Goldstone, Kemp, and the “36 Incidents”: The Bizarro World of the UNFFM to Gaza

At a number of points in the controversy over his report, Judge Goldstone has referred to the fact that his Mission selected 36 “representative” incidents to investigate. Here he explains to Bill Moyers:

We chose those 36 because they seemed to be, to represent the most serious, the highest death toll, the highest injury toll. And they appear to represent situations where there was little or no military justification for what happened.

While Goldstone never made the list public, here is, as close as possible, a list of the incidents that the Goldstone Report discussed in some detail, which only come out to a somewhat vague 32. The only two that examine behavior unbecoming of the Palestinians are Gilad Shalit (6 paragraphs) and Palestinian attacks on Fatah supporters (25 paragraphs). The Qassams are condemned, but not investigated, and Hamas is never named as a culprit in the “war crime and possibly crime against humanity that these rocket attacks constitute.”

In other words, the principle incidents — those chosen, and those upon which the Report lavished their attention and their ink — are exclusively about alleged Israeli attacks on Palestinian victims.

List of 32 Incidents in Goldstone Report (compiled by Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor)

1. The Israeli air strikes on the Gaza main prison and on the Palestinian Legislative Council building (paras 336-373)
2. Arafat City Police HQ (398-402)
3. Attacks on 5 police stations (403-407)
4. UNWRA Compound Gaza City (paras. 543-595)
5. Al-Quds hospital, Tal el-Hawa, Gaza City (paras.596-629)
6. Attacks on al-Wafa hospital, 5 and 16 January 2009 (paras. 630-652)
7. The shelling in al-Fakhura Street by Israeli armed forces (paras. 653-54)
8. Al-Samouni (paras. 706-35) (yet this involves 3 specific incidents)
9. The shooting of Iyad al-Samouni (paras. 736-744)
10. The death of Muhammad Hajji in the attack on his family’s house
11. and the shooting of Shahd Hajji and Ola Masood Arafat (paras.745-754)
12. The shooting of Ibrahim Juha (paras.755-763)
13. The killing of Majda and Rayya Hajaj (paras. 764-769)
14. The shooting of Amal, Souad, Samar and Hajja Souad Abd Rabbo (paras.770-779)
15. The shooting of Rouhiyah al-Najjar (paras.780-787)
16. The Abu Halima family case (paras.788-801)
17. The attack on the al-Maqadmah mosque, 3 January 2009 (paras. 822-43)
18. The attack on the al-Daya family house, 6 January 2009 (paras. 844-866)
19. Attack on the Abd al-Dayem condolence tents (paras. 867-885)
20. The destruction of el-Bader flour mill (paras.913-941)
21. The destruction of the Sawafeary chicken farms (paras.942-961)
22. The Gaza wastewater treatment plant, Road No. 10, al-Sheikh Ejlin, Gaza (paras. 962-974)
23. Namar wells group, Salah ad-Din Street, Jabaliyah refugee camp (paras. 975-989)
24. The destruction of housing (houses of Saleh Hajaj, of Wa’el al-Samouni, of Khalid Abd Rabbo and of Muhammad Fouad Abu Askar [–are these all one incident or four?] (paras. 990-1007)
25. The case of Majdi Abd Rabbo (paras. 1033-1063)
26. The case of Abbas Ahmad Ibrahim Halawa (paras. 1064-1075)
27. The case of Mahmoud Abd Rabbo al-Ajrami (paras. 1076-1085)
28. The case of AD/03 (paras. 1086-1088, 1143-63)
29. Al-Atatra sandpits (paras 1112-26)
30. Detention and abuse of AD/02 (paras 1127-42)
31. Gilad Shalit (paras.1336-1342) [6 paragraphs]
32. Several cases of Hamas killings of Fatah members [though none are mentioned by name and the specificity does not approach other incidents – are these part of the 36? No idea.) (paras 1343-1368).
33? Various incidents in the West Bank?
34? No specific incidents of rocket attacks are detailed.
35? Repression of Dissent chapter lists several incidents.

What’s missing here, of course, is any investigation into the extensive evidence that Hamas used the civilian population as a shield, that they deliberately fired from the midst of civilian neighborhoods in order to provoke attacks, that they dressed as civilians, commandeered ambulances, stole food supplied by Israel to the Gazan population… in short that they did everything they could to maximize their own civilians’ casualties.

