Richard Goldstone due in region this weekend to begin hearings on Gaza war

Until the last minute, it was not clear how South Africa’s Justice Richard Goldstone would arrive in the region this weekend with a mandate from the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva to begin an inquiry into the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead against Gaza (27 December – 18 January), or whetherIsrael will or will not let him enter the country, if he tries to come here.

Israel — which often prefers ambiguity — apparently did not reply to Goldstone’s request for a visa.

The mission’s mandate is to “investigate all violations of International Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after.”

Goldstone himself told a UN press conference in Geneva on 3 April that “It is in the interest of all Israelis and Palestinians that the facts relevant to those allegations should be impartially investigated by an independent international mission. The findings of such a mission might be relevant in relation to possible domestic inquiries and domestic criminal or civil proceedings, and international accountability mechanisms”. He added that “this is to be an independent, evenhanded and unbiased investigation”.

In that press conference, Goldstone requested “the cooperation of the relevant authorities to enable the members of the Mission to visit and meet with victims both in Israel and in Gaza and in the Occupied Territories to examine the context and consequences of military actions in Gaza. It is my earnest wish that all relevant parties and administrations assist and cooperate with the Mission. I need hardly add that submissions, whether of fact or law, would be sought by the Mission from all relevant persons and will be taken into account by the Mission in the formulation of its report and its recommendations. It is my hope that such a report will make a meaningful contribution to the peace process in the Middle East and to delivering justice to the victims”.

The mission began work in Geneva on 4 May; it will visit Gaza from 1-5 June; and it is “required to submit its report within three months”, according to a Public Advance Notice it issued — unusually — which is accessible here.

The Public Advance Notice states that “the Mission will focus on relevant violations by all parties in the entire occupied Palestinian territory, including Gaza and the West Bank, and Israel … Pending reply from the Government of Israel, the Mission is relying on the cooperation of the Government of Egypt to facilitate entrance to Gaza through Rafah. Subsequent field visits will be announced in due time”.

Anyone wishing to make contact with the Mission on any matter relevant to its mandate can do so by email to, according to the Public Advance Notice.  In addition, it also informs us that “Anyone wishing to make contact with the Mission during its visit to Gaza may contact the Mission by telephone at: (+970) 0597 444 158 or (+970) 0597 444 159.  

According to the Public Advance Notice, “Measures are being taken to ensure the careful and safe handling, communication and preservation of the Mission’s records and files. The information collected by the Mission is, and will remain, the property of the United Nations. Wherever necessary, the Mission will take precautionary measures necessary to ensure the safety or protection of victims, witnesses, sources and any other persons cooperating with the Mission”.

The mission has its own UN webpage here.

The Israeli media was recently told that the government would not cooperate with this mission, despite their respect for Goldstone (who, like the UN HRC’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, Professor Richard Falk, is Jewish — though Falk may also be a Baha’i).

Goldstone told journalists at the press conference in Geneva in April that “it certainly came to me as quite a shock as a Jew to be invited by the President to head this mission. It is obviously an additional dimension. I’ve taken a deep interest in Israel in what happens in Israel and I have been associated with organizations that have worked in Israel … [L]et me assure you it was not an easy decision. It took many days and some sleepless nights in mulling the invitation, but I decided to accept it because of my deep concern for peace in the Middle East, and my deep concern for victims in all sides in the Middle East. I think it is very important…too often the victims are left off the agenda and in my view they should be on top of the agenda. It’s certainly my hope that I can make a contribution in that regard”.

Israeli human rights organizations have called on Israel “to cooperate with the investigative delegation led by South African judge Richard Goldstone into combat events in Gaza in January”, and have stated that “The very existence of a balanced investigation is in Israel´s best interest”, and that “It is in our best interest to cooperate with an impartial investigation”. The Israeli human rights organizations who signed on to this statement are the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), B´Tselem, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, Yesh Din, Bimkom, Adalah, Public Committee Against Torture, Hamoked, and Gisha.

But, will Israel deny Goldstone and his team entry to the country, and deport him — as they did to Falk (a U.S. citizen)?

It is unlikely. While Israel has a positive regard for Goldstone, Israel seems by contrast to have had a particular grievance against Falk, and Foreign Ministry officials have accused him of entering the country a few months earlier, though it was after he was appointed Special Rapporteur, by saying that he was coming in his personal capacity. Then, during that visit, somebody apparently introduced him in a seminar in Ramallah as the UN Special Rapporteur. But, was that Falk’s fault?

In any case, Falk was rather badly treated at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, and then deported, in what Israeli human rights groups experts have privately said was a scandalous mismanagement of the situation by the UN, who should have prevented that disastrous outcome.

We reported on this earlier, here, and also here.

