[Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a two part article]
I-Goldstone Report Sent to Security Council
The Goldstone Report is a 575 page document prepared by the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict documenting the results from their investigation of the Israeli military action code named “Operation Cast Lead”. This military action was waged against Gaza from December 27, 2008 thru January 18, 2009.(1)
In the Goldstone Report there are a number of recommendations, several of which are for action by the UN Security Council. (2)
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, in a letter to the President of the UN Security Council wrote, ”I have the honour to transmit the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict to the Security Council, pursuant to the request by the General Assembly, contained in paragraph 2 of its resolution 64/10 of 5 November, 2009.” (3)
It is via this official communication that the Goldstone Report, as the report is commonly called, was transmitted to the UN Security Council on November 10 for its attention and action.
Ban Ki-moon’s letter and with it the transmission of the Report to the Security Council is the result of an important event that happened in the United Nations General Assembly, an event which received little public attention and only minimal discussion in the mainstream Western media. On Wednesday, November 4, and continuing on Thursday, November 5 there was a debate and then on Thursday a vote in the General Assembly passing Resolution A/64/L.11 endorsing the “Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.” (4) The resolution which passed by a vote of 114 Yes, to 18 No votes, with 44 Abstentions, contained a series of actions toward the implementation of the recommendations contained in the Report.
II-Debate Over Role of International Law
The underlying principle at stake in the United Nations debate over the Goldstone Report is whether Israel is obligated to respect the tenets and obligations of international law. Israel claims it is fighting terrorism and that the need to defend its citizens requires new international laws or it must make its own rules rather than being subjected to the obligations of international law.
The debate in the United Nations over the Report was both passionate and serious. The response of the government of Israel and of the Palestinians were opposite each other. The Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Gabriela Shalev said that the UN is launching “yet another campaign against the victims of terrorism, the people of Israel.” She rejected the findings in the Report, arguing that the Goldstone Report denies Israel the right of self-defense.
Palestinian groups pledged themselves to carry out the mandates of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission report.
During the course of the two days of the General Assembly debate, several nations referred to the issues and events described in the Report. Several of the speakers referred to the importance of studying the Goldstone report.
The Ambassador from Iceland, Gunnar Palsson, said he recognized Israel’s security concerns. “At the same time,” he noted these security concerns, “do not justify the disproportionate use of force or the breaching of international humanitarian and human rights law.”
Bui The Giang, the Vietnamese Deputy Representative, welcomed the Goldstone Report. He noted, however, Israel’s lack of cooperation with the fact-finding mission. He also commented on the many civilian victims of Israeli military actions in Gaza. He said, “We remain preoccupied by the Report’s findings regarding Israeli failure to take precautious measures required by international law to avoid or minimize loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian property, hence flagrant violation of the principle of proportionality and distinction.” Similarly, he noted the concerns in the report that Palestinian launched rocket and mortar attacks on southern Israeli communities were a cause of threat to the civilians of these communities.
The Malaysian Ambassador, Hamidon Ali, observed that “the Goldstone report makes grim reading.” Describing the points made in the report, he proposed that the Israeli military operation in Gaza fits into a continuum of policies, rather than being an exception or aberration.
He noted that, “Operation Cast Lead was qualitatively different from any previous military operation by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory due to its unprecedented severity and its long lasting consequences. The visible destruction of houses, factories, wells, schools, hospitals, police stations and other public buildings, proves that it was the deliberate aim of Israel to inflict as much damage and suffering as possible.”
The Israeli military action, he explained, was “premised on a deliberate policy of disproportionate force aimed not at a specific enemy but at the ‘supporting infrastructure’. In practice, this meant the civilian population in Gaza”, he noted
Another point he makes is that the military action of Israel in Gaza “which led to killings and destroying was carefully planned and executed.” Since it was a deliberate action, he concludes, “all killings must have been conducted in cold blood.”
In his statement, Ambassador Ahmed Al-Jarman, of the United Arab Emirates, noted that the Goldstone report chose to cover only 36 incidents of hundreds that occurred during the Gaza war. “The comprehensive military strikes launched by the Israeli forces,” he observed, “far exceeded any military imperative and did not discriminate between civil and military targets.” The strikes targeted houses, densely populated civilian areas, vital facilities such as hospitals, and facilities and buildings of the United Nations in Gaza being used to shelter hundreds of homeless people and refugees during the war. In addition, he referred to how the restrictions on Gaza, denying the entry of humanitarian assistance and many other goods, and blockading the movement of people in and out of the strip, has and continues to cause great hardship for the people of Gaza.
Ertugrul Apakan, the Turkish Ambassador, noted that though the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1860 about the Gaza war, the resolution has not been implemented by the Security Council.
The South African Ambassador to the UN, Baso Sangqu, said that the “current situation in the Middle East should be understood in the context of the ongoing Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian Territory and other Arab Territories, which dates back to 1967, and the associated denial to the right of self-determination of the Palestinian people.” He added that, “Israel’s track-record of disregarding international law, and the failure of the United Nations Security Council to take any meaningful action in response, is the key contributing factor to the lack of progress in the peace process.”