All these matters are, of course, critical to assessing the behavior of Israeli troops. And yet, Goldstone explicitly refused to look into this material. Here is one indication that, had he investigated these issues, he might have judged Israeli troops less harshly in their effort to target combatants despite the ubiquitous, intentional presence of civilians. Colonel Richard Kemp, a British commander with extensive experience in asymmetrical combat in Iraq and Afghanistan concludes:

During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population. Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.

The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media, and international human rights groups, that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets, and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy’s hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

And yet, the Goldstone Mission explicitly decided not to hear Colonel Kemp’s testimony. Here Goldstone explains why in a letter to Maurice Ostroff:

There was no reliance on Col. Kemp mainly because the Report did not deal with the issues he raised regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas and second-guessing decisions made by soldiers and their commanding officers in the fog of war. The Mission avoided having to do so in the incidents it decided to investigate.

This remark is nothing short of breathtaking. (Note that Goldstone admits that the selection of the “36 incidents” was made deliberately to exclude such matters.) And yet the Mission constantly “second-guessed” Israeli soldiers and their commanding officers, repeatedly determining on the basis of unchallenged Palestinian testimony that there was “no military activity” at the time of Israeli action. Indeed, they do not hesitate to reach decisive and damnatory conclusions:

932. Having concluded that the strikes were without any military justification, and therefore wanton and unlawful, the Mission finds it useful to consider if there was any non-military purpose to the strikes.

726. The Mission also reviewed the submission it received from an Israeli researcher, arguing generally that statements from Palestinian residents claiming that no fighting took place in their neighbourhood are disproved by the accounts Palestinian armed groups give of the armed operations. The Mission notes that, as far as the al-Samouni neighbourhood is concerned, this report would appear to support the statements of the witnesses that there was no combat.

696.The Mission does not say that the Israeli armed forces had to accept the risk to themselves at all cost, but in addressing that risk it appears to the Mission that they had ample opportunity to make a choice of weapons that would have significantly limited the risk to civilians in the area. According to the position the Government has itself taken, Israeli forces had a full 50 minutes to respond to this threat – or at least they took a full 50 minutes to respond to it. Given the mobilization speeds of helicopters and fighter jets in the context of the military operations in Gaza, the Mission finds it difficult to believe that mortars were the most accurate weapons available at the time. The time in question is almost 1 hour. The decision is difficult to justify.

1330. The above statements should also be seen in the light of what the Mission has identified as the objectives and strategies of Israel before and during the operations (see chap. XVI). Israel, rather than fighting the Palestinian armed groups operating in Gaza in a targeted way, has chosen to punish the whole Gaza Strip and the population in it with economic, political and military sanctions. This has been seen and felt by many people with whom the Mission spoke as a form of collective punishment inflicted on the Palestinians because of their political choices.

And so on…

So, in fact, the Mission did the precise opposite of what Goldstone assured Ostroff they would do. And Kemp’s testimony would have been highly relevant.

Note that Goldstone uses precisely the same argument he used with Ostroff in his interview with Moyers, as if it were a favor to Israel. It’s the continuation of his mention of the “36 incidents,” and his condemnation of Israel cited above:

We chose those 36 because they seemed to be, to represent the most serious, the highest death toll, the highest injury toll. And they appear to represent situations where there was little or no military justification for what happened. We didn’t want to investigate situations where we would be called upon to second-guess decisions made by Israeli Defense Force leaders or soldiers, in what’s called the “fog of battle”. It’s really unfair to do that, especially without hearing the other side. So we tried to concentrate on issues which seem to be less likely to be justifiable by applying those standards.

In other words, we didn’t look specifically into incidents of Hamas using human shields, didn’t listen to witnesses who, taking that information into account, found the IDF took remarkable risks to avoid hitting civilians. Instead, they chose 36 incidents to investigate which “appear to represent situations where there was little or no military justification for what happened,” and nonethess, found Israel guilty of targeting civilians. If Moyers had done his homework, he’d have noticed the absurdity of Goldstone’s claim.

Indeed, the FFM, even as it only tangentially considered evidence of Hamas’ military strategy of human shields, consistently dismissed any evidence to the contrary. The trope “The Mission found no evidence… did not find any evidence… for illegitimate behavior by Hamas and other Palestinian combatants runs through the report like a scarlet thread:

32. It finds that there is no evidence that the Legislative Council building and the Gaza main prison made an effective contribution to military action.

