis for Jewish Renewal -- which gave rabbis and rabbinic students the opportunity to speak with Judge Goldstone. If you're interested in knowing some of what he said to us, read on. [Edited to add: you can also listen to an audio recording of the call here at the Ta'anit Tzedek website; there's an embedded mp3 file, and the call lasted for about 75 minutes.]
This is a very long post (6000+ words), but if this subject is important to you, I hope you'll read the whole thing.
Rabbi Brant Rosen welcomed us; with Rabbi Brian Walt he's co-coordinator of Ta'anit Tzedek. He offered special thanks to Judge Goldstone for taking the time to talk with us tonight.
After the other organizing partners for the call were introduced, we learned that the questions which would be asked tonight have largely come from the call's participants; the organizers did their best to choose a representative sample and also the most critical questions to pose to Judge Goldstone. Rabbi John Freedman of Brit Tzedek also offered words of welcome.
There were 150 rabbis and rabbinic students on the call. Rabbi Walt introduced Judge Goldstone: "For me as a rabbi who grew up in South Africa, it is a special honor to introduce Judge Goldstone who played such a crucial role in the transformation of South Africa from apartheid."
I'm going to spend a few minutes talking about where I come from and say a few words about the Gaza mission. I was born and grew up in South Africa; my parents likewise and my one grandmother also. I grew up in a very typical upper middle class white South African Jewish home, a Zionist home; my mother was active in the Zionist movement from the 1930s on. That was the atmosphere in which I grew up.
My parents opposed racial discrimination and apartheid but they were not activist at all and I met no Black South Africans at home... (or as peers) until I went to university in Johannesburg. I grew up with the prejudices that are common in the White South African community.
The South African Jewish community is possibly unique; in that community there's no split between being Jewish and being Zionist. The two go together as two sides of the same coin. That was certainly my understanding; if one were Jewish one supported Israel, and that certainly I did from my youngest age.
(He spoke also about rising through the ranks to become president of World ORT for seven years.)
I don't believe that being Jewish has shaped my views particularly towards racism and racial oppression. Until I went to university I never met Black South Africans; it was a watershed event for me, my first week at university, for the first time in my life meeting Black South Africans as equals and peers, striking up friendships, having lunch together. I became angry and frustrated in that very first week at the inequity and unfairness of Black students being equals on the campus but the minute they stepped into the street they lived in a completely different world. They had to carry special ID documents, and if they forgot them at home they were liable to be put in prison for the night; they went home to Black townships, many of which didn't have electricity or running water. I went home to a comfortable home in a White suburb with tarred roads and parks and electricity and they had to go home to these very poor living conditions. In that first week, I became actively involved in the student anti-apartheid movement, and that's shaped the rest of my career.
I'd like to think that being Jewish played a role [in who I've become]. I certainly had difficulty understanding how Jews who have been persecuted for over two millennia can themselves be in support at all of any form of discrimination, whether on grounds of color or religion or race or so forth. And yet I suppose we're all products of our own homes, and the overwhelming majority of Jewish South Africans -- even if they didn't support apartheid -- felt comfortable with it and did very little to stop the racial oppression in South Africa.
The question of collective guilt was raised by Rabbi Rosen in his introductory remarks. One of the things that shocked me in coming to Gaza was seeing how collective punishment had been visited on the people of Gaza. I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears the effect of the blockade -- and I fully support the action that your movement (Ta'anit Tzedek) is taking in that regard.
I've been involved with investigating war crimes and serious crimes against humanity not only in my own country but also in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Kosovo in particular. I've been involved in investigations against the highest areas of government. I have for five years now been a co-chair of the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, and I co-sign letters just about every week protesting human rights violations in many countries around the world, including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka... It's been part of my adult life, particularly in the last 15 or 20 years, to be actively involved in this area.
Initially, as is well known, I refused to become involved in the Gaza mission, because I was not prepared to get involved with a mandate I considered not to be evenhanded, a mandate that suggested that only Israel had committed violations in the contest of Operation Cast Lead. [I said no, and] I thought that was the end of it, but it wasn't. I was asked to meet with the High Commissioner and the president of the Human Rights Council, who was then the ambassador [from] Nigeria, who asked me what I would consider to be an evenhanded mandate. I told him it would have to be an investigation into all relevant violations in the context of Operation Cast Lead, whether committed before, during, or after the operations launched by the IDF. The mandate that I explained was given to me by the president of the Human Rights Council.
