WASHINGTON – Shortly after his report
of committing war crimes in Gaza was adopted
by the United Nations General Assembly, Judge Richard Goldstone took part Thursday night in a debate with former Israeli Ambassador to the UN Dore Gold, in which he argued that statements made by Israeli politicians and military officials were proof of the tactic of using disproportional force.
"The problem is that in your report you didn't see Hamas
as responsible," Gold claimed in response. "The one who sent the missiles is the one who launched the war."
Goldstone also revealed a personal aspect. "I was afraid to enter Gaza. I had nightmares that Hamas would kidnap me and that the Israelis would rejoice," he said.
"Major-General Gadi Eisenkot warned that the tactic of a disproportional attack like the one in the Dahiya (the Israeli attack on Hezbollah's
stronghold in Beirut during the Second Lebanon War)
would now be carried out everywhere," Goldstone said during the debate, which was held at Brandeis University in Massachusetts.
The judge noted that two of Israel's deputy prime ministers, Eli Yishai and Haim Ramon, had threatened to destroy thousands of houses in response to the rocket fire.
Goldstone also described his attempts to meet with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
and Defense Minister Ehud Barak,
who he said gave him the cold shoulder.
He addressed the Israeli accusations against him, saying that "the personal attacks are painful," but clarified that his report was a balanced document. "This is the first time that a UN document mentions the suffering of Israel's citizens by the firing of rockets at the south of the country," he added.
"Israel not only has the right to defend its citizens, but the duty to do so according to international law. The military operation is legal. In this context, the committee found that Hamas and other organizations had committed war crimes against civilians in southern Israel. The rockets terrorized women and children every day. This was mentioned in the report in detail," the judge argued.
He clarified, however, that a ground offensive against a civilian population, the destruction of thousands of houses and the damage caused to infrastructure were a crime on Israel's part. "This strategy adopted by the Defense Ministry is against international law," he accused.
Goldstone and Gold did not confront each other directly, but responded to each other's claims. The former Israeli ambassador presented Israel's stance using clips produced by the IDF, showing that the Palestinian population had been notified in advance about strikes in certain areas.
The clips also showed senior Hamas members admitting that they were using populated areas in the Gaza Strip to fire rockets.
Responding to Gold's claim that Israel did not exercise collective punishment against the Palestinians, Judge Goldstone said, "Why did they have to bomb the mosque? Why did they have to bomb the American school? Why did they have to attack the UNRWA compound? If this doesn’t call for an investigation, what does? Why did they have to bomb the UN food center? If this isn't collective punishment, what is collective punishment?"
Gold argued that these claims were false. "We checked and there is no such incident with a mosque. Israel did not attack that mosque." But Goldstone insisted, saying that "in the mosque we found remains of Israeli ammunition."
The South African judge stressed that "Israel a law-abiding democracy," noting that "its citizens are concerned by many of the accusations." He added that he believes Israel now has the opportunity to examine the accusations and act on the matter.
"Nine months after the operation,
the IDF investigated itself behind closed doors. And what did they achieve so far? One conviction for a credit card theft,"
He admitted that the UN Human Rights Council was dedicating time to discuss what is happening in Israel "in a disproportionate manner, neglecting other areas where there are serious violations of human rights." He added that he had spoken against the HRC's unfair treatment of Israel.