Moyers’ Tough Questions Help Goldstone Explain His Report

by James M. WallMoyer Goldstone

I have now watched Bill Moyers’ PBS interview with Judge Richard Goldstone for the third time.

I’m keeping the tape. It is historic.

During the sixty minutes of that interview, we hear more rational discussion of the Goldstone Report than we have heard from all the other Main Stream commercial major networks combined.

Moyers has a way of inviting his viewers to join him in a safe environment. Then he exposes them to some of the more progressive thinkers on the public scene. Sometimes he even talks to a judge like Richard Goldstone.

If your local PBS station carries Moyers on a regular basis, double your pledge.  If it doesn’t, send your money to a more worthy cause.

Moyers, 75,  is the most sensitive interviewer currently working on television.  He is a son of  what was once the segregated south, an Oklahoma-born, Texas-raised, seminary trained, southerner, a journalist who knows how to ask tough questions in a gentle manner.

I think of Bill as a sabra, “a thorny plant with a thick hide that conceals a sweet, soft interior”.

As Moyers talked with Goldstone on his Bill Moyers Journal (October 23), he channeled a young southern journalist throwing tough questions at a US federal judge after a particularly contentious civil rights trial.

Some progressive bloggers have worried that Bill was too much the “devil’s advocate”, making too convincing a case for Israel.

Far from it, Moyers was not advocating anything. He was giving Goldstone a platform no Main Stream journalist has provided for this dignified, articulate South African jurist.

Moyers was flashing back to his early days in the segregated American south, when a federal judge would explain to an unbelieving white public that it could not legally hold African Americans in a state of segregated bondage.

Sadly, in 2009, no network, other than PBS, has given the public a serious in depth look at the Goldstone Report.

That includes those MSNBC paragons of progressive virtue–Matthews, Olberman, and Maddow–who have  completely avoided any references to Goldstone while they wage all out war against Fox News, the insurance industry, Rush Limbaugh, and wayward members of Congress.

Moyers began his interview with Goldstone with what he called “a few basics”:

BILL MOYERS: Personally, do you have any doubt about Israel’s right to self-defense?

RICHARD GOLDSTONE: Absolutely not. And our approach to our mission and in our report the right of Israel to defend its citizens is taken as a given.

MOYERS: So the report in no way challenges Israel’s right to self-defense?

GOLDSTONE: Not at all. What we look at is how that right was used. We don’t question the right.

MOYERS: Do you consider Hamas an enemy of Israel?

GOLDSTONE: Well, anybody who’s firing many thousands of rockets and mortars into a country is, I think, in anybody’s book, an enemy.

MOYERS: Were those rocket attacks on Israel a threat to the civilians of Israel, to the population of Israel?

GOLDSTONE: Absolutely.

After that opening, Moyers hit Judge Goldstone with every criticism the Zionist Hard Right has made since the Judge started his investigation.

You can bet your last Confederate dollar that Judge Goldstone enjoyed every minute of that interview. These two men are pros. They had themselves a report to examine that dealt with Israel’s 21 day assault on Gaza, an assault Israel said was provoked by Hamas’ rocket attacks on Southern Israel.

The Judge quietly explained that his UN panel had concluded that both Israel and Hamas may be guilty of war crimes. He called on both Israel and Hamas to conduct their own internal investigations.

He was not taking sides, not this Israel-loving Zionist.  He was just reporting what his investigation discovered.

He is not new to this topic. A native of South Africa, Goldstone served as a judge of the Constitutional Court of South Africa, from July 1994 to October 2003, where he addressed the change from a white-controlled apartheid government into a black majority democracy.

He was the first chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), established by the UN Security Council in 1993. When the Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in late 1994, he became its chief prosecutor.

Whenever there were possible war crimes to examine after a conflict,  Judge Goldstone was the go-to guy.

Moyers asked Goldstone why he accepted such a difficult assignment.

JUDGE GOLDSTONE: It was a question of conscience really. I’ve been involved in investigating very serious violations in my own country, South Africa, and I was castigated by many in the white community for doing that. I investigated serious war crimes in the Balkans and the Serbs hated me, hated me for that.