Goldstone said in the Geneva press conference that “I have no doubt that it is in the interests of all parties to cooperate. As I said, and as the President has said, it is in the interests of victims. It has certainly been my experience in South Africa, in the Balkans and Rwanda that transparent, public investigations are very important; important particularly to the victims because it brings acknowledgment of what happened to them and it can be the beginning of a healing process. So, I have no doubt it is in their interests. I would hope it is in the interests of all the governmental authorities too to really be on the moral high ground in cooperating with what I hope will be seen as a substantial, if not a important, United Nations endeavor to be of assistance. What will happen if there isn’t cooperation from all parties I think is a matter the mission will have to take into account if that happens”.

So, Goldstone is apparently due to arrive in Gaza, somehow, on Monday.

But, to enter Gaza, Goldstone has only a few limited options — the easiest and perhaps most diplomatic (at least vis-a-vis Israel) being (1) to enter Israel after flying to Ben Gurion International Airport.  But he can’t do that if Israel didn’t issue visas to him and the other members of the mission.

Other options would be either (2) flying to Amman, Jordan, and then (a) crossing the Allenby Bridge on the Jordan River and passing through the occupied West Bank, or (b) crossing into Israel directly from Jordan via the Sheikh Hussein bridge just to the north of the West Bank, or (c) going from Amman down to the Red Sea and crossing over into the Israeli port city of Eilat, then driving up through the Negev.   In all of these cases, Goldstone and the other members of the mission would have to be given Israeli visas.  Then, from Israel — but only with Israeli military authorization — Goldstone can enter and leave the Gaza Strip through the imposing and terrible Erez “Passenger” terminal.

Alternatively — and I have just heard this is the more likely scenario, absent a positive Israeli reply in the coming hours to his visa request — Goldstone may enter Gaza via Egypt, then travelling four or five hours across the Sinai to the Rafah crossing which Egypt opens and closes like a water faucet, according to its own calculations.  This is the only option that does not require overt Israeli agreement.

UPDATE: The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has issued a statement saying that “the fact-finding mission will travel to the region over the weekend and will be in Gaza as of the 1st of June and will remain there for about one week. The mission … will enter Gaza from Egypt via the Rafah crossing point. Other field visits are being planned”. The mission was established on 3 April 2009, under the terms of the UN Human Rights Council resolution adopted on the Gaza conflict on 12 January, In addition to Justice Richard Goldstone, other mission members include Professor Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who was a member of the High Level Fact Finding Mission to Bit Hanoun (2008); Ms. Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and former Special Representative of the Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders, who was a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (2004); and Colonel Desmond Travers, a former officer in the Irish Armed Forces and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations (IICI).

There is a precedent: South Africa’s Nobel Prize winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a life-long anti-Apartheid activist who established the country’s post-Apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission, had to enter and leave Gaza last year via Rafah — after being denied entry through Israel to complete his investigation of the deaths of 19 Palestinian civilians, mostly in their sleep, from an “error” in the IDF shelling of their residential compound in Beit Hanoun in November 2006.

However, Israel has said that anyone who enters Gaza via Rafah (or any other place than Erez Terminal) will not be allowed to exit Gaza (and enter Israel) via Erez.

So, if he enters Gaza via Rafah, how would Goldstone be able to visit the Israeli city of Sderot, at the Gaza perimeter, which has perhaps suffered the most from the war crime of being indiscriminately fired upon from Gaza by rockets, mortars and missiles?

Well, it won’t be as easy as dropping by Sderot while on his way in or out of Gaza via nearby Erez, as most official visitors do. But Goldstone could leave Gaza via Rafah, drive to Cairo across the Sinai, fly to Amman, and then go through options (2a or b) — or he could drive from Cairo down a good part of the length of Sinai to Taba, the cross over into the Israeli city of Eilat, and pursue option (2c), driving back up through the Negev …

Another South African legal expert, John Dugard, who preceeded Falk as the UN Human Rights Commission’s Special Rapporteur, used to enter Israel on his national passport, with the full knowledge of the Israeli government, and without any obstruction except their own passive non-cooperation. He even got some kind of assistance, according to a letter written in June 2008 by Itzhak Levanon, then Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva — despite the fact that Dugard harshly criticized Israel’s actions against the Palestinians.

Levanon wrote that Israel had hosted “eight Special Rapporteurs and the High Commissioner in less than three years”, between 2005 and 2008. He then added: “Of course, all of these missions were interspersed with regular, twice-yearly visits from the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, who was always provided with special documentation to facilitate his movements in our region“. Here, Levanon was referring to John Dugard.

When I tried to find out what, exactly, was that “special documentation to facilitate his [Dugard’s] movements in our region“, I got no answer, nor explanation — either from Ambassador Levanon’s staff at the Israeli mission in Geneva, or from the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Geneva.

At the time, I asked: What does that mean? What kind of “special documentation”? Was it a simple letter of introduction? Or something more? But, there was no reply.

