Goldstone Report

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A controversial appraisal of the 2009 Gaza conflict, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council (i.e., not the Security Council or UN Secretary General, the Goldstone Report accused both sides of war crimes.[1] Opinion against the report have said that South African Justice Richard Goldstone was directed to look only at Israeli violations; Goldstone said he expanded his mandate to look at all sides. Israel said he had no authority to do so, and was operating under a biased charter that ruled out considering actions of Hamas prior to the military operations in 2009.[2]

UN Human Rights Council Resolution S-9/1, indeed, was titled "The grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks against the occupied Gaza Strip," suggesting a focus on Israeli actions. It had been introduced by Cuba and Egypt on behalf of the Arab and African Groups, and by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference.[3]

The issue of the mandate, versus the content of the report as extended by Goldstone and the commission, is crucial in understanding responses. In October 2009, the European Parliament did endorse it, although the entire UN has not. Moshe Kantor, the president of the European Jewish Congress, which represents 42 European Jewish organizations, warned in one letter: "It appears inconceivable that while the United Nations itself hasn't yet officially adopted this report, the European Parliament, in this motion for a resolution, calls for and demands its implementation."[4]

By a 344 to 36 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives Resolution 867 condemned the report, "calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the 'Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict' in multilateral fora. [5] The original draft resolution, however, was modified after Goldstone protested language to Rep. Howard Berman, with specific criticism and the general comment
That is why I and others refused the original mandate – it only called for an investigation into violations committed by Israel. The mandate given to and accepted by me and under which we worked and reported reads as follows:

“. . .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 20089, whether before, during or after”.

That mandate clearly included rocket and mortar attacks on Israel and as the report makes clear was so interpreted and implemented. It was the report with that mandate that was adopted by the Human Rights Council and that included the serious findings made against Hamas and other militant Palestinian groups. [6]

Previous investigation

There had been an earlier UN investigation, specifically on Israeli activities with regard to UN installations in Gaza, in May 2009. The report, commissioned by Secretary-General of the UN Ban Ki-moon, detailed the conclusions of a four-member board led by the United Kingdom's Ian Martin, a human rights activist and Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal. The board examined the circumstances behind several incidents at UN premises, including the deaths of up to 40 civilians at a UN school on 15th January, and referred to the Israeli military as
involved in varying degrees of negligence or recklessness with regard to United Nations premises and to the safety of United Nations staff and other civilians within those premises, with consequent deaths, injuries, and extensive physical damage and loss of property".[7]

At the time, Ban Ki-moon ruled out further inquiries, with his covering letter attached to the report emphasising that the report was not legally binding and that rockets attacks against Israel had occurred.[8] Nevertheless, the Goldstone Report was the result of a subsequent investigation.


It was led by South African jurist Richard Goldstone, which found evidence of war crimes on both sides. Goldstone is former judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa and former Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, to head the Mission. The other three appointed members were:

  • Christine Chinkin, Professor of International Law at the London School of Economics, who was a member of the high-level fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun (2008)
  • Hina Jilani, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and former Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the situation of human rights defenders, who was a member of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur (2004)
  • Desmond Travers, a former Officer in Ireland’s Defence Forces and member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for International Criminal Investigations.


The report, indeed, does not specifically address self-defense or justification, but focuses on the events in the operation, as well as blockade following the period of intense combat. "the Mission determined that it was required to consider any actions by all parties that might have constituted violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law. The mandate also required it to review related actions in the entire Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel."

Israeli involvement

The Government of Israel did not work with the Mission. "The Mission repeatedly sought to obtain the cooperation of the Government of Israel. After numerous attempts had failed, the Mission sought and obtained the assistance of the Government of Egypt to enable it to enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah crossing." The 575-page report[9] was presented to the UN Human Rights Council on September 29. Israel's initial response was
he Report of the Fact-Finding Mission established pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-9/1 was instigated as part of a political campaign, and itself represents a political assault directed against Israel and against every State forced to confront terrorist threats.

In the eyes of the authors of the Report, Israel's operation in Gaza had nothing to do with the 12,000 rockets and mortars fired by Hamas over eight years on towns and villages inside Israel, nor with the fact that close to one million Israeli citizens had to live their lives within seconds of bomb-shelters because they were in range of Hamas attacks. Nor, in their view, did it have anything to do with the smuggling of weapons and ammunition to terrorist groups through hundreds of tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. Indeed, neither the right to self defense nor the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip are even mentioned in the Report. [10]


A Haaretz commentator called it different than previous UN reports, generally fair in condemning actions on both sides, and creating immense political problems for the Israeli government. [11]

U.S. government

HR 867 was cosponsored by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida)]] and Howard Berman (D-California), respectively Ranking Minority Member and Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Dan Burton (R-Indiana) and Gary Ackerman (D-New York). Organizations supporting it included the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Orthodox Union and Zionist Organization of America .

At the time, J Street, a liberal lobby, called for heavy modification of the report, focusing on its content rather than the mandate. [12] The eventual resolution did reflect comments by J Street and Goldstone himself.[13]


Non-Israeli critics of the Report include Alan Dershowitz.[14]


  1. UN mission finds evidence of war crimes by both sides in Gaza conflict, UN News Service, 15 September 2009
  2. Wasn't the mandate of the Mission changed to be more balanced?, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  3. Cuba, Egypt (on behalf of the Arab and African Groups), Pakistan (on behalf of the Organization of the Islamic Conference) at the UN Human Rights Council (12 January 2009), The grave violations of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly due to the recent Israeli military attacks against the occupied Gaza Strip, A/HRC/S-9/L.1
  4. Leigh Phillips (3 October 2019), "Despite heavy lobbying, EU parliament endorses Goldstone report", EUObserver
  5. Calling on the President and the Secretary of State to oppose unequivocally any endorsement or further consideration of the ‘‘Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict’’ in multilateral fora, U.S. House of Representatives, 23 October 2009, HR 867
  6. Spencer Ackerman (30 October 2009), "Goldstone Tells Congress That Resolution Misrepresents His Gaza Report", Washington Independent
  7. Independent: 'UN retreats after Israel hits out at Gaza report'. 6th May 2009.
  8. UN News Centre: 'Ban sends report of UN probe into Gaza incidents to Security Council'. 5th May 2009.
  9. Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (15 September 2009), Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories, p. 6
  10. Initial Response to Report of the Fact Finding Mission on Gaza, Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 24 September 2009
  11. Bradley Burston, "Goldstone, Israel's Frankenstein's monster", Haaretz
  12. Spencer Ackerman (30 October 2009), "J Street ‘Unable To Support’ the Congressional Goldstone Resolution", Washington Independent
  13. Ron Kampeas (3 November 2009), "Congress’ updated Goldstone resolution", Jewish Telegraph Agency
  14. Alan Dershowitz (22 September 2009), "Double Standard Watch: The Goldstone report is a barrier to peace", Jerusalem Post