September 15, 2009: UN’s Goldstone Report finds evidence of war crimes in Gaza
"No side escapes the report’s censure. But the documented evidence of Israeli military misconduct – of reckless, perhaps even deliberate, destruction of life and property – creates a portrait of stunning aggression” – Desmond Tutu
"The Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 [Israel’s Operation Cast Lead] was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, 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” – Goldstone Report
On this day in 2009, the UN released the 574-page Goldstone Report finding evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity by both Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza. The report was the product of a UN Fact-Finding Mission, formed by the UN Human Rights Council and led by South African judge Richard Goldstone, following Israel’s 2008-2009 war on Gaza (‘Operation Cast Lead’) which killed over 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.
The UN Fact-Finding Mission’s mandate was to “to investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law … in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.” Israeli authorities refused to cooperate with the investigation and sought to obstruct their work, but Palestinian authorities in both the West Bank and Gaza cooperated.
The report was highly critical of both the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups. It started from the position that indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza may amount to war crimes, but much of its work focused on the effects of Israeli actions on the civilian population of Gaza. In analyzing Israel’s military offensive, the report concluded that this was “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, 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 noted that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was intended to punish the population, and that Israeli attacks had also targeted civilian infrastructure. It also found several cases of Israel using Palestinians as “human shields.” The report called on Israel and Hamas to investigate the allegations against them, and for these matters to be considered by the International Criminal Court.
Instead of responding to the contents of the report, many pro-Israel groups viciously attacked Goldstone himself, with many calling him a “self-hating Jew” and accusing his report of being antisemitic. This tremendous pressure led him to write an op-ed in the Washington Post in 2011 in which downplayed the idea that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians, but he did not retract his report and later clarified that “I have no reason to believe any part of the report needs to be reconsidered at this time.”
In Canada, the Harper government dismissed the Goldstone Report as an “anti-Israel missive” and claimed that the UN had “pre-emptively assumed Israel's culpability” by seeking an investigation in the first place. As NDP MP Libby Davies replied, “Rather than trying to silence and denigrate legitimate public debate, including its contempt of the Goldstone report, the Conservative government must stand up for international law, human rights, and the Fourth Geneva Convention.”