[Levanon’s letter, published here, was written to obtain a correction about something I wrote in one of my articles at the time, UN Says Human Rights Situation in Occupied Palestinian Territory Remains Grave, which is published here. Levanon wrote in complaint that “it is false to state that Israel has ‘consistently not replied to visa requests to most UN Special Rapporteurs’.” However, that is not exactly what I wrote, which was ,in fact, this: “Israel has consistently not replied to visa requests to most UN Special Rapporteurs, or special investigative missions, whose mandates it does not like [emphasis added here]. So, most of them do not come to the region”. And, in my reply, published here, I noted that Ambassador Levanon’s letter unfortunately, selectively gave only a part of the picture, and that while his letter provided a list of a few visits from UN Human Rights officials that Israel has facilitated, neither his letter nor the UN itself would give any indication of how many visits Israel has blocked — mainly by not replying, rather than by outright saying “No”. I noted that it was also interesting that the Israeli Mission didn’t give any hint about what it will do, exactly, to facilitate the work of the new Special Rapporteur, Richard Falk. And we now know what happened to him…]

The Goldstone mission, according to its Public Advance Notice, “intends to consult with a wide range of interlocutors who will include victims and witnesses, Palestinian, Israeli and international NGOs, United Nations and other international organizations, community organizations, human rights defenders, medical and other professionals, legal and military experts, and other sources of reliable information relevant to its mandate, within and outside Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory. The Mission will also seek consultations with relevant authorities. In the course of its work, the Mission will review reports produced by various organizations and institutions, and will be requesting submissions on matters of fact and law relevant to its inquiry … The Mission is also planning to hold public hearings on particular issues of concern related to its mandate”.

A few months ago, Barbara Crossette, a former New York Times correspondent at the UNHQ/NY who now writes for the American publication, The Nation, reported that “Richard Goldstone, the South African judge who was chief prosecutor for war crimes tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, was selected by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate allegations that Israel violated international laws in its assault on Gaza. The Human Rights Council is a body of nations not controlled by either the UN secretary general or the UN’s high commissioner for human rights. The secretary general, the first high-ranking international official to visit Gaza after the attacks, has not tried to block what is essentially a war crimes investigation. Israel’s relations with the United Nations have been fraught for more than four decades, as the former Soviet bloc and some major nonaligned nations, including India, promoted the Palestinian cause at Israel’s expense. In 1975 the General Assembly voted to define Zionism as racism; it was not until 1991 that US pressure under President George H.W. Bush managed to reverse the resolution. But Israel was still not able to join any regional group (important for securing places in UN bodies) until Secretary General Kofi Annan later helped persuade the Europeans to let Israel become part of their caucus, which also includes the United States, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. In recent years, a lobby generated by the Organization of the Islamic Conference has revived the practice of trying to insert attacks on Israel into a variety of documents, most of all on human rights”. This can be read in full here,

9 thoughts on “Richard Goldstone due in region this weekend to begin hearings on Gaza war”

  1. “The Israeli media was recently told that the government would not cooperate with this mission, despite their respect for Goldstone (who, like the UN HRC’s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, Professor Richard Falk, is Jewish — though Falk may also be a Baha’i).”

    Not possible to be both jewish and bahai.

  2. Don’t you think it is possible to be Jewish and Buddhist? I know of one family that is Jewish and Catholic … [HINT: They converted, the son first, and they are all devout Catholics who are also very proud to be Jewish]

  3. > Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in
    > the occupied Palestinian territory, Professor Richard Falk,
    > is Jewish — though Falk may also be a Baha’i).

    What is it about Bahais? Whenever someone’s in the news (ge Abu Mazen in 2003) someone cries says “He’s a Bahai!”

  4. Marian Houk, on June 5th, 2009 at 1:00 am Said:

    “Don’t you think it is possible to be Jewish and Buddhist? I know of one family that is Jewish and Catholic … [HINT: They converted, the son first, and they are all devout Catholics who are also very proud to be Jewish]”

    my question is: Has Richard Falk converted to the Bahia religion.

    now given this sourced from wiki: “Falk described his family background as “assimilationist Jewish with a virtual denial of even the ethnic side of Jewishness.” is true and given your statement about him being bahia, then it could be argued that Richard Falk has removed himself from both his jewish religion and jewish ethnicity. If that is true then just what element(s) of jewishness is/are left?

  5. David, I did not say that Richard Falk had converted.

    (I gave two examples of how others see themselves as both Jewish and something else at the same time — Jews who are ALSO Buddhists, and Jews who had converted to Catholicism. Neither of these examples referred specifically to Richard Falk.)

    What I did write is that he IS Jewish — though he MAY ALSO be Baha’i.

    In the statement attributed to him in Wikipedia, he says he is “Jewish with a virtual denial of … Jewishness”. That remark is sourced to a book to which I do not have access.

