Goldstone defends UN report accusing Israel, Hamas of war crimes

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At a briefing Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington, Richard Goldstone defended the report compiled by his U.N. panel about war crimes during the Gaza operation last winter.

Goldstone, a Jewish South African judge noted for his fairness, said that the report, which found that Israel and Hamas committed war crimes during the December-January operation in Gaza, was written evenhandedly.

Before addressing the report itself, Goldstone first explained that the political landscape he now finds himself navigating is an unfamiliar one.  "I’m not a politician, and I say that with some pride," he noted.  "The work of the mission that I headed was, as far as I was concerned, not a political brief at all."

Goldstone said that every possible measure was taken to ensure that the report was compiled in an evenhanded and fair manner.  He maintained that the report did not look at the justifications for either side’s actions, but rather in the manner in which military force was applied.

He said that his mission’s task was to assess if the measures taken by each side were proportionate in relation to the action to which they responded.  However, "proportionate does not mean tit for tat," he said.

Goldstone also dismissed the disparity in the number of Israeli and Palestinian victims as grounds for dismissing the legitimacy of Israeli military action.  He noted that the fear that Palestinian rockets have caused in Israeli communities and the possible damage those missiles might have caused had they landed elsewhere is justification for military action, an assumption with which he said his panel had started.

In response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent statement that the report would "deal a fatal blow to the peace process," Goldstone was adamant that his panel’s work was absolutely necessary.

"We went to great lengths to get the full story," said Goldstone.  He stressed that public acknowledgment of both Israeli and Palestinian victims was necessary and important for the healing process.  "Without that, there can not be an enduring peace."

He also noted that each side had “dehumanized” the other, which in his mind is the only reason such conflict is able to occur.  A “realization of common humanity,” Goldstone said, is needed in order for the fighting to cease.

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