(This article is published in Salon.)
The State Department devoted itself to, in its own words, “deferring” U.N. action on Israeli war crimes, “reframing the debate” about the atrocities, and “moving away from the U.N.”, according to numerous emails from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The messages, some of which are written by high-level State Department officials, expose the role of the U.S. government in undermining the international response to the 2009 United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, also known as the Goldstone Report — which the U.S. admitted was only “moderate,” but still opposed.
The Goldstone Report — named after South African veteran jurist and genocide expert Richard Goldstone, who oversaw the study — was commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in order to “investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009.”
In this 2008-2009 campaign, dubbed Operation Cast Lead by the Israeli military, 1,391 Palestinians were killed, over half of whom were civilians, including 454 women and children, according to the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (also known as B’Tselem). Hundreds of Palestinian homes, hospitals, schools, businesses, and more were also destroyed in the attack.
On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers were killed—four of whom died from friendly fire—along with three civilians. The disproportionate casualties led Palestinians to dub the conflict “the Gaza Massacre.”
The Goldstone Report accused Israel of numerous war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law. Israel committed “a grave breach” of the Fourth Geneva Convention in its intentional targeting of civilians, the U.N. report found. It also documented the Israeli military’s use of chemical weapons like white phosphorus on civilian areas, including hospitals. Palestinian militant groups were guilty of violating international law in their use of rockets, the report additionally noted.
Throughout the long and delayed process in compiling the report, the U.S. and Israeli governments tried to stymie the investigation into atrocities committed by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The final report was released on September 15, 2009 at a massive 452 pages, yet even then was criticized by human rights activists for not being thorough enough in its documentation of what the U.N. characterized as Israeli war crimes.
Publicly released Clinton emails reveal that the UNHRC, under heavy U.S. pressure, postponed consideration of the Goldstone Report from October 2 until March 2010. While the UNHRC ultimately endorsed the report’s findings on October 16, it took nearly six months for the body to urge the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council to refer the Gaza massacre to the ICC pursuant to 13(b) of the Rome Statute, which the U.S. then blocked.