The president [of the council] took it to a plenary meeting of the Human Rights Council and there was no objection to the expanded mandate. I then discussed the mandate with the four sponsoring ambassadors, and they had no objection! I think that explains why the Human Rights Council last week adopted the whole report. I had been nervous that they would treat the report as a kind of á la carte menu, accepting the parts which condemned Israel but not the parts which condemned Palestinians.
I knew there would be strong negative opposition to my doing this [work], on the part of members of Jewish community, particularly the government of Israel and its supporters in Israel and the diaspora. But I felt that to live with myself and with my own conscience, I couldn't justify having gotten involved in investigations in so many other countries but because I was Jewish refusing to use those same norms and principles in relation to Israel.
I really did believe, perhaps naïvely in hindsight, that the government of Israel would cooperate. I thought this was the first time the Human Rights Council had ever given an evenhanded mandate with regard to the Middle East, and that the government of Israel would see it in that light and cooperate. But my overtures were rejected.
I pointed out [that the mandate had changed] and wrote a letter personally to Prime Minister Netanyahu offering to come to meet with him or any members of his government to discuss how the mandate should be approached. There was no response for almost two months, until I received a letter from the Israeli ambassador in Geneva indicating that the Israeli government was not able to work with us or to cooperate.
That's the general background of where I was coming from and how I got involved.
It would be helpful to hear you reflect a bit about how you gathered your information and how you verified the veracity of the information that you gathered.
For any of you who have the report, the methodology we adopted is set out in some detail in paragraphs 151-174, beginning on page 41 of the report. [A reminder: you can read the report in full here. - RB]
Let me deal first with Gaza. I'll deal separately with West Bank and southern Israel, into neither of which were we allowed. In respect to Gaza, we interviewed many people, roughly 100 interviews with victims, with organizations, with the United Nations agencies and so forth. We saw many witnesses in the office in the UNRA offices and also in their own homes.
Let me immediately refute with every conviction I can muster the mischievous and untruthful suggestion that there was any Hamas presence anywhere near the places where we interviewed witnesses. It just isn't true. Had it been so I would have found it completely unacceptable and would have immediately stopped the process.
An op-ed was published in the Jerusalem Post recently suggesting that we were directed or influenced by Hamas in who we saw. Again, that is without any truth at all. We had our own independent staff, a staff of about sixteen, almost all lawyers and in addition we had interpreters obviously from Arabic and from Hebrew. Of our professional staff, two or three came from the High Commissioner's office in Geneva; the rest came from 12 countries, including Italy, the UK, South America, and various other countries. People without any particular history in the Middle East but who were experienced in investigations; some had worked for the international criminal court or international war crimes tribunal. They spent some time in Gaza before we got there, consulting and finding out what sort of incidents there were that we should consider looking into.
We were given a very long menu of incidents from which we chose 36. It could have been 136! But we had a limited timeframe, only 2 to 3 months, to investigate; we chose those situations which seemed to us to be the most serious, with the highest number of fatalities or injuries, in situations which didn't appear to involve difficult decisions being taken by soldiers in what's being called the fog of war. We wanted to look at situations which seemed to clearly involve attacks on civilians which didn't have military justification. That was a main guideline that we operated on.
We received thousands of pages of documentation from other organizations; by the time we got there, there had been investigations by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, et al. We had a mess of written information which we familiarized ourselves with, and we then started meeting witnesses and obviously we asked questions of them, we inquired whether they had any Hamas connections. We obviously couldn't take at face values the answers we got, we checked to the extent we could, we tested it against information which some of the same people we saw had given previously. All four members of the mission had had experience in this sort of activity, and after having been a judge for 23 years I had a pretty good idea of weighing up the veracity of people. We applied our best efforts in deciding on the credibility of witnesses we heard.
In addition we commissioned the UN satellite facility to give a full satellite report, which is part of our report -- a 34 page report with satellite photographs of Gaza before and after the IDF campaign. We used that to corroborate or not-corroborate a lot of the information we got with regard to damage. That generally is the approach we took.
To follow up on the issue of the interviews: Ambassador Michael Oren has stated publicly that he believes the report is flawed because the only people interviewed were Palestinians, and people may well have been intimidated.
Here my call got dropped and I had to call back in; I missed a few minutes. Sorry!
[...] Obviously a lot of the information we got from them was important, a lot of photographic information, because these NGOs recognized the importance of taking photographs during the war itself.
