JERUSALEM — The head of a U.N.-appointed expert panel that investigated the Gaza war between Israel and Hamas in the winter of 2008-09 said in a newspaper article that new accounts by Israel's military indicate that it did not deliberately target civilians, his report's central and most inflammatory accusation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military was vindicated by Richard Goldstone's acknowledgment in an op-ed piece published Friday by the Washington Post that his conclusion appeared to have been wrong. The Goldstone Report's findings, released in September 2009, triggered outrage in Israel, which refused to cooperate with the investigation on the grounds that the panel he led was biased.
"We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war," Goldstone wrote. "If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document."
The Goldstone Report concluded both sides committed potential war crimes and possible crimes against humanity.
It accused Israel of using disproportionate force, deliberately targeting civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure, and using people as human shields. It also accused Hamas of deliberately targeting civilians and trying to spread terror through its rocket attacks.
The report called on each side to conduct independent investigations into the allegations.
In Friday's article, the South African judge wrote that a followup report by a separate U.N. committee of independent experts found that Israel has carried out investigations into more than 400 allegations of misconduct in Gaza.
Those investigations, he said, indicate that "civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy," though they backed the validity of some cases involving individual soldiers. Hamas, by contrast, has not carried out any investigations, according to the follow-up committee.
In the article, Goldstone regretted the loss of civilian life in Gaza, even if it was not intentional. He also said "it goes without saying" that Hamas commits war crimes by aiming rockets at civilians and continues to do so.
Israel launched its military offensive in December 2008 in response to years of almost daily rocket fire from the Gaza Strip at southern Israel. During the three-week campaign, some 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including hundreds of civilians, drawing the accusations in Goldstone's report.
Goldstone's team traveled to the Gaza Strip to collect evidence but Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation, accusing the panel of investigators of bias. Goldstone agreed that the U.N. Human Rights Council that set up the panel has a "history of bias against Israel."