Bill Moyers talks with Justice Richard Goldstone

Judge Richard Goldstone, photo by Robin Holland
The UN Human Rights Council released a report on the recent fighting between Hamas and Israel in Gaza. While concluding that both Israel’s military and Hamas likely committed war crimes during the fighting, the report was particularly harsh in its condemnation of Israel’s actions, saying they were “a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate, and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.” A political firestorm ensued, and some of the criticism was aimed at the head of the investigative mission, Judge Richard Goldstone.

Goldstone joins Bill Moyers on the JOURNAL to discuss the report, his critics and why he believes international humanitarian law is an important part of the peace process.

Born and raised in South Africa, Goldstone came to prominence investigating the vicious behavior of white security forces during apartheid. In 1994, the UN named him chief prosecutor of its International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. He investigated ethnic cleansing in the Balkans — the deadliest violence in Europe since the second World War. That same year, he was asked to prosecute genocide in Rwanda, where almost a million people had been slaughtered. Judge Goldstone went on to uncover Nazi war criminals hiding in Argentina, and to lead an independent inquiry into war crimes in Kosovo.

The Conflict

In April, Goldstone agreed to lead a fact-finding mission investigating the conflict in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army said they attacked Gaza in response to years of Hamas militants and other Palestinian groups launching thousands of crude rockets from Gaza into southern Israeli towns. In December 2008, Israel launched their military action.

During 22 days of fighting, more than 1,200 Palestinians died. Three Israeli civilians were killed and ten soldiers, four of them the result of friendly fire. When Israeli forces withdrew, the UN Human Rights Council called for an investigation, citing concerns about the destruction of not just military targets, but thousands of homes, as well as hospitals, schools and mosques. Goldstone agreed to lead it, but only after demanding an expansion of the mission’s mandate to also include a look into Hamas’ actions — and not just Israel’s — something the original mandate neglected to do.

The report and its critics

Judge Richard Goldstone at a UN public hearing, photo courtesy the UNOver the next several months, Judge Goldstone and his team interviewed hundreds of witnesses in Gaza, reviewed satellite images, videos, and other eyewitness accounts. Goldstone’s team received no cooperation from the Israeli government, who argued that the mission was biased from the beginning. In September, he submitted a 574-page report, focusing on 36 particular case studies. The report accused both the Israeli Defense Forces and Hamas of war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity.

The report generated intense criticism. Writing in the JERUSALEM POST, Gerald Steinberg accused Goldstone of running a “kangaroo court,” arguing that in Goldstone’s press conference and in the report, “the language of human rights and international law are misused as weapons in the political war to isolate and demonize Israel.”

Other critics accused Goldstone of denying Israel’s right to defend itself. Israeli president Shimon Peres argued that “the report legitimizes terrorist activity, the pursuit of murder and death. The report disregards the duty and right of self defense, held by every sovereign state as enshrined in the UN Charter.”

Goldstone tells Bill Moyers that he certainly believes in Israel’s right of self-defense and disagrees with these general criticisms, but welcomes specific criticisms of the report, “I certainly would welcome learning where we went wrong, […] if we made mistakes, and those are pointed out, I would be the first person to admit it.”

Goldstone says he stands by the report, and by its recommendations, “Our main recommendation is to urge both sides to look at themselves. To have their own internal investigations to judge what each did. To have a criminal investigation and to prosecute and punish the people responsible.”

For Judge Goldstone, these are not merely symbolic acts. Truth telling, he believes, is the only thing capable of laying the groundwork for lasting peace:

It’s been my experience, and in the countries in which I’ve been involved — and many in which I haven’t been involved — that in the aftermath of serious human rights violations, you cannot get enduring peace if you leave rancor and calls for revenge in the victim population. What victims need is acknowledgement. They need official acknowledgement of their victimization. And whether that’s done by truth and reconciliation commissions, as we did in South Africa, or through domestic prosecutions or international prosecutions, that official truth-telling is an essential building brick to lasting peace.