And I was under serious death threats, both in South Africa and . . .  the Balkans. . . . I went into Rwanda, and many people hated me for doing that. . . .

I’ve been involved in this business for the last fifteen years or so, and it seemed to me that being Jewish was no reason to treat Israel exceptionally, and to say because I’m Jewish, it’s all right for me to investigate everybody else, but not Israel.

The interview and the full text are available  here.

Here are selected highlights:

BILL MOYERS: Your report, as you know, basically accuses Israel of waging war on the entire population of Gaza.

JUDGE GOLDSTONE: That’s correct.

MOYERS: There are allegations in here, some very tough allegations, of Israeli soldiers shooting unarmed civilians who pose no threat, of shooting people whose hands were shackled behind them, of shooting two teenagers who’d been ordered off a tractor that they were driving, apparently carrying wounded civilians to a hospital, of homes, hundreds, maybe thousands of homes destroyed, left in rubble, of hospitals bombed.

There are some questions about one or two of your examples here, but it’s a damning indictment of Israel’s conduct in Gaza, right?

GOLDSTONE: Well, it is outrageous, and there should have been an outrage. You know, the response has not been to deal with the substance of those allegations. I’ve really seen or read no detailed response in respect of the incidents on which we report. . . . .

MOYERS: What did you see with your own eyes when you went there?

GOLDSTONE: I saw the destruction of the only flour-producing factory in Gaza. I saw fields plowed up by Israeli tank bulldozers. I saw chicken farms, for egg production, completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of chickens killed. I met with families who lost their loved ones in homes in which they were seeking shelter from the Israeli ground forces.

I had to have the very emotional and difficult interviews with fathers whose little daughters were killed, whose family were killed. One family, over 21 members, killed by Israeli mortars. So, it was a very difficult investigation, which will give me nightmares for the rest of my life. . . .

MOYERS: What makes those acts war crimes, as you say?

GOLDSTONE: Well, humanitarian law, really fundamentally is what’s known as the “principle of distinction.” It requires all people involved, commanders, troops, all people involved in making war, it requires them to distinguish between civilians and combatants.

. . And then there’s a question of proportionality. One can, in war, target a military target. And there can be what’s euphemistically referred to as ‘collateral damage,’ but the ‘collateral damage’ must be proportionate to the military aim.

If you can take out a munitions factory in an urban area with a loss of 100 lives, or you can use a bomb twice as large and take out the same factory and kill 2000 people, the latter would be a war crime, the former wouldn’t. . . .

MOYERS: Did you find war crimes by Hamas? . . .

GOLDSTONE: We found that the firing of many thousands of rockets and mortars at a civilian population to constitute a very serious war crime.  And we said, possibly crimes against humanity.

MOYERS: But Hamas is not a party to the Geneva Convention, right?

GOLDSTONE: Well it can’t be, because it’s not a state party. . . [Hamas] is bound by customary international law and by international human rights law, and that makes it equally a war crime to do what it’s been doing.

MOYERS: Yet critics say that by focusing more on the actions of the Israelis and, then on the Palestinians, you are, in essence making it clear whom you think is the more responsible party here.

GOLDSTONE: I suppose that’s fair comment, Bill. I think it’s difficult to deal equally with a state party, with a sophisticated army, with the sort of army Israel has, with an air force and a navy, and the most sophisticated weapons that are not only in the arsenal of Israel, but manufactured and exported by Israel, on the one hand, with Hamas using really improvised, imprecise armaments.

So it’s difficult to equate their power. But that having been said, one has to look at the actions of each. And one has to judge the criminality, or the alleged criminality, of each. . . .

MOYERS: Why do you think [Israel] bombed the infrastructure so thoroughly?

GOLDSTONE: We’ve found that the only logical reason is collective punishment against the people of Gaza for voting into power, Hamas, and a form of reprisal for the rocket attacks and mortar attacks on southern Israel.

MOYERS: So that would be the explanation for why, if they were interested only in stopping the bombing, they didn’t have to destroy the land.

GOLDSTONE: . . . .This was a political decision, I think, and not a military one. I think they were telling the people of Gaza that if you support Hamas, this is what we’re going to do to you.

