Col. (ret.) Desmond Travers was one of the four members of the UN Fact Finding Mission that produced what is widely called the Goldstone Report. The Mission investigated Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip between December 27, 2008 and January 18, 2009. Travers joined the Irish Defense Forces in 1961 and retired after forty years. As the only former officer who belonged to Justice Richard Goldstone’s team, he was the senior figure responsible for the military analysis that provided the basis for condemning Israel for war crimes.
After following his repeated public appearances with the other mission members in July 2009, and especially in light of his most recent interviews, serious flaws have now become evident in the methodology he followed, in his collection and processing of data, and in the conclusions he draws. In the past, the flaws in the Goldstone report, and especially its lack of balance, have been criticized by the London Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Economist, but the fundamental problems of its military analysis have not been fully addressed. In the material presented here, this becomes evident in four specific ways:
1. A Fundamental Bias against the Israel Defense Forces
During the Mission’s collection of testimonies from Palestinian psychologists in the Gaza Strip, Travers asked them straight out to explain how Israeli soldiers could kill Palestinian children in front of their parents. In an interview with Middle East Monitor, on February 2, 2010, he asserted that in the past Israeli soldiers had “taken out and deliberately shot” Irish peacekeeping forces in Southern Lebanon. Both of these statements by Travers are completely false. It should be stressed that one of the most vicious and unsubstantiated conclusions in the Goldstone Report is the suggestion that Israel deliberately killed Palestinian civilians.
While Travers assumes the worst of intentions on the part of the Israel Defense Forces, he praises Hamas for their cooperation with the Mission. When he was asked about Hamas intimidation that affected the Mission’s inquiries, he replied that that there was “none whatsoever.” Yet the Goldstone Report itself noted in Paragraph 440 that those interviewed in Gaza appeared reluctant to speak about the presence of Palestinian armed groups because of a “fear of reprisals.” He rejects the notion that Hamas shielded its forces in the civilian population and does not accept the idea that Israel faced asymmetric warfare.
2. False Information Reported About Weapons Systems
Travers comes up with a story that the IDF had unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) that could obtain a “thermal signature” on a Gaza house and detect that there were large numbers of people inside. Incredibly, he then suggests that with this information that certain houses were “packed with people,” the Israeli military would then deliberately order a missile strike on these populated homes. The primary technical problem with his theory is that Israel does not have UAV’s that can see though houses and pick up a thermal signature. More importantly, Israel used UAV’s to monitor that Palestinian civilians left houses that had received multiple warnings, precisely because Israel sought to minimize civilian casualties, a fact that Travers could not fathom, because of his own clear biases.
3. Completely Inaccurate Data
Travers rejects that Israel began military operations against the Gaza Strip on December 27, 2008 as an act of self-defense in response to Hamas rockets. He bases this idea on a “fact” that he presents that in the month prior to start of the war, there were only “something like two” rockets that fell on Israel. Israeli military sources found that there were in fact 32 rockets fired from Gaza at Israel over three days alone–between December 16 and 18, 2008. He adds to his analysis that at this time Hamas sought to extend the tahdiya, or lull arrangement–which he called a cease-fire. Yet the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas announced on December 17 that the lull would come to an end two days later and would not be renewed. The head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, Khaled Mashaal, announced the end of the lull on December 14. To say that Hamas wanted to continue the lull is a complete distortion of events.
In his Middle East Monitor interview, Travers states that he “only came across two incidents of where there was an actual combat situation” – the exchange of fire between Israel and Hamas. Because he minimizes the possibility that Israel was engaged in real combat in the Gaza Strip, it follows that he naturally conclude that Israel was essentially attacking non-combatants during Operation Cast Lead.
4. Lack of Professionalism in Conducting Thorough Investigations
Travers relies on his own prejudices when he looks into the question of whether Gazan Mosques had been militarized by Hamas and turned into weapons depots. In an interview with Harpers, published on October 29, 2009, Travers makes a sweeping generalization: “We found no evidence that mosques were used to store munitions.” He then dismissed those who suggested that was the case by saying: “Those charges reflect Western perceptions in some quarters that Islam is a violent religion.” How many mosques did Travers investigate? He admits that the Mission only checked two mosques.
Of course, srael produced photographic proof that large amounts of weapons were stored in mosques, like the Zaytun Mosque. In a subsequent interview, Travers rejected the Israeli proof: “I do not believe the photographs.” He described the photographs as “spurious.” Travers appears to be bothered by proof that contradicts the conclusions he reaches on the basis of a very limited investigation. In early 2010, Colonel Tim Collins, a British veteran of the Iraq War, visited Gaza for BBC Newsnight and inspected the ruins of a mosque that Israel had destroyed because it had been a weapons depot. He found that there was evidence of secondary explosions cause by explosives stored in the mosque cellar. Travers clearly did not make the effort that Collins made.
In his questioning of Palestinian witnesses in the Gaza Strip, Travers does not ask the questions that a military advisor should raise. He did not ask those giving testimony if they were member of the Izz al-Din al-Qassam units of Hamas and were combatants. He also failed to ask them straight out if their homes had been used to store munitions, like Grad rockets. Instead, his questions reflected his ideological bias.
Travers most recent interview also had a disturbing additional element. When addressing the role of British officers in defending Israel’s claims, Travers suddenly adds: “Britain’s foreign policy interests in the Middle East seem to be influenced strongly by Jewish lobbyists.” Travers implies that British Jews have interests that differ from Britain’s own national interests and that Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government is influenced by these considerations. This statement, unless corrected, places Travers is a position in which his views are suspect of being motivated by anti-Semitic prejudices. Even without this last statement, he clearly emerges as an individual who is not qualified to take part in any serious fact-finding mission and the U.N. should not seek his services in the future. Given his statements, Justice Richard Goldstone should repudiate Col. Travers and completely reject the conclusions that he reached as a result of his work.