To give you one example: I was very distressed at some of the graffiti we saw which we were told had been written on the walls of damaged homes by members of the Israeli army, in Hebrew and Russian. I asked, how do we know this wasn't put there afterwards, as propaganda by Hamas? We were shown photographs taken within very few hours of the damage having been done, showing that graffiti on the wall. It's that sort of corroboration that's important.
I think for many people who don't understand how these investigations work, there is a sense that you're only able to get partial information; it's important for people to understand that you're able to get the picture given the restrictions that exist during the investigation. To that point: you were quoted recently as saying that you personally wouldn't be embarrassed if any of these allegations turned out to be disproven down the line. Some have suggested that you may be backing away from the findings.
I've read that. It's a complete misunderstanding of what I was saying.
We weren't conducting a judicial investigation. It was a fact-finding mission. We didn't make our findings according to the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I would say it was a prima facie case, reasonable on weighing the evidence.
The evidence we looked at went all one way. If there were a criminal investigation, if some of the allegations we found to be true were rejected by a court of law as not being proven beyond a reasonable doubt, I would accept that! The information we've got would not be admissible as evidence in a criminal court. I was in exactly the same position when I arrived at the Yugoslavia tribunal; we had volumes of evidence, strong evidence found by a fact-finding team that had been sent by the security council, hundreds of allegations of rape and torture and murder in Bosnia and Herzegovina. That was a similar investigation to ours. We used that, as I mentioned in my interview with the Forward (Goldstone: 'If This Was a Court of Law,There Would Have Been Nothing Proven'), as a road map; it was useful to know where to investigate. I see our report being useful in the same way. I still very much hope, via an open and transparent domestic inquiry in Israel and in Gaza, that the findings we made in our report would be helpful to investigators.
I want to now refer back to a comment you made in your introduction vis-a-vis the Human Rights Council's endorsement of the report last week. I read a quote from an interview you did with a Swiss newspaper in which you said that the HRC's acceptance of your report was unfortunate because it included censure only of Israelis and not Palestinians, but just now you said it included both. Can you clarify?
I was at a conference in Berne, on Wednesay of this last week, and was sent the then-draft of the resolution that was being put before the HRC the next afternoon. I got it early on Thursday morning. I was concerned because I read roughly a 36-paragraph resolution which was in three parts and only one part dealt with the report. There wasn't a word in this resolution other than condemnation of Israel. I was concerned, and am still disappointed, that the resolution dealing with our report wasn't a separate resolution. It shouldn't have been mixed in with condemnations about East Jerusalem and other matters that were not relevant to our report. But it was in that context that I spoke -- I was at a plenary panel and also had a press conference with Swiss media, and said I was saddened that the whole resolution only condemned Israel where our report also condemned Hamas and other Palestinian groups.
As a result of my complaint the matter was taken up in Geneva, which resulted in an additional paragraph being inserted into the section dealing with the report, calling for accountability of all parties and condemning all violence against civilians. That was a clear reference to both sides. Though it might not have gone as far as I would have liked, it at least put into the resolution findings that involved both sides. So we're talking about in fact two different resolutions: the original draft, which I objected to, and the resolution which ultimately went before the council which had the additional paragraph.
I'd like to ask you more about the substance of the report, particularly about this question of intention which has become such a big issue. For Israelis and for some supporters of Israel there is a legitimate conversation about how one wages a war and how mistakes can happen in a war where civilians are hurt, especially a war between a nation-state and a resistance group or what some people call terrorists. Your report though suggests some level of intentionality on the part of the IDF. I'd like you to elaborate on that claim.
There are two aspects one must look at. The one is in respect of the intent to attack civilian targets in urban areas. For example, the mortar shelling of a mosque during service. The mosque was full of worshipers in the combined morning and afternoon service, combined because of war, and a mortar shell came through the front door and killed fifteen and injured many more. That's clearly unacceptable under any interpretation of the law of war.
The evidence by the IDF, in all the reports they've put out -- and we studied them carefully! -- is that they've got the munitions and technology such that that doesn't happen in error. In the absence of any evidence to justify [the destruction], we came to the conclusion that it was intentional. When we saw the terrible destruction in Gaza, five thousand homes totally or partially destroyed: that's not by error, it's by design. The parliament building, the American School: completely destroyed. These are civilian targets. The IDF doesn't do those things by error. It was consistent with that approach that there was such terrible damage to the infrastructure. On what basis does one bomb the water wells, destroy tracts of agricultural land, destroy a large part of the egg-producing infrastructure of Gaza, the only flour factory in Gaza, and so on? All of those things were done intentionally.
