The UN Human Rights Council has tapped a lion of international law, Judge Richard Goldstone, to head an investigation into alleged war crimes in Gaza during the December-January war.  The timing of this is pretty interesting.   Two weeks ago a group of Israeli soldiers claimed that permissive rules of engagement lead directly to the deaths of civilians and the needless destruction of their property.  Earlier this week, the Israeli army said the soldiers “purposefully exaggerated” their claims and closed an internal investigation into alledged abuses during Operation Cast Lead.  Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch says it has evidence that the Israeli Defense Forces used White Phosphorous, a flammable chemical agent, in populated areas (included a UN school).

Israel has yet to say whether or not it will cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation, though it would be pretty hard not to.  Goldstone was a former prosecutor of the Yugoslav and Rwandan war crimes tribunals. He was also a famous anti-apartheid judicial activist in South Africa, in 1991 Nelson Mandela tapped him to chair a legal inquiry into human rights abuses committed by the South African government. This later became known as the Goldstone Commission.  And though he is a South African, he has deep ties to Israel. (He is a trustee at Hebrew University).  From the New York Times.  

Goldstone said he was ”shocked, as a Jew,” to be invited to head the mission.

”It adds an additional dimension,” said Gladstone, who is on the board of governors at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. ”I’ve taken a deep interest in what happens in Israel. I’m associated with organizations that have worked in Israel. And I believe I can approach the daunting task that I have accepted in an evenhanded and impartial manner.”

It will be hard for critics to dismiss Judge Goldstone as some crank with a grudge, like some did to Richard Falk, the Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Rights.  More to the point, Goldstone brings to this job a sterling reputation as an impartial voice whose enduring loyalty has been to international law and justice.   A thorough accounting of what did and did not happen during Operation Cast Lead (and of course, of Hamas rocket attacks) can help serve as a foundation for a lasting peace in the region.  Judge Goldstone is the perfect person to lead this kind of inquiry.

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