An open letter from Maurice Ostroff
To members of the UN Fact-finding mission to Gaza
Hina Jilani, Christine Chinkin and Desmond Travers
April 18, 2011
I am astonished by the report in the Guardian of April
14 that, in response to Judge Goldstone’s recent oped in the Washington Post, you have “turned on him”, accusing him of misrepresenting facts in order to cast doubt on the credibility of
your joint report. It is regrettable that you did not explain what facts you accuse him of misrepresenting, so that the reader
can reach an informed opinion.
I trust you will agree that every intellectually honest person will willingly
review previously held convictions if and when relevant new evidence becomes available. To his credit, that is exactly what
Judge Goldstone has done.
By contrast, your evident inflexible belief in the immutability of every
sentence in your 500-plus page Report reflects an attitude reminiscent of those who refused to look at the evidence presented
by Galileo and condemned his heliocentrism as contrary to Scripture.
If, as you wrote, you “find
it necessary to dispel any impression that subsequent developments have rendered any part of the mission's report unsubstantiated,
erroneous or inaccurate”, it is puzzling that you did not do what you find necessary by refuting the evidence that
evidently influenced Judge Goldstone. I therefore respectfully ask you to please address the following circumstances.
1. Last November, when Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad publicly admitted
that the number of combatant casualties was very close to those announced by
the IDF it became obvious that your Mission was mistaken in preferring casualty figures quoted by various NGO's while summarily
rejecting the detailed counterclaims by the Government of Israel.
In clause 361 of your report you stated "The counterclaims published by the
Government of Israel fall far short of international law standards". In the circumstances it is fair to ask what these standards
are and whether the claims by the NGO's met these standards.
The claim that the
police casualties were civilians is obviously incorrect since the Gaza police incorporates the Executive Force which has been
described by The Telegraph and others as paramilitary. This is confirmed in clause
413 of your Report which states unambiguously that Executive Force members were integrated into the civil police and that
members of the Force are resistance fighters. Your footnote 271 states that the Executive Force consisted of some estimated
6,800 members of the armed wings of Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees.
2. There is also a glaring lacuna in all the casualty figures quoted, namely,
the number ascribed to having been caused by Israel which may have been inflicted by Palestinians. On Feb 2, 2009 Ma'an, the
Palestinian news Agency reported that a senior leader within Fatah published a list of 181 names of those in Gaza who were
killed, maimed, beaten or tortured during the Israeli war on Gaza.
3. It is unfortunate that your Mission rejected my written suggestion to
call for evidence from Colonel Kemp who is among the most qualified soldiers able to evaluate the circumstances in which decisions
are made in the type of warfare conducted in Gaza
4. In order to arrive at an unbiased opinion, Israel’s actions in Gaza
must be assessed against the backdrop of recent developments in Afghanistan and Libya, which show conclusively that the standards
by which your mission judged the Israel army’s performance in Gaza are impossible in practice. Even President Obama
with his impeccable intentions has been unable to avoid extensive civilian casualties. The NY Times of Feb 19, 2010 reported
that in Afghanistan the US Air Force now flies twice as many Predator drones as a year ago. They carried out more than 200
missile and bomb strikes over the last year, and the civilian casualties they caused have stoked anger and anti-Americanism.
Since the start of 2009, the drones have fired at least 184 missiles and 66 laser-guided bombs at militant suspects in Afghanistan.
I quote these figures to demonstrate that even with the very best intentions civilian casualties are inevitable and that the
judgments made by your mission in Gaza were unrealistic.
The strikes came when troops came across people who appeared to be planting
bombs, but P. W. Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution said officers had to keep in mind that “not everyone
digging by the side of the road is automatically an insurgent.” Singer's warning emphasizes the danger of confusing
genuine error with criminal intent in situations where the combatants are hardly distinguishable from civilians.
5. The above applies particularly to the tragic Samouni
case with its unjustified accusations in your Report that have contributed largely to vilification of Israel in international
media. Israel was accused of INTENTIONALLY bombing the Samouni house and killing its occupants with no justification whatsoever,
but new evidence shows that Israeli drone photographs of a group of men carrying firewood that was incorrectly interpreted
to be rocket launchers led to the bombing. I ask you what a reasonable person
have done in the heat of battle on sighting a group of what appears to be rocket launchers about to be launched?
6. As much of the Report’s
conclusions are based on eyewitness testimony it should be borne in mind that many miscarriages of justice have been recorded
due to incorrect eyewitness testimony. In a paper “The reliability of eyewitness reports: the effect of accurate and
inaccurate information on memory and bias" Jennifer B. Scheer wrote “A considerable amount of research has established
that exposure to leading or misleading suggestions can dramatically influence the accuracy of eyewitness reports.
7. Although some mention is made of Gilad Shalit in the
Report, the saddest failure of the UN Mission while it was in Gaza conversing amiably with the persons holding Shalit captive,
was its failure to demand an end to the blatant violation of his right to Red cross visits and to receive letters as required
by the Third Geneva Convention. By way of contrast, Palestinian prisoners in Israel enjoy visitation rights, including conjugal
visits, access to telephones, newspapers, television and radio broadcasts, lawyers' visits and even academic studies at state
I would very much appreciate a considered response. This letter is being
publicized as will the response I hope to receive from you.