35. The Mission found no evidence, however, to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.

36. The Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities or that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes.

449. Amnesty International also reported, however, that it had seen no evidence that rockets had been launched from residential houses or buildings while civilians were still in them.

465. The Mission found no evidence that this mosque was used for the storage of weapons or any military activity by Palestinian armed groups.

469. On the basis of the investigations it has conducted, the Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations made by the Israeli Government.

479. The Mission did not find any evidence of civilians being forced to remain in their houses by Palestinian armed groups.

480. A second report states that members of the Palestinian armed groups “also mixed with the civilian population, although this would be difficult to avoid in the small and overcrowded Gaza Strip, and there is no evidence that they did so with the intent of shielding themselves.”

483. While reports reviewed by the Mission credibly indicate that members of Palestinian armed groups were not always dressed in a way that distinguished them from civilians, the Mission found no evidence that Palestinian combatants mingled with the civilian population with the intention of shielding themselves from attack.

487. On the basis of the investigations it has conducted, the Mission did not find any evidence to support the allegations that hospital facilities were used by the Gaza authorities or by Palestinian armed groups to shield military activities and that ambulances were used to transport combatants or for other military purposes.

488. On the basis of the information it gathered, the Mission found no indication that the civilian population was forced by Hamas or Palestinian armed groups to remain in areas under attack from the Israeli armed forces.

494. From the information available to it, the Mission found no evidence to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks.

495. The Mission found no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat in civilian dress. It can, therefore, not find a violation of the obligation not to endanger the civilian population in this respect.

1841. The Mission was also given no evidence of any arrests, investigation or prosecution connected with the serious violations of the peremptory norms of international law that have been alleged in information presented in other parts of this report, be these against Palestinian civilians in Gaza or against Israeli civilians.

1953. The Mission found no evidence to suggest that Palestinian armed groups either directed civilians to areas where attacks were being launched or that they forced civilians to remain within the vicinity of the attacks. The Mission also found no evidence that members of Palestinian armed groups engaged in combat in civilian dress. Although in the one incident of an Israeli attack on a mosque it investigated the Mission found that there was no indication that that mosque was used for military purposes or to shield military activities, the Mission cannot exclude that this might have occurred in other cases.

If you seek not, how will you find?

The result of this “methodology” means that Hamas’ deliberate strategy of creating a humanitarian crisis, even going so far as to block medical aid to the wounded, generally of maximizing civilian casualties, precisely so that they can blame Israel in international opinion, works brilliantly.

When demopaths pitch to dupes, everyone loses… especially the poor Gazans.

Another sterling example of the Goldstone Standard.

UPDATE: Comment from Yaacov Lozowick:

One of the strangest things about the report, to my mind, is that the fact finders never made even the slightest attempt to figure out what the Palestinian fighters – Hamas or Islamic Jihad – were doing. At least in the case of Israel, they repeatedly asked; when Israel didn’t respond they invented what they thought might be reasonable answers (they weren’t). When it comes to the other side, however: nothing. They were in Gaza! They could have sought all sorts of facts. But no: for all the report has to say, there were evil Israelis, there were lots of poor civilians, and here and there, rarely, there were unidentified people shooting rockets. Was their any Gazan semi-military force facing the Israelis? Taking action? Planning attacks or fending off Israeli ones?

27 Responses to Goldstone, Kemp, and the “36 Incidents”: The Bizarro World of the UNFFM to Gaza

  1. Barry Meislin says:

    Yep.

    Goldstone has personally guaranteed much more extensive civilian deaths the next time—and wherever—hostilities begin.

    Signed, sealed, delivered, dead. Courtesy of Richard Goldstone.

    Still, as long as Israel (and Israelis) may be wounded, even perhaps (dare we hope!?) destroyed, Palestinians (and Lebanese) civilian deaths are to be encouraged, maximized, planned for (since civilian deaths help mightily in the supreme effort to deligitimize, and hopefully destroy) the Zionist Entity).

    For a group that plans and applauds suicide bombers, it is but a small step to systematically sacrifice your population. And the advantages, as Goldstone has amply demonstrated are tremendous.

    Yes, dying to destroy Israel is worth it. The only question that remains to be seen is whether the noose around Israel is tight enough to commence the long-awaited knockout blow.

