New Revelations About the UN Goldstone Report that Seriously Undermine its
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Col. (ret.) Desmond Travers was one of the four members of the UN Fact
Finding Mission that produced what is widely called the Goldstone Report.
The Mission investigated Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip between
December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009. Travers joined the Irish Defense
Forces in 1961 and retired after forty years. As the only former officer who
belonged to Justice Richard Goldstone's team, he was the senior figure
responsible for the military analysis that provided the basis for condemning
Israel for war crimes.
After following his repeated public appearances with the other mission
members in July 2009, and especially in light of his most recent interviews,
serious flaws have now become evident in the methodology he followed, in his
collection and processing of data, and in the conclusions he draws. In the
past, the flaws in the Goldstone report, and especially its lack of balance,
have been criticized by the London Times, the Washington Post, the Wall
Street Journal, and the Economist, but the fundamental problems of its
military analysis have not been fully addressed. In the material presented
here, this becomes evident in four specific ways:
1. A Fundamental Bias against the Israel Defense Forces
During the Mission's collection of testimonies from Palestinian
psychologists in the Gaza Strip, Travers asked them straight out to explain
how Israeli soldiers could kill Palestinian children in front of their
parents. In an interview with Middle East Monitor, on February 2, 2010, he
asserted that in the past Israeli soldiers had "taken out and deliberately
shot" Irish peacekeeping forces in Southern Lebanon. Both of these
statements by Travers are completely false. It should be stressed that one
of the most vicious and unsubstantiated conclusions in the Goldstone Report
is the suggestion that Israel deliberately killed Palestinian civilians.
While Travers assumes the worst of intentions on the part of the Israel
Defense Forces, he praises Hamas for their cooperation with the Mission.
When he was asked about Hamas intimidation that affected the Mission's
inquiries, he replied that that there was "none whatsoever." Yet the
Goldstone Report itself noted in Paragraph 440 that those interviewed in
Gaza appeared reluctant to speak about the presence of Palestinian armed
groups because of a "fear of reprisals." He rejects the notion that Hamas
shielded its forces in the civilian population and does not accept the idea
that Israel faced asymmetric warfare.
2. False Information Reported About Weapons Systems
Travers comes up with a story that the IDF had unmanned aerial vehicles
(UAV's) that could obtain a "thermal signature" on a Gaza house and detect
that there were large numbers of people inside. Incredibly, he then suggests
that with this information that certain houses were "packed with people,"
the Israeli military would then deliberately order a missile strike on these
populated homes. The primary technical problem with his theory is that
Israel does not have UAV's that can see though houses and pick up a thermal
signature. More importantly, Israel used UAV's to monitor that Palestinian
civilians left houses that had received multiple warnings, precisely because
Israel sought to minimize civilian casualties, a fact that Travers could not
fathom, because of his own clear biases.
3. Completely Inaccurate Data
Travers rejects that Israel began military operations against the Gaza Strip
on December 27, 2008 as an act of self-defense in response to Hamas rockets.
He bases this idea on a "fact" that he presents that in the month prior to
start of the war, there were only "something like two" rockets that fell on
Israel. Israeli military sources found that there were in fact 32 rockets
fired from Gaza at Israel over three days alone--between December 16 and 18,
2008. He adds to his analysis that at this time Hamas sought to extend the
tahdiya, or lull arrangement--which he called a cease-fire. Yet the Izz
al-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas announced on December 17 that the lull
would come to an end two days later and would not be renewed. The head of
the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, Khaled Mashaal, announced the end of
the lull on December 14. To say that Hamas wanted to continue the lull is a
complete distortion of events.
In his Middle East Monitor interview, Travers states that he "only came
across two incidents of where there was an actual combat situation" - the
exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas. Because he minimizes the
possibility that Israel was engaged in real combat in the Gaza Strip, it
follows that he naturally conclude that Israel was essentially attacking
non-combatants during Operation Cast Lead.
4. Lack of Professionalism in Conducting Thorough Investigations
Travers relies on his own prejudices when he looks into the question of
whether Gazan Mosques had been militarized by Hamas and turned into weapons
depots. In an interview with Harpers, published on October 29, 2009, Travers
makes a sweeping generalization: "We found no evidence that mosques were
used to store munitions." He then dismissed those who suggested that was the
case by saying: "Those charges reflect Western perceptions in some quarters
that Islam is a violent religion." How many mosques did Travers investigate?
He admits that the Mission only checked two mosques.
Of course, Israel produced photographic proof that large amounts of weapons
were stored in mosques, like the Zaytun Mosque. In a subsequent interview,
Travers rejected the Israeli proof: "I do not believe the photographs." He
described the photographs as "spurious." Travers appears to be bothered by
proof that contradicts the conclusions he reaches on the basis of a very
limited investigation. In early 2010, Colonel Tim Collins, a British veteran
of the Iraq War, visited Gaza for BBC Newsnight (
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/8470100.stm , 20 January
2010) and inspected the ruins of a mosque that Israel had destroyed because
it had been a weapons depot. He found that there was evidence of secondary
explosions cause by explosives stored in the mosque cellar. Travers clearly
did not make the effort that Collins made.
In his questioning of Palestinian witnesses in the Gaza Strip, Travers does
not ask the questions that a military advisor should raise. He did not ask
those giving testimony if they were member of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam units
of Hamas and were combatants. He also failed to ask them straight out if
their homes had been used to store munitions, like Grad rockets. Instead,
his questions reflected his ideological bias.
Travers most recent interview also had a disturbing additional element.
When addressing the role of British officers in defending Israel's claims,
Travers suddenly adds: "Britain's foreign policy interests in the Middle
East seem to be influenced strongly by Jewish lobbyists." Travers implies
that British Jews have interests that differ from Britain's own national
interests and that Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government is influenced by
these considerations. This statement, unless corrected, places Travers is a
position in which his views are suspect of being motivated by anti-Semitic
prejudices. Even without this last statement, he clearly emerges as an
individual who is not qualified to take part in any serious fact-finding
mission and the U.N. should not seek his services in the future. Given his
statements, Justice Richard Goldstone should repudiate Col. Travers and
completely reject the conclusions that he reached as a result of his work.