Until now, Israel has refused to have anything to do with the Goldstone investigation and the Report. Will this hands-off attitude change?

Don’t count on it. Two of Israel’s best-known commentators, Uri Avnery and Aluf Benn, are not optimistic.

In his weekly column Avnery, long time Israeli peace activist, writer, and former Knesset member, identifies three options available to Israeli leaders:

*Conduct a real investigation;

*Ignore the demand and proceed as if nothing has happened;

*Conduct a sham inquiry.

It is easy to dismiss the first option: it has not the slightest chance of being adopted. Except for the usual suspects (including myself) who demanded an investigation long before anyone in Israel had heard of a judge called Goldstone, nobody supports it.

Among all the members of our political, military and media establishments who are now suggesting an “inquiry”, there is no one – literally not one – who means by that a real investigation. The aim is to deceive the Goyim and get them to shut up. . . .

The second option is the one proposed by the army Chief of Staff and the Minister of Defense. In America it is called “stonewalling”. Meaning: To hell with it.

The army commanders object to any investigation and any inquiry whatsoever. They probably know why. After all, they know the facts. They know that a dark shadow lies over the very decision to go to war, over the planning of the operation, over the instructions given to the troops, and over many dozens of large and small acts committed during the operation.

In their opinion, even if their refusal has severe international repercussions, the consequences of any investigation, even a phony one, would be far worse. . . .

Option three?

The politicians who oppose (ever so quietly) the Chief of Staff’s position believe that it is impossible to withstand international pressure completely, and that some kind of an inquiry will have to be conducted.

Since not one of them intends to hold a real investigation, they propose to follow a tried and trusted Israeli method, which has worked wonderfully hundreds of times in the past: the method of sham.

A sham inquiry. Sham conclusions. Sham adherence to international law. Sham civilian control over the military.

Nothing simpler than that. An “inquiry committee” (but not a Commission of Investigation according to the law) will be set up, chaired by a suitably patriotic judge and composed of carefully chosen honorable citizens who are all “one of us”.

Testimonies will be heard behind closed doors (for considerations of security, of course). Army lawyers will prove that everything was perfectly legal, the National Whitewasher, Professor Asa Kasher, will laud the ethics of the Most Moral Army in the World.

Generals will speak about our inalienable right to self-defense. In the end, two or three junior officers or privates may be found guilty of “irregularities”.

Israel’s friends all over the world will break into an ecstatic chorus: What a lawful state! What a democracy! What morality! Western governments will declare that justice has been done and the case closed. The US veto will see to the rest.

So why don’t the army chiefs accept this proposal? Because they are afraid things might not proceed quite so smoothly. The international community will demand that at least part of the hearings be conducted in open court. There will be a demand for the presence of international observers.

And, most importantly: there will be no justifiable way to exclude the testimonies of the Gazans themselves. Things will get complicated. The world will not accept fabricated conclusions. In the end we will be in exactly the same situation. Better to stay put and brave it out, whatever the price.

Aluf Benn, an Ha’aretz columnist, has some direct questions for his government:

I want to know how and why it was decided to embark on Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip and to expand it into a ground offensive.

I want to know if the decisions were affected by the Israeli election campaign then underway and the change in U.S. presidents.

I want to know if the leaders who launched the operation correctly judged the political damage it would cause Israel and what they did to minimize it.

I want to know if those who gave orders to the Israel Defense Forces assumed that hundreds of Palestinian civilians would be killed, and how they tried to prevent this.

These questions should be at the center of an investigation into Operation Cast Lead. An investigation is necessary because of the political complexities that resulted from the operation, the serious harm to Palestinian civilians, the Goldstone report and its claims of war crimes, and the limits that will be imposed on the IDF’s freedom of operation in the future. . . .

The investigations by the army and Military Police are meant to examine soldiers’ behavior on the battlefield. They are no substitute for a comprehensive examination of the activities of the political leadership and senior command, who are responsible for an operation and its results.

It’s not the company or battalion commanders who need to be investigated, but former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and the heads of the intelligence chiefs and Foreign Ministry, who were party to the decisions.

