In this blog I have never given my own personal opinion of the conclusions of the Goldstone Report. So here it is, in brief.
First, I see the conclusions of the Goldstone Report, especially the notorious one about Israel's deliberately targeting the Gazans' lives, as reasonable inferences, given the testimonies that the mission heard, what they themselves saw, and the unwillingness of Israel to cooperate with the mission. I should add that the members of the Goldstone mission possess a professional expertise that all their critics so far have lacked. It is one thing for the intelligent layperson to go through a report and raise questions. It is quite another for those criticisms to be raised by people with the proper credentials, who can compare the situation in Gaza with other places, and with knowledge of the law. We have not yet heard criticisms by non-partisan experts in international humanitarian law.
For some critics, the conclusion of deliberate targeting is especially unreasonable because they accept, as a bedrock axiom, that the deliberate, planned punishing of a population is simply not what the Israel Defense Force would do. This axiom is, I believe, debatable. But the debate certainly cannot be settled simply by recourse to circumstantial evidence. We would have to have greater access to the actual planning of the Gaza Operation, for example, then we have. And it will be decades before we have that, if we ever do.
The mainstream Jewish reaction to the Goldstone Report, especially to that conclusion, has been vicious and vitriolic. I can understand why "talkbackers" and blind partisans react in that way, but I am at a loss to understand how intelligent, reasonable, people use phrases like "traitor" "evil, evil man", "crime against the Jewish people", etc. Much more reasonable is the response of such Israeli NGOs such as B'Tselem and Breaking the Silence (Yehuda Shaul), which have reservations about the deliberate, planned targeting of the civilian population, which do not see the evidence entailing this– but nonetheless are highly respectful towards the Goldstone Report, and endorse many of its other conclusions. Yet the partisans continually misrepresent the viewpoints of these NGOs as rejecting the Goldstone Report. B'Tselem, pace Ron Kampeas, does not view the Goldstone Report as "deeply flawed." The NGOs may or may not express some reservations, but they are, on the whole, supportive of the report. Even the Goldstone report talks about "possible crimes against humanity."
The real line to be drawn is not between supporters and detractors of the Goldstone Report, but between those who call for an independent investigation, thereby accepting the main recommendation of the Goldstone Report, and those who do not think that such an investigation is necessary, now that the IDF has responded to the UN. Even Alan Dershowitz, who has come in for some mighty big criticism on this blog and others, has called for an independent investigation (although I am not sure whether he still does.) If Israel decides on such an investigation, and if the government does not pack the panel with IDF-friendly voices, then it will be only thanks to the Goldstone Report and the reports of the Israeli and international NGOS.
My personal view of what happened in Gaza, on the basis of my own experience of living in Israel, and of following the news, and the reports of the NGO, is what I would call almost-Goldstone. I believe that the IDF prepared for a major operation that would not only stop the rocket fire but send a message to the Gazan population that support for Hamas is costly. This means that there was not sufficient attention paid to the principle of distinction; the rules of engagement were often not observed, and these widespread phenomena suggest, but do not indicate conclusively, a deliberate policy by the higher-ups. At best, there was gross and criminal negligence on the part of the higher ups and the commanders in the field. And, of course, there was a misunderstanding of what Israel's responsibility was towards civilians.
For example, Israel thought that by distributing leaflets, or by roof-knocking, it was discharging its obligation to warn the civilians. If, despite the warning, there were still civilians found there, that would be their responsibility. Does this constitute deliberate targeting of civilians? It doesn't have to, because one achieves the same effect no matter what the intention is – which is to teach the civilian population the lesson that they are entirely powerless, that they have no recourse but to run (to where?) And what moral distinction is there?
This gross, willful negligence, which is well-documented in the Breaking the Silence testimonies, does not amount to a planned strategy of targeting civilians. It is more like a culture of neglect, a realization that "Now we are going to show them, and we aren't going to be so particular about the rules. " I don't know at what level in the chain of command this came in. But there is sufficient and credible evidence for this culture. Of course, this does not mean that accidents didn't happen. But that raises the question whether such accidents could have been foreseen, and if so, why were those risks taken?
This is precisely why the IDF cannot investigate itself; why an independent judicial commission with subpoena powers is necessary.
If Israel could do it after Sabra and Shatila, what possible justification does it have for not doing it now?