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World Middle East

Any wonder why Israel doesn’t buy into UN investigations?

  • Paula
Did Israeli soldiers violate international law by deliberately targeting unarmed children, journalists, health workers, and people with disabilities during the past year of violence along the Israel-Gaza border?
by PAULA SLIER | Mar 07, 2019

A United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Council report to be released within the week says there may be “reasonable grounds” to believe that they did. Some of those violations might even constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.

A three-person commission, chaired by Santiago Canton, an Argentinian lawyer and former aide to former United States President Jimmy Carter, has been investigating which side is to blame for the violence that left 189 Palestinians dead, and four Israeli soldiers injured.

Among its recommendations are that countries around the world consider arresting “persons alleged to have committed the international crimes” – in other words Israeli soldiers and commanders – and subject them to “individual sanction” including “a travel ban or an assets freeze”.

United Kingdom Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has subsequently renewed his call for a British arms embargo against the Jewish state.

The report’s findings are not a surprise to Jerusalem. As is standard practice, it refused to co-operate with the UN. Israel argues that any – and every – UN commission finds her guilty a priori, and there isn’t therefore any point in participating in what, it argues, are farcical exercises.

It certainly seems as though the commission passed its verdict before it even began investigations.

The founding text explaining the goals of the inquiry talks about examining Israeli “military assaults on large-scale civilian protests”. To define the Gazan protestors as “civilians” when Hamas itself has admitted that 50 out of the 62 people killed on 14 May were members of its group – and so were more than 50% of those killed since the start of the riots – flies in the face of available evidence. The commission’s claim that only 29 of the fatalities were members of Palestinian armed groups also directly contradicts Hamas’ statements.

The report further ignores Hamas’ cynical use of children as human shields. There are documented cases like one Hamas fighter, caught by Israel, who admitted that, “They [Hamas] tell women to go forward. They say to a woman, ‘Go ahead, you’re a woman, the army doesn’t shoot women.’ They tell small children, ‘Go ahead, the army doesn’t shoot small children.’ They tell a child to go ahead, and he goes. It’s a small child. They trick him.”

The founding text is also problematic for another reason. It characterises Israel’s actions as “assaults” while ignoring the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF’s) argument that, like any sovereign country in the world, it has the right to defend its borders against violent protestors armed with Molotov cocktails, ammunition, and explosives.

Language is important. By using the Palestinian name for the protest – “right of return” – throughout its arguments, the commission further buys into the Palestinian narrative while ignoring the Israeli one; namely that Jewish people have the right to self-determination in Israel.

Still, did the country shoot itself in the foot by refusing to co-operate? That refusal meant that the investigating team did not visit Israel and do first-hand research. Incidentally, it also didn’t visit Gaza as Cairo refused to let it enter through its border arguing security concerns.

In the end, the team had to rely on thousands of documents and 325 interviews – only 15 of which were from the Israeli side. Its statistics for the number of Gazans injured and killed came from sources inside Gaza, mostly from the Hamas-run health ministry, which are difficult to verify independently.

But what is known is that at least some of the protestors Hamas claims were killed by soldiers were killed by their own fire or explosives.

Human rights group UN Watch has vehemently criticised the report, arguing that it gives a free pass to Hamas and ignores the group’s incitement and support of violence.

UN Watch accuses the commission of ignoring a 29-page submission it drafted for deliberations. With respect to the damning claim that IDF snipers intentionally shot children, health workers, and the like, the group points out that the claim is not substantiated, and ignores the fact that the IDF is greatly respected for its high moral standards. What’s more, it has robust internal complaint-and-review procedures.

The claim that the IDF intentionally harmed disabled people, including two with hearing disabilities, is also problematic. How can soldiers be expected to identify people with hearing disabilities on sight?

A recurring claim throughout the report is that Israel’s military response was disproportionate. However, the law of armed conflict state that proportionality is a consideration military commanders make in real time as to whether or not the expected civilian casualties are excessive in relation to anticipated military gains. The commission did not have real-time data by which to judge its call.

In two weeks, a more detailed report will be submitted by the commission to the UN Human Rights Council’s 40th session in Geneva. It will be one of seven different reports, totalling five resolutions, that over the course of an entire day will condemn Israel.

By comparison, Iran, North Korea, and Syria will each have only one resolution tabled against them, while no resolutions will be put forward against the regimes of Turkey, Zimbabwe, China, Pakistan, and others that are certainly more totalitarian than Israel.

In light of all these shortcomings, it is any wonder that Jerusalem chooses not to participate in UN investigations?

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