    Meanwhile, Israelis (like the sample group in Sderot) are expected to go about their lives normally, with the Iranian, Syrian, Hizbullahn and Hamasian Damocles sword, encouraged by the likes of Goldstone, hanging ever more closely over their heads.

    As the noose tightens and tightens further….

  2. harris says:

    They not only ignored things and second guessed the IDF commanders they apparently also made things up. i.e. contradicted their own witnesses from the public hearings and their own written report lateron if their testimony and the things they wrote wouldn’t fit into the story to be told:

    “The Goldstone Report Forgery”
    http://harris-adhoc.blogspot.com/2009/10/goldstone-report-forgery.html

  3. rl says:

    Excellent post, Harris. Permission to put it up at the Goldstone Report. Quite a piece to launch your blog from. Good luck, and I look forward to new postings.

  4. harris says:

    “Excellent post, Harris. Permission to put it up at the Goldstone Report. Quite a piece to launch your blog from. Good luck, and I look forward to new postings.”

    Sure. That’s what it’s for.
    I asked you several times if you want to link/publish it ;-)

  5. harris says:

    And thanks!

  6. E.G. says:

    An insight into double standards:

    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1125723.html

    And
    In his inauguration speech, he declared: “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” Yet roughly once a week since that day, he has ordered the assassination of suspected terrorists. These assassinations, carried out with Hellfire missiles fired from hovering drones, are often messy. According to the New America Foundation, a think-tank, it took 15 attempts to kill Baitullah Mehsud, a Taliban leader in Pakistan who was finally blown to scraps in August. Hundreds of people, some of them children, have died in these drone attacks. Mr Obama would presumably include “not killing children” among his ideals. Sometimes, however, he sets aside this ideal in the interests of safety.

    source:
    http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14744856

  7. It’ll be interesting to see if Judge Goldstone goes through with the scheduled debate with Dore Gold scheduled for Brandeis tomorrow (Thursday). It’ll be webcast live at 5 p.m EST at http://www.jcpa.org and then archived on the site a day or two later.

  8. Soccer Dad says:

    Goldstone commission report is not flawed…

    Judge Richard Goldstone has repeatedly referred to his commission’s finding 36 incidents during Israel’s war against Hamas to investigate. Augean Stables has studied the report and identified the 36 incidents. The Augean Stables observes: In other wo…

  9. [...] the Augean Stables’ analysis of Goldstone’s “36 incidents” (that were Goldstone’s self-professed basis [...]

  10. [...] Richard Landes with another fine fisking of the Goldstone Report, this time focusing on the incidents Goldstone and company decided to [...]

  11. UNHCR says:

    Total right wing zionist distortion of the truth/propaganda.

  12. Richard Landes says:

    that is so eloquent. and what makes it right wing?

  13. Chaim says:

    Harris,
    Great article – must read! Looking forward to more!

  14. Sophia says:

    I keep thinking, maybe the decision to bar the press from Gaza was a huge mistake.

    Without an independent press who can corroborate Israel’s point of view?

    Even so, there’s no excuse not to mention Hamas violations and also to assume that the goal of the incursion was to “punish all of Gaza” is quite a leap.

    However, it’s clear that punishing all of Israel is the Hamas goal, otherwise why point rockets at civilians, thousands of them?

  15. E.G. says:

    Sophia,

    I keep thinking, maybe the decision to bar the press from Gaza was a huge mistake.

    Without an independent press who can corroborate Israel’s point of view?

    a. Independent press is a bit of an oxymoron these days, in particular concerning Israel. It’s hardly independent of prejudice and bias.

    b. How many journalists do you think would have actually gone into the battle zone? IMO the majority would have very happily relied on their “most trustworthy” local stringers. Each has his Talal Abu Rahma and Adnan Hajj.

    c. Do you really think that a collateral damage including a member of the journalist corporation was a totally unrealistic prediction? And that such a case’s damage was not considered against the benefits of barring?

  16. Barry Meislin says:

    Everyone forgets that Hamas told Haaretz’s Amira Hass, who was reporting (well, what passes as “reporting” as far as she is concerned) from Gaza, to leave Gaza several weeks before the war broke out.

    Amira Hass alive is, of course, extremely valuable for Hamas.

