The Legacy of the Goldstone Report
Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner, and Philip Weiss, 20 December 2010
The following is an adapted excerpt of the Editors’ Note from The Goldstone Report: The Legacy of the Landmark Investigation of the Gaza Conflict. The book will be available on January 11, and you can pre-order it here.
Reports come and go. This is one of the tragic truths of the literature of human rights violations. Hard-working researchers scour the rubble of war zones for fragments of evidence—of war crimes, crimes against humanity, other violations of life and freedom—only to watch their findings sink into the oblivion of forgotten documents.
The Goldstone Report, whose official title is the Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, has thus far managed to defy this fate. Since its publication in September 2009, it has spawned debates, rebuttals, defenses, editorials, resolutions, and protests, both for and against. Few reports have experienced such a thunderous reception. But as time passes, it too is at risk of disappearing. It is our hope that this book will help keep the report alive and its findings relevant.
To this end, we have created a book that seeks to showcase the report by reprinting its central findings followed by eleven essays that capture its ongoing impact. We do not reprint the entire report. That would run over five hundred pages. Instead, we have abridged the report to about half its original length to focus on the story the Mission tells of the Gaza war: the historical context of the blockade and rocket attacks, the rupture of the 2008 ceasefire, and the main events of the December 2008–January 2009 conflict, beginning with Israel’s overwhelming air strikes and ending with the destruction of industry.
In more than a dozen places in the report, we have added to it by inserting oral testimonies that the Mission collected while conducting its investigation. Motivated by his experience of the effectiveness of the South African truth and reconciliation process, Justice Richard Goldstone arranged for public hearings in Gaza and Geneva so that victims on both sides might force the other side to reckon with the human toll. We have included excerpts from the testimonies at relevant points, marking them with the title Testimony, along with the speaker’s name. The first one, by ninety-one-year-old Moussa al-Silawi, follows this editors’ note and serves as the introduction to the report.
We completed this book in July 2010, as the charges of the Goldstone Report continued to reverberate throughout Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and the broader international community. At the time, both Israel and Hamas were preparing to submit reports to the United Nations on their actions during Operation Cast Lead, and Israel had just announced indictments of four military personnel for their conduct during the war. Though these indictments did not approach the response the Goldstone Report called for, they were widely seen as vindication of some of the report’s most troubling findings, as well as confirmation of its ongoing influence. This influence now extends well beyond the report’s publication, and we have tried to capture that quality with the essays in Part II of this book, almost all of which are original.
In “The Right to Live in Dignity,” Raji Sourani, the head of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, describes the experience of the Gaza war from the standpoint of Gazans themselves and demonstrates the importance of international law as a means of preventing repetition of the carnage.
In “International Law and the Goldstone Report,” Jules Lobel, a professor of international law, summarizes the legal principles invoked by the Goldstone Report and places them in the framework of post–World War II efforts to build global law enforcement mechanisms.
Lobel’s interpretation is followed by “The Goldstone Illusion,” by Israeli philosopher Moshe Halbertal, who describes the report as “a terrible document” that is based chiefly on Palestinian testimonies and leaves a society with no ability to fight terrorist threats. Halbertal’s piece first appeared in the New Republic in November 2009 and is widely considered to be the most thoughtful criticism of the report.
In “The Attacks on the Goldstone Report,” longtime scholar of Israeli history Jerome Slater takes on the leading criticisms of the report in both Israel and the United States (including Halbertal’s). In particular, Slater shows how the recent effort to characterize traditional guerrilla warfare as “asymmetrical war,” in which a state’s army is at a supposed disadvantage, would justify attacks on civilians.
In “The U.S. Congress and the Goldstone Report,” Brian Baird, a six-term Democratic congressman from Washington State who has visited Gaza more times since the conflict than any other American politician, supports the accuracy of the report and describes its political reception in Washington.
In “Palestinian Dispossession and the U.S. Public Sphere,” Rashid Khalidi, a professor at Columbia University, describes the rapidly shifting discourse in the United States about the conflict as well as the ways in which Palestinian concerns are at last getting attention.
Henry Siegman, past president of the American Jewish Congress and veteran Middle East expert, explores the controversy over the Goldstone report in “Discrediting Goldstone, Delegitimizing Israel” and discovers that it reveals more about Israel than about Goldstone.
In “Gaza, Goldstone, and the Movement for Israeli Accountability,” Palestinian-American journalist Ali Abunimah discusses how Israeli militarism is eroding the country’s liberal support in the West, leading to a crisis of legitimacy that some Israelis view as an existential threat, while many Palestinians and others feel it offers hope for a better future.
In “Israel’s Siege Mentality,” Israeli journalist Noam Sheizaf tells the story of the often-angry response to the report in Israeli society, and explains what this response has revealed about the country’s international image and its siege mentality.
Journalist and peace activist Letty Cottin Pogrebin traces the organized Jewish community’s response to the report in “The Unholy Assault on Richard Goldstone” and finds that, in their rush to condemn, Jewish leaders have violated some of Judaism’s most deeply held principles.
And in “Messages from Gaza,” Laila el-Haddad offers a wrenching account of her family’s experience of the Gaza war, and the mix of hope and skepticism with which they greeted the Goldstone Report.
Each of these contributors—along with Naomi Klein and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who, respectively, wrote the Introduction and Foreword to this book—labored under tight deadlines and with little remuneration to bring new understanding to this tangled subject. Their insights impart nuance to a document that has been too often misunderstood, depth to a conversation that has veered too often toward frenzy. Their dedication inspired us, and the elegance of their essays never ceased to thrill us. We thank them all.