    In the same Wikipedia profile, he is also said to have described himself as “an American Jew”.

    So, when you click on the reference, you find that what Falk did write, in a controversial article, is that “it is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as ‘holocaust’ … Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not. The recent developments in Gaza are especially disturbing because they express so vividly a deliberate intention on the part of Israel and its allies to subject an entire human community to life-endangering conditions of utmost cruelty. The suggestion that this pattern of conduct is a holocaust-in-the-making represents a rather desperate appeal to the governments of the world and to international public opinion to act urgently to prevent these current genocidal tendencies from culminating in a collective tragedy. If ever the ethos of ‘a responsibility to protect,’ recently adopted by the UN Security Council as the basis of ‘humanitarian intervention’ is applicable, it would be to act now to start protecting the people of Gaza from further pain and suffering. But it would be unrealistic to expect the UN to do anything in the face of this crisis, given the pattern of US support for Israel and taking into account the extent to which European governments have lent their weight to recent illicit efforts to crush Hamas as a Palestinian political force”.

    The full article can be found here:

    Falk’s thoughts were published at the end of June 2007 — just after Hamas had kicked Fatah Preventive Security forces out of power in Gaza.

    (Please see this article in the April 2008 issue of Vanity Fair, published in early March 2008, for some perspective on this development: The Gaza Bombshell, written by David Rose, which claims that there was “a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war”, and that this plan, “was for forces led by Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power”. The article also reports that “Within the Bush administration, the Palestinian policy set off a furious debate. One of its critics is David Wurmser, the avowed neoconservative, who resigned as Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief Middle East adviser in July 2007, a month after the Gaza coup. Wurmser accuses the Bush administration of ‘engaging in a dirty war in an effort to provide a corrupt dictatorship [led by Abbas] with victory’. He believes that Hamas had no intention of taking Gaza until Fatah forced its hand. ‘It looks to me that what happened wasn’t so much a coup by Hamas but an attempted coup by Fatah that was pre-empted before it could happen’, Wurmser says” … A State Department official adds, ‘Those in charge of implementing the policy were saying, ‘Do whatever it takes. We have to be in a position for Fatah to defeat Hamas militarily, and only Muhammad Dahlan has the guile and the muscle to do this.’ The expectation was that this was where it would end up—with a military showdown’. There were, this official says, two ‘parallel programs’—the overt one, which the administration took to Congress, ‘and a covert one, not only to buy arms but to pay the salaries of security personnel’.” etc… You can find this article here:

    Falk later acknowledged somewhere that the thoughts he expressed in his June 2007 article had disturbed or offended some people and MIGHT have been better expressed, but that his intention was sincere …

    It is interesting that Falk also wrote, just days before the start of the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in Gaza [please note that the IDF and the Israeli MFA have both said that they believed almost all young adult males in Gaza were Hamas militants, as I have documented elsewhere in this blog], in an article published in the Comment is Free section of The Guardian newspaper about his hours of inspection, interrogation, and overnight detention upon arrival at Ben Gurion Airport, follwed by his deportation, that: “Israel had all along accused me of bias and of making inflammatory charges relating to the occupation of Palestinian territories. I deny that I am biased, but rather insist that I have tried to be truthful in assessing the facts and relevant law. It is the character of the occupation that gives rise to sharp criticism of Israel’s approach, especially its harsh blockade of Gaza, resulting in the collective punishment of the 1.5 million inhabitants. By attacking the observer rather than what is observed, Israel plays a clever mind game. It directs attention away from the realities of the occupation, practising effectively a politics of distraction. The blockade of Gaza serves no legitimate Israeli function. It is supposedly imposed in retaliation for some Hamas and Islamic Jihad rockets that have been fired across the border at the Israeli town of Sderot. The wrongfulness of firing such rockets is unquestionable, yet this in no way justifies indiscriminate Israeli retaliation against the entire civilian population of Gaza. The purpose of my reports is to document on behalf of the UN the urgency of the situation in Gaza and elsewhere in occupied Palestine. Such work is particularly important now as there are signs of a renewed escalation of violence and even of a threatened Israeli reoccupation. Before such a catastrophe happens, it is important to make the situation as transparent as possible, and that is what I had hoped to do in carrying out my mission. Although denied entry, my effort will continue to use all available means to document the realities of the Israeli occupation as truthfully as possible“.

    Then, the war started. It was an unprecedented action against a captive people, who had nowhere to flee, and who are both under occupation and an Israeli military-administered blockade. This war lasted three terrible weeks.

    Falk is just a human being, and therefore not perfect, but he has consistently stood for justice for the Palestinians.

    It seems to me that Falk’s own position on his own identity appears to be inclusionist, rather than exclusionist. And he does not deny that he is Jewish.

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