Lieberman also responds to judge’s regret over report on Gaza war, says two years of work undermining it paid off. ‘Now it is clear that IDF is moral army,’ he says, adding that UN Human Rights Council’s decisions on Israel are no longer valid
Attila Somfalvi, YNET
Israeli officials expressed satisfaction Saturday with Judge Richard Goldstone’s regret for his report on Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the UN to retract the Goldstone report. “Everything we said was proven to be true. Israel did not willfully harm civilians,” Netanyahu explained, adding, “Israel’s investigating authorities are worthy, while Hamas investigated nothing. The fact that Goldstone withdrew his conclusions must lead to the retraction of the report once and for all.”
Netanyahu added that “the biggest absurdity is that the United Nation’s Human Rights Council initiated the report, and one of its members was Gaddafi’s Libya. Therefore we must toss this report into the trash can of history .”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Ynet that “the truth is clear, and cannot be questioned”.
“The price of dealing (with the report) over the past few years was worth it,” Lieberman said, adding that Goldstone’s backtracking renders all decisions by UN Human Rights Council about Israel null and void.
“If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document,” the South African judge, who had accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza, wrote in an article carried by the Washington Post.
Lieberman took credit for the change of heart, explaining that his ministry had been hard at work attempting to undermine the report’s conclusions. “We sent letters and documents about it, and I think it is finally sinking in,” he said.
“Today it is clear to everyone that the IDF is the most moral army. I think there will be a dramatic change. Everyone understands that there is no place here for any intervention.”
Israel refused to cooperate with the UN probe headed by Goldstone in 2009, and the judge expressed his dismay at the fact that this altered the results. “Israel’s lack of cooperation with our investigation meant that we were not able to corroborate how many Gazans killed were civilians and how many were combatants,” he wrote.
Lieberman recounted the debates that led to Israel’s decision at the time. “There were many arguments,” he said. “Finally I managed to convince everyone that if we reveal to Goldstone our operational and political considerations, and how the army and defense and intelligence services work, everyone will begin demanding such information. We preferred to deal with the report without taking them into our confidence.”
The foreign minister added that the report still has repercussions today. “People are unaware of this, but after the Goldstone report there were another two reports, all of them considering the effects of Goldstone,” he said.
“All of them reached the same conclusion: There was no intentional fire on civilians and the justice system in Israel is reliable and serious, and investigates itself. Goldstone mentions 400 cases that Israel reviewed, while Hamas did not review a single case. Intentional fire on civilians is a war crime,” Lieberman added.
‘Council says nothing on Iran, Sudan’
“The third conclusion that Goldstone reaches in the article is that in actuality the Human Rights Council has become an anti-Israel body whose whole agenda is to degrade the State of Israel.”
In his own opinion, the foreign minister said, the council deals in “attempts to persecute and libel Israel.”
“This organization is busy with Israel as it is never busy with Iran, Sudan, or North Korea. As of this day, there is no longer any validity to any conclusion or debate about Israel in the Human Rights Council,” he said.
“The State of Israel is not Syria, it’s not the Ivory Coast, it is a state in which all of the systems work and everyone makes decisions according to the norms accepted around the world, and according to international law.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak was also pleased with Goldstone’s admission. “We have always said that the IDF is a moral army that operates according international law, with extraordinary standards in the fight against terror activated by Hamas in Gaza against the citizens of Israel,” he said.
Barak added that in addition to his article, Goldstone should also make sure to make his conclusions known to international bodies affected by “his false and distorted” report. “Only in this manner will there truly be partial reparation for the damage caused,” he said.
IDF: Judge’s Jewish morals kicked in
The IDF’s top brass was also pleased with Goldstone’s change of heart. IDF Spokesman Brigadier-General Avi Benayahu told Ynet that “apparently his Jewish morals and professional honor eventually prompted him to tell the world the truth about what happened during the operation, a truth we have long known”.
“We have always felt total faith that the operational inquiries within the army are reliable and truthful. We are open to all criticism and claims and know how to probe ourselves, and we rejected the baseless criticism that appeared in the Goldstone report.”
A number of inquiries led to punishment. In one case, two Givati soldiers were convicted of using a boy as a human shield in Gaza, and were sentenced to three months in prison. But the report accused many innocent soldiers of wrongdoing as well, another army official explained.
“This is an important seal of legitimacy for many whom the report slandered, through no wrongdoing of their own, some of whom were shamed by it,” he said. “It’s too bad most of them have already been discharged and did not receive this authorization while still serving.”
But Colonel Liron Libman, who heads the International Law Division at the Military Advocate General’s Office, believes there is still difficult work ahead. He cites the 2010 annual report, which says that “there has been an increase in attempts to initiate criminal proceedings against Israeli officials” during the year.
The report adds that “intensive dealings with legal consequences” of the Gaza war are expected to continue throughout 2011.
Palestinians largely ignore article
But while Goldstone’s article caused quite a stir in Israel, most of the Palestinian Authority and Gaza Strip media channels chose to ignore the judge’s statement. The PA had demanded at the time to withdraw the report from the United Nations’ vote due to heavy pressure from the United States.
Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, Secretary General of the Palestinian National Initiative Party, had criticized this decision, claiming “it serves the Israeli occupation.”
Barghouti told Ynet on Saturday he is certain Goldstone stands behind his report: “I’ve heard him talk about this issue many times and I know he’s sure of what he wrote in the report. I believe he doesn’t regret it.”
According to him, aside from Goldstone other people were also behind the report. “He had all the information he needed and it’s a fact that Israel refused to accept it. I’m convinced everything that’s written there is the truth.”
Barghouti admitted Hamas committed war crimes when shooting rockets towards populated areas filled with civilians. However he claimed Israel used disproportionate force. “How many Israelis have been killed and how many Palestinians? You do the math.”
He added that he believes it makes no difference what is either said or written. “I was in Gaza after the operation and saw what happened there. What happened was a war crime,” he said.