The Goldstone Report and the Gaza Truce

In a recent interview [PDF] with the Middle East Monitor, Colonel (ret.) Desmond Travers of the Irish Army — best known as one of the members of the U.N. commission that produced the Goldstone report — attracted attention for his statement that “the number of rockets that had been fired into Israel in the month preceding their operations was something like two.” Critics of the Goldstone report like Commentary‘s David Hazony and Evelyn Gordon have seized on the comment as proof that Travers and the rest of the Goldstone commission are irredeemably biased against Israel; Gordon cites figures [PDF] from the Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center showing that over 300 rockets were fired into Israel from Gaza during the month of December 2008. (Operation Cast Lead began on Dec. 27.)

As Jerry Haber notes, however, these criticisms are based on a simple misunderstanding. In fact, the “operations” that Travers refers do not commence with the start of Operation Cast Lead on Dec. 27, but rather with Operation Double Challenge on Nov. 4. Double Challenge was an IDF incursion into Gaza that left six Palestinians dead, ending months of calm; because the operation came the day of the U.S. presidential elections, it vanished without a trace in the U.S. media. Paul Woodward explains that the ceasefire was, in fact, functioning quite well until the Israelis broke it on Nov. 4; only after the IDF raid did the number of rocket attacks increase.

Therefore, when Travers speaks of “the month preceding their operations,” he is referring not to December but to October 2008. And how many rockets were fired into Israel in October? According to the very figures [PDF, p. 6] that Gordon cites against Travers, only one. (According to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there were two rockets fired in October, and twelve in the four-month stretch from July through October.)

The fact that the ceasefire was actually working quite well in preventing rocket fire into southern Israel is one reason that we should be skeptical of the claim that Israel had no choice but to use military force to prevent the rocket attacks. (This is not, of course, to deny that the rocket attacks constituted war crimes in their own right.) If Israel’s primary goal were simply to end the rocket attacks, it could have worked to maintain the ceasefire (or better still, lifted the siege of Gaza). Why, then, did Israel choose to violate it instead? I suspect that the Israeli government, wary of the incoming Obama administration, believed that the blank check it enjoyed during the Bush years was coming to an end, and was determined to make one last sustained effort to root out the Hamas government before it did.

Daniel Luban

Daniel Luban is a postdoctoral associate at Yale University. He holds a PhD in politics from the University of Chicago and was formerly a correspondent in the Washington bureau of Inter Press Service.



  1. Thank you for the well-tailored brief, Dainel.

    Readers may also wish to read Normal Finkelstein’s thoughts on the reason of the timing of operation Cast Lead

    – By the way has printed this article with the date of Operation Double Challenge as “Nov.5” in both sentences. You may wish to inform them of that typo.

  2. “The fact that the ceasefire was actually working quite well in preventing rocket fire into southern Israel is one reason that we should be skeptical of the claim that Israel had no choice but to use military force to prevent the rocket attacks.”

    The reasoning in support of this claim is murky at best. The target of Israel’s incursion into the Gaza Strip on Nov 4-5 (Operation Double Challenge) was not rocket fire but a tunnel Hamas was building 250m from the border fence for the purpose of trying to abduct Israeli soldiers positioned on the other side of the fence. So the fact that only two rockets were fired into Israel during the preceding month is not relevant. Israel was entitled to respond to other hostile acts as well.

    Moreover, from the end of Operation Double Challenge until the end of the Tahadiya (Nov. 4 – Dec. 19, 2008), there were 170 mortars, 255 Qassams, and 5 Grads fired upon Israel’s civilian population centers. And from the end of the Tahadiya (Dec. 19, 2009) until the beginning of Operation Cast Lead (Dec. 27, 2008), a period of little more than a week, there were approximately 300 mortars and rockets fired onto Israel.

    Once Hamas announced that it was not prepared to renew the ceasefire and commenced firing rockets, Israel had no reasonable alternative except to use military force.

    The question one should ask is, Why was Hamas not prepared to renew the ceasefire?

  3. I’m not sure if how exact Bernard’s figures are, but it was certainly my impression that a considerable amount of ordnance was being dumped on Israel in the weeks prior to the launching of Cast Lead. The operation itself was clearly overkill and some of its aspects were probably criminal, but there was more provocation than Travers and Luban seem prepared to admit. And I say this as one who sees Israel as an illegitimate, colonial entity. But human beings have a right to defend themselves, surely? One shouldn’t expect the Israel to do nothing when the other side is lobbing mortar rounds and firing rockets into its citizens’ backyards.

    In other words, while I question Israel’s right to exist, and while I think its measures in Cast Lead were excessive, I quite understand it attacking those who were attacking it. I live on the Vermont-New York border. If New Yorkers were bombarding my backyard (no matter how just their cause), you can be damn sure I’d retaliate.

  4. I don’t know for a fact but I would guess several were considered for Goldstone’s job and his being Jewish was a factor in his the UN is constantly accused of anti semitism… they assumed he would have no anti Israel leanings and therefore the report would not be smeared as anti Israel or anti semitic.

    Now evidently.. it is impossible for the uber zionist and Israelis to conceive of a Jew who could be objective and ethical and put aside any personal ideology in favor of the law and truth.

    Which goes to show there is no way you can, and no point in, arguing it with the Israel right or wrong crowd.

    What’s the old saying?..don’t bother me with the facts my mind’s made up.

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