Goldstone, who spoke Feb. 17 under the auspices of the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of International Studies, paired any references to Israeli culpability with an equal condemnation of Hamas and said Israelis who were subject to rocket attacks from Gaza deserved an investigation.
In his 30-minute lecture on “International Law and Human Rights: The Search for Justice,” Goldstone, whose report accused Israel of war crimes, said, “Victims of thousands of rocket attacks in Israel are entitled to investigations.”
Addressing the Gaza war and the resulting fact-finding mission, Goldstone said, “This was the first time the U.N. looked into illegal acts from Gaza terrorists. It was the first time Hamas was condemned by U.N. bodies.”
That wasn’t good enough for Israel or its supporters, who roundly condemned the Goldstone Report, alleging bias and shoddy investigative work.
Goldstone defended his commission during a nearly one-hour Q&A session, saying he was limited in staff, time and resources. He also expressed dismay that Israeli government and military officials refused to cooperate with him.
“I pleaded with them to meet with me,” he noted, referring to letters he wrote to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others. “I had nurtured the hope that the Israeli government would take this opportunity to have a U.N. platform to put its version into the commission. It didn’t.”
Similarly, Hamas didn’t respond to any inquiries and requests from the commission. Goldstone said he had wanted to meet with the militant group to find out how it justified rocket attacks on civilians.
Though officials refused to cooperate, Goldstone did talk to Israelis and Gazans during his fact-finding.
As part of the investigation, he went to Gaza. “I challenge anyone to go there,” he said, “and not be personally moved. It was awful to see the thousands of houses destroyed.”
That said, he added, “Israel has a right of self-defense to protect its citizens against attacks. If more rockets had landed on kindergartens, the consequences would have been quite horrendous.”
On the other hand, he stressed that the evidence strongly suggested that Israel had committed some war crimes. He cited the case of the al-Samouni family, relocated on Jan. 4, 2009, by Israeli soldiers to a safe house, which was bombed the next day, killing 21 men, women and children.
The Goldstone report caused a firestorm of criticism in pro-Israel circles, some of it ad hominem attacks on Goldstone. He said these attacks were “very hurtful to me and my family.”
He ended his speech by expressing hope that Israel would someday more thoroughly investigate its own actions during Operation Cast Lead.
“I have sufficient confidence in Israel’s legal system to conduct such an investigation,” he said. “On the other side, groups like Hamas are less likely to do such investigating.”
For a man so widely vilified and lionized, Goldstone is unimposing in person: stolid, soft-spoken and sartorially correct in a pinstripe suit. He addressed an audience of around 100, which remained respectful throughout. There were no protests before or during the event.