|Goldstone revised only one of his original findings, saying that Israel did not intentionally kill hundreds of civilians [EPA]
Defenders of Israel's Gaza onslaught of 2008-9 can barely contain their joy. In a Washington Post op-ed on Friday, Judge Richard Goldstone offered some second thoughts about it that softened his earlier criticism of Israel's actions in Gaza as "war crimes".
In fact, Goldstone altered only one of his original findings. He now says that he has concluded that the Israeli Defense Forces did not intentionally target civilians during attacks in which 1,400 Palestinians died, of whom half were civilians and 400 were children. Rather they were collateral damage, not the intended targets but people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And this "exoneration" of Israel's behaviour has Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and their defenders in Israel and the United States crazily dancing in the end zone. You see, they shout, Goldstone lied all along. We didn't kill all these people on purpose. Hooray for us.
These celebrations tell us infinitely more about the Israeli government and its cutouts here than Goldstone's column does about what happened in Gaza.
Imagine if the United States government was forced to admit that it killed hundreds of innocent people in a few days and that hundreds of that number were kids. Does anyone imagine that our government would pat itself on the back because the killings were deemed unintentional?
No doubt, many many innocent people have been killed at American hands just as at Israel's in Gaza. But it is hard to recall American officials saying that the discovery that the deaths were unintentional exonerated us. As for victory laps such as those being taken by Netanyahu and Barak, they wouldn't happen here.
The only way Goldstone could really exonerate Israel would be to prove that the hundreds of non-combatant dead, including all those kids, were, in fact, not civilians at all. He would have to prove that they were fighters who were killed while engaged in battle with Israel. But not even the Israelis claim that.
No, the civilian dead were indeed civilians and they are still dead. They are dead because the Israeli government made the decision that taking care not to kill innocents would put more Israeli soldiers in harms way.
Elections were coming and the Israeli government felt that the Israeli public would not tolerate a war that took more than few soldiers' lives. So the army would bombard targets from afar; if civilians were killed, so what. The strategy worked. While 1,432 Palestinians were killed, only a dozen Israelis were. That was a ratio that did not hurt any politician's political standing, being almost unprecedented in the history of warfare. (Actually, it suggests that the Gaza was not a war at all, but rather an attack by a powerful army against powerless militants.)
The jubilation over Goldstone's minor edit is also misplaced because the strong opposition felt in most quarters to the Gaza onslaught had nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the killings of civilians were intentional but that they took place at all. Even if it could be proven that the United Nations school was destroyed by accident, what difference would it make? It was destroyed. Would Israel exonerate Hamas if it, by accident, hit an Israeli hospital when its target was a nearby army base. It is a distinction without a difference and only the morally bankrupt would point to it with pride.
Furthermore, opponents of the Gaza war were outraged by Israel's actions in Gaza right from the start not following publication of the Goldstone report. The outrage was produced when it became clear that Israel was not exercising its legitimate right to defend itself against rocket fire from Gaza by targeting the people launching the missiles but by targeting the whole Gazan population.
Additionally the whole war was unnecessary. A cease-fire between Hamas and Israel had been in effect for the six months leading up to Israel's decision to invade. Why did it end?
This comes from US News, a newsweekly owned by Mortimer Zuckerman, one of the Israeli government's leading defenders in the United States. (He is the former president of the Conference of Presidents Of Major Jewish Organizations.)
"Why now? Two reasons: the expiration of the Israeli-Gazan cease-fire on December 19 and the Israeli national election coming up on February 10. The six-month cease-fire started coming apart at the beginning of November after Israeli commandos killed a team of Hamas fighters during a raid on a tunnel they suspected was being dug for the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers. That raid set off more Palestinian rocketing which prompted further Israeli attacks. All this prompted Hamas to declare that it wouldn't extend the cease-fire unless Israel lifted it's punishing siege of the Gaza Strip, which was imposed after the militant group Hamas was elected to power nearly three years ago."
US News has it exactly right. The ceasefire ended because Israel decided to end it. And then when the rockets started falling, Israel had the pretext it wanted to attack. None of this is surprising, Israeli leaders have never been shy about saying that their goal is not merely ending mortar attacks from Gaza but eliminating the Hamas government (elected, incidentally, in a democratic election forced on the Palestinians by the United States).
The bottom line is that Goldstone's edit doesn't matter except to those who defended and still defend this indefensible war. The damage done to Israel's reputation is indelible. But that is insignificant when compared to the life-long damage inflicted on all those who lost loved ones in the monstrous Gaza war.
MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.
You can follow MJ on twitter @MJayRosenberg.
This article was first published by Foreign Policy Matters.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.