Countering Bias and Misinformation mainly about the Arab-Israel conflict


DEIR YASSIN - startling evidence
About Maurice Ostroff

Response by Maurice Ostroff to the article in the right hand column
Allister Sparks owes an abject apology to his readers

In his July 21 article in Business Times, titled "The chief rabbi owes Judge Goldstone an abject apology" Allister Sparks wrote, "after  carrying out its own investigation into last year’s Gaza War, the Israeli military has finally confirmed several of the most serious incidents committed by its troops in that 22-day assault". These words are only partially true, and there lies the rub. Like most partial truths used by propagandists, the real truth lies in the vitally important inconvenient information that has been omitted.
Allister Sparks owes an apology to his readers for departing from sound journalistic practice by failing to identify the report from which he quotes. Had he done so, readers would have been able to refer to it and judge for themselves, rather than being restricted to his interpretations. The cherry picked snippets he chose to quote, give a grossly distorted picture of the huge amount of serious investigative material contained in the 34 page Israel report, "Gaza Operation Investigations: Second Update July 2010" that is readily accessible at
Readers are entitled to be told about the report's description of the multiple layers of review in  Israel’s investigative system that ensure impartiality and independence as well as the fact that Supreme Court review can be initiated by a petition of any interested party, including Palestinians who live in Gaza.
The seriousness with which the IDF treats the enforcement of humanitarian behavior is reflected in the fact that the report refers to 47 criminal investigations relating to the Gaza Operation.  Rather than vindicating the Goldstone report, as claimed by Mr. Sparks, these indictments reflect an admirable determination to ensure that even in the midst of intense warfare, violations of the IDF's strict code of purity of arms are not tolerated.
The blatant flaws in the Goldstone Report that Mr. Sparks defends, include
a) The Goldstone Mission's obstinate refusal to consider available expert evidence that contradicted its preconceived opinions. For example, my suggestion that Colonel Richard Kemp be invited to give expert evidence was flatly rejected despite his formidable experience of the type of warfare conducted in Gaza. And it was rejected  for the implausible reason,  "..there was no reliance on Col. Kemp mainly because in our Report we did not deal with the issues he raised regarding the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas and second-guessing decisions made by soldiers and their commanding officers in the fog of war."
(Colonel Kemp had told the BBC that in the Cast Lead Operation, Israeli forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zone, than any army in the history of warfare).
Other highly relevant professional memoranda were also ignominiously ignored such as those from a group of fifteen Australian lawyers, NGO Monitor, Bnai Brith and Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs among others.
b) Its failure to recognize that the IDF is a citizens' army. Like all populations in the world, Israel's citizens regrettably include some rotten apples among those who are drafted into the army. Consequently grossly objectionable aberrations from standard behavior inevitably occur to the shame of the IDF and the country. It is however indefensible to generalize from these exceptions. 

c) Abject failure to recognize that despite the greatest care, civilian casualties inevitably occur in situations where combatants merge with the civilian population. And this applies not only to the Israeli army, but equally to NATO and British forces in Afghanistan and most significantly to US forces even during President Obama's watch. The following examples are not quoted in order to claim that it is OK for Israel because others do it, but rather to forcefully show that responsible journalists must recognize the realities of clashes with forces like Hizbulla, Hamas and the Taliban who make callous use of civilian populations.
For example, on May 12, 2010 The Nation reported that Obama praised US forces for their restraint in Afghanistan, saying, "Because of Gen McChrystal's direction, often times they're holding fire, they're hesitating, they're being cautious about how they operate even though it would be safer for  them to go ahead and take these locations out."
Despite these precautions, the same article reports that US Special Forces killed five people, including three women who collectively had 16 children. The US military tried to cover up and blame it on the Taliban, but later, General McChrystal's command admitted US-led forces had done the killing, saying it was an accident. The article also refers to an incident when US warplanes bombed civilian houses in Farah province killing more than 100 people? The dead, according to the Red Cross, included an "Afghan Red Crescent volunteer and 13 members of his family who had been sheltering from fighting in a house that was bombed" in the air strike. US Military sources floated the story to NBC and other outlets that Taliban fighters used grenades to kill three families to “stage” a massacre and then blame it on the US.
British forces are not exempt. The Guardian on July 25, 2010 reported the US army's archives contain descriptions of at least 21 separate occasions in which British troops are said to have shot or bombed Afghan civilians, including women and children.
The logs identify at least 26 people killed and another 20 wounded as a result. Some casualties were accidentally caused by air strikes, but many also are said to involve British troops firing on unarmed drivers or motorcyclists who come "too close" to convoys or patrols. The number of dead and wounded alleged to have been caused by the British include 16 children, at least three women and a mentally ill man. The number is a small fraction of the 369 civilian casualties listed in the logs resulting from coalition – mostly US – action in total.
British troops at a checkpoint in Sangin killed four and wounded three civilians in July. In August a  Para squad rocketed what it thought were insurgents, killing three civilians and wounding four. And in September an unarmed motorcyclist was shot dead by a British patrol.
When Guardian correspondent Declan Walsh, interviewed victims in hospital, witnesses described a shooting spree in which vengeful or scared UK soldiers shot at bystanders, killing two and wounding five. Unlike the IDF's detailed investigations, the MoD never publicly investigated these allegations.
In these circumstances, an unprejudiced reader who examines the complete report of the Israeli military investigation cannot but conclude that Allister Spark's claim that it vindicates the Goldstone commission is plainly absurd.
Judge Goldstone is not criticized because he criticized Israel, but because the report that bears his name is deeply flawed as rationally analyzed on a web site based on empirical evidence and cogent reasoning under the title "Understanding the Goldstone Report". It urges readers to agree or disagree, not because of how they feel about Israel or the Palestinians, but because of the evidence. Unlike Mr. Sparks, the site invites readers to examine the arguments without prejudice, make up their own minds and, where they see problems, to challenge them. ( )
Mr. Spark's insinuation that Rabbi Goldstein suggested that "it is a Jewish person’s inherent duty to set aside his professional ethics and find in favor of the state of Israel regardless of the merits of a case" ignores the facts. It is a baseless accusation that demands an abject apology from Mr. Sparks

ALLISTER SPARKS: At home and abroad

The chief rabbi owes Judge Goldstone an abject apology

Published: in Business Day (Johannesburg) July 21, 2010 


AFTER carrying out its own investigation into last year’s Gaza War, the Israeli military has finally confirmed several of the most serious incidents committed by its troops in that 22-day assault, which a United Nations commission of inquiry, headed by our own Judge Richard Goldstone, reported on last September.


In a low-key report released two weeks ago that seems to have escaped the attention of the entire South African media, perhaps because of its preoccupation with the Fifa World Cup at the time, the military has confirmed that three of the most serious findings of Goldstone’s egregiously vilified report were true.


It has confirmed the fatal shooting by a marksman of an unarmed man (the Goldstone commission said a man and a woman were killed) walking with a group of Palestinians waving a white “surrender” flag; the shelling of a mosque during a prayer service, causing casualties among the worshippers; and the ordering of a criminal investigation into a fatal air strike on a house where about 100 members of an extended Palestinian family, the Samounis, were sheltering on the advice of the Israeli Defence Force.


The Samouni case caused particular outrage worldwide because Israeli forces prevented Palestinian paramedics from entering the house for days after the strike.


When Red Cross workers eventually got into the house, they found four emaciated Samouni children, who had been trapped there for days with their mothers’ corpses. In all, 30 Samounis died.


The Israeli military has also indicted a battalion commander for authorising Israeli troops to use a Palestinian man as a human shield when entering a Gaza house.


The military report gives few details of its findings in these cases and goes to some lengths to minimise the culpability of its soldiers, saying for example that the shelling of the mosque had been aimed at an individual “terror operative” who was standing outside the mosque and that the injuries to the worshippers had been “unintentional and caused by shrapnel that entered the mosque”. It gives no casualty figures, but the Goldstone commission said 15 civilians died.