    Now why would Hamas have told Amira Hass to leave Gaza several weeks before the war broke out???….

  17. margie says:

    Sophia
    Mistake? My instant response was to recall a photograph of ruins with a heap of rubble upon which lay a shiny clean blue baby’s dummy (comforter in American I believe) direct from the factory. That is what happens when naive journalists are let loose in a heavy propaganda area.

    Even without extra journalists being admitted to Gaza, El Jazeera was already there and unwittingly revealed the launching of a grad rocket from a populated area. The media remember what they wish to remember: this was completely forgotten.

  18. Cynic says:

    Sophia,

    Without an independent press who can corroborate Israel’s point of view?

    How many times have we debated this equivocation of oxymoronic terms?
    Independent press, I ask you. Corroborate Israel’s point of view.

    If by any chance you have the capability of accessing Time magazine of 1982 then you will find a picture in one of their weekly ventures of the ruins of a building, which the press attributed to Israeli destructive methods, with a tree growing in the rubble of one of the rooms; which had to have been growing for some years to have reached the size it was and would have been impossible to have occurred in the time frame alloted to the Israeli invasion.
    Of course all the civil war period of the PLO destroying Christian communities etc., up to the invasion was not considered.

  19. Cynic says:

    E.G., #16
    Remember the TV jeep fauxtauxs that were discussed on this blog some time back?

    by the way don’t forget all that “action” script appearing in the media that some of those lovely people who never left the bar, in that Hotel in Jerusalem, to transcribe the sights and sounds dutifully spoon fed by their news knackers, would go to court over.

  20. Joanne says:

    I can see the point of the comments above about the “independent” press.

    In this situation Israel is damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t.

    If Israel lets the press through, it will be independent of Israel, but not of the Hamas public relations people, who will spoon-feed journalists, take them around on tightly controlled tours, and set up fake shots. These journalists will mostly not have the ability, means, or inclination to do otherwise.

    And if Israel doesn’t let the press in…well, you saw the reaction. It is then condemned for stifling a free press.

    I have to admit that I don’t watch television news. What I get is from print media and the Internet. But I wonder why is it that none of the points mentioned above aren’t out there in the media more. Or am I mistaken? Maybe they’re all over TV and radio.

  21. Joanne says:

    By “the points mentioned above,” I meant the points made not only in the comments but also, and especially, in this post.

  22. [...] because they hand-picked the incidents to highlight precisely this [...]

  23. Cynic says:

    Joanne,

    All the points you made are in some of the blogs but the media won’t mention them as we saw with Lebanon 2006 under the tutelage of Hezbollah and also the personal agendas as displayed by NYT’s Erlanger.
    Read about Hitchens’ experience in Beirut at the hands of Hezbollah thugs. Obviously he has not had the opportunity to do a sequel in Gaza.

    A case in point, if the American media, with very few exceptions, can cover for Obama to the point that they grossly distort the reality why should they be objective with Israel which in a sense is counter to Obama’s desires?
    Given the rest of the World media …..
    Had the MSM truly been interested in factual reporting the picture would be completely different today.

  24. [...] Richard Landes hat sich damit beschäftigt, welche „repräsentativen“ Vorfälle israelischer Kriegsverbrechen sich Goldstone und seine Mittäter vorgeknöpft haben. Goldstone gibt zu, dass in keiner Weise das Verhalten der Terroristen in diesen Vorfällen für die Untersuchung eine Rolle spielte – und dass sie alles taten, um die Verluste auf Seiten ihrer Bevölkerung zu maximieren. Wer mehr wissen will: Goldstone, Kemp and the „36 Incidents: The Bizarro World of the UNFFM to Gaza. [...]

  25. [...] see Richard Landes, “Goldstone, Kemp, and the 36 Incidents,” Augean Stables, November 4, 2009, http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2009/11/04/goldstone-kemp-and-the-36-incidents-the-bizarro-world-of-…. More broadly, see the analysis of the “mandate change,” by David Matas, “The Goldstone [...]

  26. [...] see Richard Landes, “Goldstone, Kemp, and the 36 Incidents,” Augean Stables, November 4, 2009, http://www.theaugeanstables.com/2009/11/04/goldstone-kemp-and-the-36-incidents-the-bizarro-world-of-…. More broadly, see the analysis of the “mandate change,” by David Matas, “The Goldstone [...]

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