Jorge Valero, the Venezuela’s UN Ambassador, in his presentation to the General Assembly, said that, “These acts of violence, according to the Report, generate individual criminal responsibility. The authors of the thousands of dead and wounded on the Israeli invasion should be brought to justice.”
“In its conclusions,” Valero said, the Goldstone Report, “emphasizes the multiple and massive violations of the Fourth Geneva Convention, typified as war crimes, committed by the Israeli occupying forces: executions, torture, inhuman treatment, use of human shields, physical and psychological harm to the population.”
The Venezuelan Ambassador explained that, “the international community must recognize the will of the Palestinian authorities to cooperate with the work of the fact finding mission.” This, however, he said was “a stark contrast to the position of the Israeli leaders who, repeatedly, ignore all the resolutions of the principle organs of the United Nations on the issue of Palestine. Also,” he said Israel has, “refused to cooperate with the 23 United Nations fact finding missions that have been appointed since 1947. This shows the gross violation of international law by the Israeli regime.”
Analyzing the position taken by Israel with regard to its obligations to the Palestinians, the Lebanese Ambassador said:
“This is the Israeli notion of a fair deal: We’re entitled to do whatever the hell we want to the Palestinians because, by definition, whatever we do to them is self-defense.”
“They [the Palestinians – ed], however, are not entitled to lift a finger against us [Israel – ed] because, by definition, whatever they do to us is terrorism. That’s the way it’s always been, that’s the way it was in Operation Cast Lead. AND THERE are no limits on our right to self-defense. This is no such thing as ‘disproportionate.’ We can blockade Gaza, we can answer Kassams with F-16s and Apaches, we can take 100 eyes for an eye.”
“We can deliberately destroy thousands of Gazan homes, the Gazan Parliament, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, courthouses, the only Gazan flour plant, the main poultry farm, a sewer treatment plant, water wells and God knows what else.”
“After All, we’re acting in self-defense. By definition.”
“And what right do the Palestinians have to defend themselves against this?”
Qatar’s Ambassador to the UN, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, reviewing the multiple previous reports which referred to violations of international law by Israel and the fact nothing had been done to penalize Israel for its violations of the law. He told the General Assembly:
“Goldstone’s report was not the first report which referred to the Israeli violations of International law, but was preceded by numerous inquiries about the latest war in Gaza, such as the Board of Inquiry which was formed by the United Nations Secretary General, the Independent Commission of Inquiry into Gaza which was formed by the League of Arab States, and the reports of the Committee of the Red Cross, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.”
Al-Nasser similarly recalled the many previous reports before the Israeli war on Gaza. These included the report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Massacre of Jenin led by Martti Ahtisaari, the report by Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the massacre of Beit Hanoun. The lack of implementation of the recommendations in these reports, the Ambassador said, “have reinforced the sense of Israel as being above the law, and have encouraged it to continue to commit crimes.” These reports drew similar conclusions to those of the Goldstone Report.
Speaking for the Kuwait Mission to the UN, Khalaf Bu Dhhair, the Charge D’Affairs, told the General Assembly that “[A]ny further report issued that is not followed by a strong international preventative measure, shall only make Israel bolder, more arrogant, and more convinced that it is immune and cannot be touched. This fosters the culture of impunity and mars the credibility of the United Nations and of the international community. Are the member states ready to lose the United Nations credibility and its maintenance of international peace and security because of Israel’s intransigence and tyranny?”
Referring to the critical comments about Judge Goldstone in the Western mainstream media condemning the report, Dhhair explained, “If this indicates something, it indicates how much damage to Israel this report does which is considered a special historical document in the history of the Middle East conflict, where Israel is directly condemned and held responsible for violating International Humanitarian Law.”
The General Assembly debate over the Goldstone Report was a serious debate among member states. The majority voted (114 Yes, 18 No, 44 abstentions, 16 not voting) to endorse the Report and to send it to the Secretary General, requesting he transmit it to the Security Council for further action. This effort of the General Assembly is part of a recent revitalization effort of the UN General Assembly. A number of UN member nations are working to strengthen the General Assembly so the UN can fulfill its potential as a truly representative body of the international community.
1) The Report is available online. The url is
The mandate of the Mission was “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.”
2) The Report is more commonly referred to as the Goldstone Report, after the South African Justice Richard Goldstone, who headed the fact-finding mission. See especially p. 423-425 Para 1969 of the report for the recommendations to the Security Council.
3)S/2009/586 11 November 2009 Letter dated 10 November 2009 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council (United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict)
4)Resolution A/64/L.11 “Follow-up to the report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict” http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=A/C.6/64/L.11
4 November 09 General Assembly: 35th and 36th plenary meetings.
Report of the Human Rights Council (A/64/53/Add.1) Draft resolution (A/64/L.11).
[Webcast: Archived Video – English Language: 2 hours and 38 minutes ]
[Webcast: Archived Video – English Language: 2 hours and 45 minutes ]
5 November 09 General Assembly: 39th plenary meetings.
(A/64/92) 2) Report of the Human Rights Council (A/64/53/Add.1) Draft resolution (A/64/L.11) (continuation).
[Webcast: Archived Video – English Language: 2 hours and 32 minute ]