Similarly, the charges and disciplinary action appear mild. Deliberately shooting an unarmed civilian waving a white flag is normally regarded as murder or, in formally declared wartime, a war crime. But the sniper is being charged with “manslaughter” and will be tried by a military court.


A battalion commander who authorised the human shield has been indicted for “inappropriate Israeli Defence Force behaviour” and deviating from authorised procedure. The officer who ordered the shelling of the mosque has been “rebuked” and will not be allowed to serve in a similar position of command again.


But the real importance of this military investigation is that it vindicates the Goldstone commission. It is worth recalling that Israel refused to co-operate with the commission. It also resisted calls by Israeli and international human rights organisations for an independent Israeli investigation outside the military framework.


In the circumstances, the four members of the fact-finding mission, which Goldstone chaired, called on the Israeli government and the Palestinian authorities to use the information they had gathered to carry out serious independent investigations — failing which the matter should be referred to the International Criminal Court. One can only wonder how much of a whitewash there would have been had the Goldstone commission never done this preliminary work.


For Judge Richard Goldstone, particularly, this is a personal vindication, for he was excoriated by leading members of the local Jewish community for chairing the commission. He was told his commission’s findings were lies; that he was naive and gullible for accepting the version of events given by terrorists; and that, since he is a Jew, he was a traitor to his people.


His critics were given support by Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein, who chastised Goldstone for “doing great damage to the state of Israel”. He should have recused himself instead, Goldstein said, and taken no part in the investigating mission.


I have had difficulty understanding what the chief rabbi meant by this.


Goldstein is a trained lawyer as well as a rabbi. Did he mean that no Jew, however professionally disciplined — and Judge Goldstone’s legal reputation is among the highest in the world — can be objective when it comes to a matter involving Israel?


And if so, does that involve Jews individually or collectively as well, or just the interests of the state of Israel? Or did he mean that it is a Jewish person’s inherent duty either to set aside his professional ethics and find in favour of the state of Israel regardless of the merits of a case or, if that is unacceptable, to recuse himself? But that for a Jew to find against Israel is traitorous?


What are the moral priorities being expressed here?


We are not dealing with an ordinary individual in this matter, but with the head of a major religion in a multiracial, multireligious and constitutionally secular state.


We secularists need to know what a religious leader in our community means when he seeks to impose such an ethical dictum on a prominent member of his faith — someone who was a founding father of our Constitutional Court and an interpreter of our infinitely important national constitution in this new democracy.


I am reminded here of the conflict between the Dutch Reformed Church and Beyers Naude over the issue of apartheid.


I attended the Dutch Reformed Church service in Linden, Johannesburg, at which Naude had to respond to the church leaders’ demand that he choose between the church’s doctrine of support for apartheid and his commitment to the nonracial Christian Institute he had founded.


In other words, Naude was forced to choose between his moral principles and his loyalty to his own people and their church.


I heard Naude announce his decision that memorable day before the glitterati of Afrikaner nationalism in the packed pews before him. Smilingly, boldly, he told them simply: “I choose God before man.”


In other words, principles, truth and justice before ethnic or group loyalty. It was the defining moment of that great man’s life.


So I ask the chief rabbi that same question today: what is your choice? Then, at the level of plain human decency, don’t you think, Chief Rabbi Goldstein and those members of the Orthodox Jewish community and the South African Zionist Federation whom you lead, that you owe Judge Goldstone an apology? A public, abject apology.


Leaders of the federation went to the extremes of cruelty when they took their religious war against Judge Goldstone (dare I call it a fatwa?) into the heart of his family by trying to ban him from his grandson’s bar mitzvah. Eventually, but it seemed to me somewhat reluctantly, negotiations enabled the family to celebrate this important event together.


But I’m sorry, that wasn’t enough. In this land of ubuntu, this land of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, you must stand up, Chief Rabbi Goldstein, and on behalf of the co-religionists you supported in this calumny, bow your head, apologise and, like the man of God I’m sure you are, beg forgiveness of Judge Richard Goldstone.


- Sparks is a veteran journalist and political analyst.


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