There's been no response. Our report's been out over five weeks and there's been no explanation of any of these events.
Do you draw a distinction then between the attacks on infrastructure and attacks on human life?
It seems to me that there's one thread running through, and that was to punish the people of Gaza. It was a collective punishment, and I don't believe that sufficient distinction was made between civilians and combatants in that respect.
Let me ask another question: the concern that the IDF claims that Hamas uses Gazan civilians as human shields in staged attacks from the midst of civilian areas, from schools and mosques. The Israeli Government claims that Hamas was hiding in these civilian structures. One of our questioners cited video evidence seen on YouTube of Palestinians using rocket launchers from a school compound. Your report seems to suggest that you didn't find evidence of this.
We said clearly in our report that we didn't exclude that that may have happened in situations that we didn't investigate. But we looked at the YouTube video, at the photographs we were sent, and there's no way we can say when those photographs were taken. They may be from three or four years ago.
Let me give you an example. If three or four Hamas militants come onto school grounds, assuming they came onto the grounds of the American School in Gaza City, launched mortars and ran away -- there's no basis, no justification, for bombing and destroying the whole school. I obviously recognize the difficulty of fighting what's being called an asymmetric war, a war between the IDF on one hand and non-state actors on the other. It's very difficult, especially in a built-up area like Gaza. But the laws of war require that the principal distinction which is fundamental to the law of war -- the distinction between civilians and combatants -- has to be taken into account.
We investigated one situation where homeowners that we consulted with described to us how two Hamas militants came with rocket launchers into their back garden and were busy erecting the mortars. The homeowner chased them out, said don't you dare do this from here, you'll endanger all of us, and they left! But assuming that they had, at gunpoint, refused to be chased away, launched their mortars, and ran away, I don't believe anyone could justify the bombing of the civilians who had objected to this happening.
What doesn't seem completely irrelevant -- you say that the photographs don't have relevance, or that if someone bombed and ran away there's no justification for bombing the school, but it does give some understanding to how an army fighting the war could make a mistake or could attack a structure which had been used by combatants.
Of course mistakes can be made in the fog of battle. But then it's a matter to put before investigation.
You believe that what you found there is significant evidence, that you could safely say this was not error, it was by design.
It was by design. Correct.
What you would recommend is an investigation to really investigate that claim and the others in the report.
Correct. I would add another dimension. It wasn't our mandate to investigate, on the assumption that any of these acts were deliberate, who was responsible. The question of individual guilt is a matter that seems to me to be crying out for investigation. Who gave the orders to bomb the American School? For what reason? The American School, from what I had been told, was anathema to Hamas; it stood for the United States, imperialism, for not teaching Islam; it was a focal point of opposition on the part of Hamas! Frankly I would love to know why the IDF decided to completely destroy the whole school; it's razed to the ground.
Many people claim that the report focuses in an unbalanced way on Israel. In one particular way there seems to be consensus that Hamas, or the armed groups in Gaza, will never launch an internal investigation. On the other hand, Israel has in the past done this, and there is reason to hope that Israel could, if it chose to, launch such an investigation. Do you think there are any sanctions that can realistically be placed on Hamas, and is there any reasonable chance they would carry out an interna investigation?
I think if Israel would carry out an internal investigation there would be huge pressure on Hamas to do the same. The impression I got was that certainly some leaders of Hamas would like nothing more than to be recognized by the international community; they want to become part of negotiations.
We couldn't have come into Gaza if Hamas were saying, you can't come in here. Our lives would have been in imminent danger. I think there would be tremendous pressure on them to do that [launch an investigation.]
I've been asked whether the Hamas administration in Gaza is capable of an open and transparent investigation into the firing of rockets and mortars into Israel. I don't know. I do know that they have an operating justice system; they have murder trials, there are courts, there's an active Palestinian bar. But if they're not, then it seems to me it's a matter for the international community, particularly the UN, to insist that the investigation be done locally but with international assistance. It's a question of political will, not ability.
One final question about the substance of the report. Something you mentioned earlier in reference to Israeli actions elsewhere, namely the West Bank. If this was a report focusing on potential war crimes during Cast Lead, what was the relevance in focusing any attention on the West Bank?