Richard Goldstone
Richard J. Goldstone was born October 26, 1938. After graduating from the University of the Witwatersrand with a BA LLB cum laude in 1962 he practiced as an Advocate at the Johannesburg Bar. In 1976, he was appointed Senior Counsel and in 1980 was made Judge of the Transvaal Supreme Court. In 1989, he was appointed judge of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court. From July 1994 to October 2003 he was a justice of the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Since the spring of 2004, Justice Goldstone has been teaching as a visiting professor of law at Harvard Law School, NYU Law School, Fordham Law School and Georgetown Law School.

Justice Goldstone is a member of the boards of Physicians for Human Rights, the International Center for Transitional Justice, and the Center for Economic and Social Rights. He is a director of the American Arbitration Association. He chairs the advisory boards of the Institute for Historical Justice and Reconciliation and the Brandeis University Center for Ethics, Justice and Public Life. In April 2004, he was appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to the Independent International Committee, chaired by Paul Volcker, to investigate the Iraq Oil for Food program. He is co-chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. He chaired a UN Committee to advise the United Nations on appropriate steps to preserve the archives and legacy of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. His most recent appointment is to lead the UN Fact Finding Mission on Gaza established by the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

From 1991 to 1994, he served as Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry regarding Public Violence and Intimidation that came to be known as the Goldstone Commission. He was the Chairperson of the Standing Advisory Committee of Company Law from 1984 to 2004. From August 15, 1994 to September 1996 he served as the Chief Prosecutor of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. During 1998 he was the chairperson of a high level group of international experts that met in Valencia, Spain, and drafted a Declaration of Human Duties and Responsibilities for the director general of UNESCO (the Valencia Declaration). From August 1999 until December 2001, he was the chairperson of the International Independent Inquiry on Kosovo. In December 2001 he was appointed as the co-chairperson of the International Task Force on Terrorism which was established by the International Bar Association. He is a director of the American Arbitration Association. From 1999 to 2003, he served as a member of the International Group of Advisers of the International Committee of the Red Cross. From 1985 to 2000, Justice Goldstone was national president of the National Institute of Crime Prevention and the Rehabilitation of Offenders (NICRO).

From 1995 to 2007 he was the chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. The many awards he has received locally and internationally include the International Human Rights Award of the American Bar Association (1994) and honorary doctorates of law from universities in South Africa, Europe, North America and Israel. He is an honorary bencher of the Inner Temple, London, an honorary fellow of St Johns College, Cambridge, an honorary member of the Association of the Bar of New York, and a fellow of the Weatherhead Centre for International Affairs at Harvard University. He is a foreign member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has been a member of the faculty of the Salzburg Seminar since 1996. In October 2006 he shared with Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Thomas J. Dodd Prize in International Justice and Human Rights. In May, 2007 he received the Richard E. Neustadt Award from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. In January 2007 he received the World Peace Through Law Award from the Whitney Harris Institute for Global Legal Studies at International Law at Washington University in St. Louis. In May 2009, he will receive the International Justice Award of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


Guest photos by Robin Holland.

Don’t miss these two videos of the interview…..


  1. Eddie said,

    October 25, 2009 at 19:11

    Though it pains me to say, an interview of this depth that does not mention the six month truce observed by Hamas immediately prior to operation Cast Lead is a seriously flawed piece of journalism.

    In the course of this interview, rockets are mentioned 14 times. The word truce does not appear.
    Moyers has lost a lot of cred.

  2. Ahm Surprised said,

    October 26, 2009 at 01:08

    I’m truly surprised that the wholly co-opted shills for war at Pentagon Buttfucking Sluttery are actually appeared to have an intelligent, cogent conversation with Bill Moyers and this gent to be broadcast, but alas, this is not the case, now is it? As Eddie above says, it would appear now that this is more of a strawman bullshit session by Moyers than an actual interview then, if all they can do is talk about Katusha rockets and not mention a fucking word about Israeli’s killing children to harvest their organs.

    PBS should be banned as a propaganda machine. No more, no less.

  3. Tom Dennen said,

    October 26, 2009 at 04:19

    Always shoot the messenger …

%d bloggers like this: