What Really Happened In Gaza?
Ira Glunts

The Goldstone Report: The Legacy Of The Landmark Investigation Of The Gaza Conflict edited by Adam Horowitz, Lizzy Ratner, and Philip Weiss; foreword by Desmond Tutu, introduction by Naomi Klein, Nation Books, 2011. 327 pp. $18.95 (paperback).

The Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008/January 2009 and the investigation and unequivocal condemnation by a United Nations team led by Judge Richard Goldstone of Israeli conduct before and during what the Jewish State calls “Operation Cast Lead” are highly significant events which have radically altered the way many view Israel’s brutal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people. Gaza and Goldstone have also caused many to question the purpose of the 18 year-old US-sponsored Israeli/Palestinian “peace-process” which never produces positive results.

Here in Central New York, some Syracuse Peace Council members started the activist group CNY Working For A Just Peace In Palestine & Israel as a direct result of the invasion of Gaza.  In February, the Judaic Studies Program at Syracuse University hosted journalist Peter Beinart, a self-identified Zionist, who has recently signed a public letter urging President Obama to support a United Nations resolution condemning the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Neither Beinart’s willingness to sign this letter, nor an invitation extended by the Judaic Studies Program to someone expressing these views, would have been conceivable before the Gaza invasion.

The Goldstone Report is invaluable in assessing what really happened in Gaza. It is an abridged version of the “Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission On the Gaza Conflict (September, 2009),” accompanied by 11 insightful essays which explore aspects of the Goldstone document from progressive legal, historical, political, as well as personal perspectives. This abridged version also intersperses witness testimonies which were published by the Mission, but not included in the original report. (Full disclosure:  I am a contributor to Mondoweiss.net which is also edited by Weiss and Horowitz.)

The Israeli army killed over 1400 people during the Gaza invasion. This is in contrast to 13 Israeli fatalities, some of whom were Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers killed by “friendly fire.” Of the 1400 fatalities, over 80% were civilians. Approximately 5300 Gazans were injured, including 2,400 women and children; 2,114 houses were destroyed, with an additional 3400 houses rendered uninhabitable. The three-week Israeli assault resulted in over 51,000 displaced persons. Among IDF targets were mosques, hospitals, private residences, a chicken farm, a sewage treatment plant, and a United Nations Relief and Welfare Agency (UNRWA) field office compound which was sheltering 600 to 700 civilians. According to the Goldstone Mission, there was no military advantage gained by any of these attacks.

The Mission used testimonies of Gazans, as well as on-site inspections, to reach its conclusions. Although the Israeli government refused to cooperate and vigorously sought to prevent their citizens and soldiers from doing so, the Mission did interview Israelis outside of Israel and employed public testimony from the so-called “Soldiers’ Forum” at Israel’s Oranim College military academy, as well as reports from the soldiers’ group “Breaking the Silence.”

The Goldstone Report employs statements made by Israeli officials, which were widely quoted in the Israeli and foreign press, that declared Israel’s aim was to punish the civilian population. The document also includes justifications made by Israeli officials and reported in the press for specific Israeli military actions. Most of these were shown to be inaccurate, many purposefully so. 

One quote which illustrates the IDF intent to violate international norms of military conduct is from Tzipi Livni, who was the Israeli Foreign Minister during Operation Cast Lead. Livni said, “Israel is not a country upon which you fire missiles and it does not respond. It is a country that when you fire on its citizens it responds by going wild—and this is a good thing.” The Mission documented the following Israeli violations of the laws of war: use of human shields, capricious home invasions, illegal detention of civilians including elected officials, massive wanton destruction of personal property and infrastructure, and killing of unarmed and non-threatening civilians. 

The Mission concluded that 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.” Targeting a civilian population violates international humanitarian law. The Mission also concluded, as did many who read the Israeli press before and during the three-week Israeli assault, that one purpose of the attack was to punish Gazans for voting for Hamas in the free democratic election of 2006.

The Goldstone Report not only addresses the Gaza invasion, but seeks to place it in the context of the ongoing struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as Israel’s Arab neighbors. In describing this history, the Report harshly criticizes the Israelis for, among other things, the 8,000 Palestinian political prisoners in Israel from the occupied territories (a violation of international human rights law), the restriction of movement (between Gaza and the West Bank and within each territory), the suppression of legitimate dissent in the occupied territories, and the blockade of Gaza. It also condemns Israel for its settlements on conquered land, a violation of the Geneva Conventions, the Judaization of East Jerusalem, and construction and maintenance of the separation wall, which has been ruled illegal by the World Court. And all that is not even to mention the illegitimate and disproportionate use of force during the 2006 Lebanon War. This is hardly the portrayal of an enlightened Western democracy. This characterization of Israel is all the more shocking for many because it came from Richard Goldstone.

Judge Richard Goldstone is a nightmare for the Israeli and US pro-Israel spin doctors. He is an internationally recognized jurist with extensive experience in redressing the injustices of apartheid in his native South Africa. He is not only Jewish, but is a self-identified Zionist, and an honorary member of the Board of Governors of Hebrew University for ten years. This made it difficult to dismiss Goldstone as an anti-Semite from a United Nations whose moral and legal authority Israel has always ignored, with the aid of the United States veto. However, this did not stop the Israelis and their US supporters from smearing the judge. 

Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School called Goldstone “an evil man” and “a traitor to the Jews.” The usual charges of “self-hating Jew” echoed loudly in the Israeli and US media. On November 3, 2009 the US House of Representatives voted 344 to 36 for H. Res. 867 which called the Goldstone Report, “irredeemably biased and unworthy of further consideration or legitimacy.” The Obama administration, not known for great political courage in its foreign policy, has successfully blocked any further consideration of the Goldstone Report and its recommendations at the United Nations.

Judge Goldstone has invited “fair minded people” to read the report and “point out where it failed to be objective or even-handed.” Neither the Congress nor the Obama Administration has done so. The US mainstream media has all but shut the door on criticism of Israeli conduct during the Gaza invasion. But despite the dismissive response to the Goldstone report and to the critics of the Gaza invasion, both the invasion and the report have resulted in increased opposition to US policy on Israel. The US pro-Israel camp, recognizing this new reality, has inaccurately labeled it “a campaign of delegitimization of Israel.”

The Goldstone Report with the accompanying essays is valuable because it makes this important information accessible. I especially recommend the book to those liberals who still check their progressivism at the gate before entering the portal of Palestine. What they read here just may shake some of their deeply held beliefs.


Ira is a bookseller and reference librarian. He spent the summer of 1992 as a volunteer in the Israeli Defense Forces and is now a member of CNY Working For A Just Peace In Palestine & Israel.