The mandate related to violations in the context of Operation Cast Lead. For example, one of the areas we looked at were actions taken by Fatah, by the Palestinian authority, to put down pro-Hamas demonstrations during Operation Cast Lead. The assassination of Hamas members in the West Bank. The detention and torture of Hamas or perceived Hamas members -- this reached a crescendo during Operation Cast Lead and there were clearly human rights violations associated with it.
Your description of... the wrestling within yourself about how you speak to Sri Lanka and China and other countries, and this is a nation where you have a connection as a Jew, was very moving. [Participants in this call asked:] Do you think the fact that you are Jewish played any role in your being chosen to head the commission? Did your Jewish identity play a role in your activity? Some people have criticized you for allowing yourself to be used; if you were chosen specifically because you are Jewish, people are critical that you allowed yourself to be used to do this investigation about Israel, thus giving them cover. What do you say to that?
I reject that. I wasn't chosen to lead the mission because I was Jewish at all. I wasn't the first person approached; I was chosen because of the experience I've had investigating war crimes! My Jewishness obviously would have been taken into consideration by the president of the Human Rights Council, but being Jewish -- I would have imagined, if I were in his position -- would have been more negative than positive. He must have been concerned that being Jewish would make me unacceptable to Palestinians -- and indeed the initial response from Hamas was negative. The suggestion that I was, as it were, co-opted, misused or manipulated, I can't accept at all.
As a committed Jew, were you surprised by what you saw in Gaza? In what way did it differ from what you expected? How has it affected how you think about Jews and Israel?
I was shocked. I've been shocked twice in my life in that context. The first was my first visit to Sarajevo after I became prosecutor of the Yugoslavia tribunal; I'd read reports about the damage done to Sarajevo, the bombing of mosques and so on, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw when I was flown over it in a helicopter during the war. Mile after mile of absolute destruction. That came back to me in Gaza, because one can't drive a block in Gaza City or Rafah without seeing destroyed buildings, without seeing people living in makeshift tents. That's the one shocking aspect: the thousands of homes destroyed are still in the condition they were in, some five months before; no rebuilding can be done because the blockade means no building materials have been allowed in.
It hasn't changed my love for Israel, which remains unaffected. I'm critical of the Israeli government and the leaders of the IDF. I understand the position of the footsoldier; they take instructions, and pretty much are affected by the philosophy that is applied to them.
To the extent that you're comfortable talking about this: the intense personal criticism that you're receiving now from Israel, American Jews, perhaps also South Africans -- can you reflect on how that's affected you?
I expected criticism, but I didn't expect the venom and the personal, what I consider to be unfair, personal attacks. It's saddened me. It's the sort of thing that keeps me awake at night, not only for myself but even more for my family. They live in Jewish communities, in South Africa and in Canada, and this obviously has a very serious effect on them.
Is this the first time you've experienced this sort of thing?
Not at all. I went through a similar situation when I was investigating violence in South Africa, huge criticism from many people in the White community and the Jewish community. People asked, why should a Jew get involved in these things? That was toward the end of the apartheid era. There also, I got hate letters, letters to newspapers criticizing me for doing this as a White South African.
And do you understand that to be somewhat similar in structure, in the sense that you were then being criticized for breaking ranks with your community, and now you're being criticized for breaking ranks with your people?
But your ethic of human rights transcends those.
And that's why I admire what you're doing. As rabbis, it's very important to have that commitment to morality and to the norms -- I'm not an expert on Judaism or Judaic philosophy, but certainly I've grown up to believe that the Jewish tradition is a highly moral system, one that recognizes the humanity of all people.
One of the things that occurs to us as rabbis is that there are these two Jewish values that often feel in conflict: one, that we have a responsibility to our tribe, to our people; and on the other hand, the central Jewish value of tzelem Elohim, that all human beings are created in the divine image and are worthy of dignity and justice. How we as Jews work out that tension is very important.
I understand that, and I think at the end of it, one's got to have one's own moral norms. Certainly I hope that they're consistent with Jewish ethics and Jewish teaching.
A question was submitted to us by a rabbi, who notes that it comes from his grandson who is a student of international relations. How do you think that your report, with its harsh condemnation of Israel for rocket attacks, would impact the likelihood that Israel would risk a withdrawal from any places in Palestine? Israel has warned that acceptance of your report will damage the peace process. How do you respond and how do you see the connection between pursuit of peace and human rights?
I strongly believe that there can't be enduring or lasting peace without justice.
There won't be peace before victims are acknowledged -- victims on all sides! The victims of southern Israel need acknowledgment. Many phone calls were made by our staff to victims in southern Israel. It's important for them to get that acknowledgment. It saddens me that Israel has downgraded, to the point of ignoring, a pretty full treatment of the victimization and the terror caused by thousands of rockets to the people of Sderot and Ashkelon. The people there have suffered grievously. Their children live in fear every day of hearing air raid sirens. It's amazing that the death toll in southern Israel has been as low as it is.
It's important and I don't believe you can have a lasting peace until these things have been put on the table, looked at, investigated openly, the people responsible being prosecuted. A form of Truth and Reconciliation Commission as we had in South Africa. It needs to be done officially. Otherwise you may get a cease-fire but you're not going to get peace. That's my firm belief from the experience I've had in South Africa, Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and reading I've done about other places -- Chile and so on.
As far as the Israeli public is concerned: this was a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. It wasn't done in pursuance of a peace treaty. It seems to have been driven by the politics of the situation, not done out of any motive of giving freedom or recognizing the right of self-determination of the people of Gaza at all. It had the effect of separating Gaza from the West Bank and should be seen for what it was, a political maneuver. If anybody thought that was going to bring peace for Gaza -- I don't believe there was ever any chance of that.
As far as the Israeli government saying our report inhibits the peace process, that is shallow and false. What peace process are they talking about? There isn't one! The Israeli foreign minister doesn't want one! What peace process are they talking about that's going to be inhibited?
About the future of this report: where do you think now the possible scenarios of what will happen over the next six months, and what do you think would be the ideal outcome over the next six months?
I hate being a prophet; I don't have a crystal ball that I can trust. But certainly it's my hope that domestic inquiries in Israel and in Gaza will happen. There seem to be more calls for inquiries happening in Israel. I just published an op-ed in the JPost (My Mission - and Motivation) and already there's a response from Alan Baker, formerly of the Foreign Office, who is not surprisingly highly critical of me but also suggests there should be an inquiry in Israel. (Just what did Goldstone expect?)
If the Israeli government set up an open investigation, that would really be the end of the matter! There are also issues of environmental damage to Gaza and to southern Israel which we believe should be looked into. But the report would become pretty irrelevant if there were a bona fide open investigation.
That's the end of my notes from the call.
I'm still processing everything I heard, but I want to say now that I am tremendously grateful to the organizing bodies for putting the call together, and also to Judge Goldstone for his openness and his willingness to talk.
I'm often not sure that comparing the situation in Israel and Palestine with the former realities of apartheid in South Africa is fruitful, because it's such a polarizing stance. But I think that Judge Goldstone's work exposing and fighting the horrors of apartheid in South Africa (you can read more about his work in this realm here at Wikipedia) gives him a unique perspective from which to speak about Operation Cast Lead, as do his experiences investigating human rights violations in the former Yugoslavia and in Rwanda, among other places.
Judge Goldstone's mention of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is interesting to me. The purpose of the TRC -- as I understand it -- was to investigate both the crimes committed within the apartheid system and the terrorism in which the ANC engaged during its struggle to end apartheid. The commission's mandate was to uncover the truth about past abuses, using amnesty as a mechanism, rather than to punish past crimes. It was founded on the principle that telling our stories is a critical piece of the healing process, a spiritual truth to which I can attest.
The TRC isn't universally accepted. Some have argued that its findings were weighted in favor of the perpetrators of the atrocities of apartheid; others, that its findings were weighted in favors of apartheid's victims. Some argue that justice must be a prerequisite for reconciliation rather than an alternative to it, and that the commission facilitated amnesty for people who deserved punishment. (See A Different Kind of Justice: Truth and Reconciliation in South Africa, originally published in The Christian Century.) Still, I remain impressed by the audacity of the undertaking: by the belief that victims on both sides deserve to have their stories heard, the insistence that reconciliation is possible even when horrible atrocities have been committed, and ultimately the hope that through hearing and honoring one another's stories -- even when so doing is profoundly painful -- change is possible.
I think Judge Goldstone is right that there cannot be peace without justice, and that there will not be peace until the suffering of victims on both sides is acknowledged. I think the Goldstone Report, and its strong recommendation that both sides engage in an open and transparent review of the crimes committed by both sides over the course of this engagement, could be a step toward that acknowledgment. May it happen speedily and in our days.