A year after it was forced to defend itself militarily against hundreds of rockets fired at civilian areas by Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists in Gaza, Israel finds itself again on the defensive.
This time, the attack comes from the United Nations.
The U.N. Human Rights Council this week released a report by its commission of inquiry that investigated last summer’s Operation Protective Edge conducted by the Israeli Army.
Any report under the auspices of the U.N., which has a long track record of inordinately condemning Israeli actions while ignoring atrocities and human rights violations committed by other countries, is inherently suspect. This latest report is no exception. While shielding its conclusions by saying that both Israel and Hamas “may have been guilty of war crimes,” the report clearly is more critical of Israel, which it blames for a “disproportionate” response to a pattern of attacks from Gaza.
“Serious violations of international humanitarian law” committed by Israel and Palestinians “may amount to war crimes,” stated the report, which added that its investigation could not “conclusively determine the intent of Palestinian armed groups with regard to the construction of … tunnels” that Hamas terrorists had used as means for kidnapping soldiers and attacking civilian sites.
“The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come,” said Mary McGowan Davis, the commission’s chairwoman.
Hamas called the report a “clear condemnation” of Israel.
The 183-page document is expected to serve as a guide for an inquiry into possible Israeli war crimes already underway at the International Criminal Court and will be discussed this month by the Human Rights Council.
Equating the aggressor and the defender and ignoring the fact that Hamas militants wear civilian clothes and operate purposefully amidst the civilian population typify such U.N. reports. That is in part why the Jerusalem government refused to cooperate with the investigation, and Prime Minister Netanyahu dismissed its findings outright as biased and untrue. Israel conducted its own internal investigation, which found no Israeli or international law violations. In the well-known case of the four young boys killed by airstrikes while running on a beach in Gaza, the report said the aerial information could not distinguish that the individuals were children, and described the accident as tragic.
The U.N. report blamed Hamas and other militant groups for the “inherently discriminate nature” of its rocket attacks on Israel, but focused mostly on Israeli actions. It accused Israel of disproportionate use of airstrikes and cast “grave doubts” on the ethics of the Israel Defense Forces. The IDF prides itself on being the world’s most moral army, a claim supported by a number of Western military leaders.
The U.N. report went into detail about airstrikes on 15 civilian apartment houses in Gaza, resulting in the deaths of a number of women and children.
Reading the report is an exercise in tragedy and suffering, heightened by a lack of context. It fails to distinguish between a democratic state responding to rocket attacks on its civilians, and a government that calls for Israel’s destruction and seeks to target, not avoid, non-combatants. Still, when McGowan Davis, an American who has been considered a fair-minded jurist, told Haaretz this week that “it is not OK to drop a one-ton bomb in the middle of a neighborhood,” one hopes to hear a rationale from Israel in response.
McGowan Davis added that the outcome of the report may well “have been different if Israel had cooperated.” That’s a moot point now as Israel seeks to defend itself in the court of public opinion.