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Richard Goldstone is the former South African justice who has investigated for the UN in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia. In 2009, he spearheaded the UN's "Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict," and issued a report that concluded Israel had probably committed war crimes. Now, he says maybe he was wrong. Understandably, this has caused quite a ruckus. So what's actually going on? Here's a re-cap what the so-called Goldstone report originally said, what Goldstone is saying now, and why some folks are none too pleased.

The Original Report
The Mission, as the Goldstone bunch is referred to in the report, found Israeli forces violated international humanitarian law by attacking the Palestinian Legislative Council and Gaza's main prison, attacking the Gaza police force (though the Mission admitted these police including many "recruited among Hamas supporters or members of Palestinian armed groups"), intentionally targeting hospitals with white phosphorus, and "launch[ing] direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcome," including shelling houses in which civilians had gathered and directing a missile at a mosque. It also found that, for example, the destruction of a flour mill, "was carried out for the purposes of denying sustenance to the civilian population, which is a violation of customary international law and may constitute a war crime."

In addition, while the report found no evidence that Palestinian fighters had deliberately used civilians as shields, it did find evidence that Israeli forces had done this, making civilians come along in house searches.

What Goldstone Says Now
In a Saturday op-ed for The Washington Post, published online last Friday night, Goldstone wrote, "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document." Specifically, the op-ed suggests, "the allegations of intentionality by Israel" might have been a little more qualified: investigations by the Israeli military have borne out the report's conclusions in some areas, but also "indicate that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy." Goldstone expressed in the op-ed, as he did at the time of the report, his frustration "Israel's lack of cooperation with our investigation," arguing that the report might have been more complete with Israeli input. Regarding criticism of the report, he adds, "Some have suggested that it was absurd to expect Hamas, an organization that has a policy to destroy the state of Israel, to investigate what we said were serious war crimes. ... In the end, asking Hamas to investigate may have been a mistaken enterprise."

Why People Are Mad
The first thing to understand here is that people were pretty mad to begin with. When the report came out, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren wrote in The New Republic that "the Goldstone Report goes further than Ahmadinejad and the Holocaust deniers by stripping the Jews not only of the ability and the need but of the right to defend themselves." In fact--and here you can see how outraged Oren must have been--he even argued that by portraying "the Jews as deliberate murderers of innocents" it portrayed them as Nazis," thus implicitly (super implicitly) supporting Israel's destruction since "a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed."

So the big splash made by the original report is a large part of why Goldstone's backpedaling now provokes such frustration. "As about-faces go," writes Michael Weiss at British newspaper The Telegraph, "Judge Richard Goldstone's recantation of the ferociously anti-Israel UN report ... can only compete with fantasy examples, such as the Pope questioning the existence of God or Marx declaring in a tucked-away letter to Engels that capitalism is actually where it's at." The editors of the L.A. Times, meanwhile, aren't satisfied with the information in Goldstone's op-ed:

The charges leveled by the Goldstone report were extremely tough — tough enough to help reframe the Israeli-Palestinian debate around the world. If any of them were wrong, then Goldstone owes the world a detailed explanation so that the truth can be revealed.

And that leads to the final reason those protesting Goldstone's words are so mad: the feeling that an injustice has been perpetrated. There's a double standard when it comes to Israel, these writers say. "Goldstone doesn't go far enough in indicting Hamas, which his report erroneously claimed did not use human shields in Gaza," writes Weiss in The Telegraph. And the U.N. has been crucifying Israel for what it openly tolerates in other countries, he argues:

The UN Human Rights Council, which [Goldstone] admits is a less than impartial body, carries a standing resolution to rebuke Israel every session. Yet it has so far never condemned the Sudanese regime for the genocide in Darfur. In 2009, the UNHRC even congratulated the Sri Lankan government for defeating the Tamil Tigers in a civil war that killed 20,000 people.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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