It is also important to investigate Barak and Livni’s election campaign advisers to find out if and how the campaign affected the military and diplomatic efforts.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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5 Responses to Moyers’ Tough Questions Help Goldstone Explain His Report

  1. The UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict Goldstone Report: Human Rights in Palestine Conclusions and recommendations:

    To the international community:

    Article 1975:

    (a) The Mission recommends that the States parties to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 should start criminal investigations in national courts, using universal jurisdiction, where there is sufficient evidence of the commission of grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Where so warranted following investigation, alleged perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted in accordance with internationally recognized standards of justice.

    [d] The Mission recommends that States involved in peace negotiations between Israel and representatives of the Palestinian people, especially the Quartet, should ensure that respect for the rule of law, international law and human rights assumes a central role in internationally sponsored peace initiatives.

  2. Bill Gepford says:

    Thank you Bill Moyers and Judge Goldstone. Both of you are the epitome of what American democracy is all about! Honesty, truthfulness, and willing to take responsibility for one’s own actions in open court.

  3. Robert H. Stiver says:

    I am surely in alignment with the “progressive bloggers” noted in passing above. I was frankly disturbed by Moyers as an interviewer: this is what I wrote as my “instant analysis” to an E-correspondent:

    …I might agree that Moyers is better, perhaps more unbiased, than most “journalists.” But…here, I read the entire transcript quite carefully, and Moyers’ questions were consistently, I think I can say totally, slanted toward the Zionist Israeli perspective.

    I was turned off in the very first opening remarks by Moyers when I read: “(Goldstone undertook his mission)…after years of Hamas militants firing their missiles from the Gaza strip into southern Israel. Israel retaliated last December.” That’s such a blatantly political and utterly ignorant statement, lacking in historical context and present reality, as to render the entire program suspect.

    And my later complete read confirmed my suspicion. Goldstone is a decent man, but did he (or Moyers) ever mention the theft of the Palestinians’ land in 1947? the fact that most Gazans are refugees in their own homeland, many of them from the very towns over which Moyers and Goldstone cry crocodile tears? Did either ever mention the word “occupation,” much less “illegal, decades-long occupation of a victimized people by a people who were once victims themselves”?

    I stand by my comments and think that Mr. Wall is misguided here. I’m puzzled, because I typically read Mr. Wall’s essays with anticipation, rapt attention and concurrence.

  4. Sam Jones says:

    I quite agree with Jim’s interpretation of this interview. For any viewer who did not already subscribe to the “progressive” (and fact-based) community’s analysis of the conflict, there would have been no conversion or transformation possible if Moyers had used our community’s vocabulary. Instead, Moyers allowed Goldstone to surgically disassemble the vitriolic and irrational arguments of the right, and in doing so, may have addressed the concerns of less informed viewers. Given the urgency of the situation on-the-ground and the size of the community that gets this right, we cannot afford to let orthodoxy get in the way of public efforts to expose the truth. Yes, the truth is also the theft of lands in 47 and ever since, the siege on Gaza, the breaking of the ceasefire by Israel, but the truth is also the recent findings of Goldstone and the need to use the report as a tool for education.

  5. Awamori says:

    “MOYERS: Why do you think [Israel] bombed the infrastructure so thoroughly?

    GOLDSTONE: We’ve found that the only logical reason is collective punishment against the people of Gaza for voting into power, Hamas, and a form of reprisal for the rocket attacks and mortar attacks on southern Israel.”

    And what happened in Serbia?

    “The NATO bombing of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War is a topic whose legality and legitimacy has been challenged.[1][2] Critics, such as Noam Chomsky, have condemned NATO’s military campaign in Yugoslavia in general, and its bombing campaign in particular, which included the bombing of electricity and water supplies and television stations as well as military targets.[3][4] Supporters maintain that it brought to an end Serbian repression of Kosovo’s Albanian population. They argue that the bombing campaign hastened (or caused) the downfall of Slobodan Milošević’s Yugoslav government, which they see as responsible for the international isolation of Yugoslavia, many war crimes and gross human rights violations.”

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