Israel blast UN over Gaza report

Mary McGowan Davis, chairman of the independent comission

Israel has denounced the UN rights council Monday as biased, after a United Nations report found that both Israel and Palestinian militants may have committed war crimes during last year's Gaza war. This follows last week’s publication of Israel’s own extensive report on its soldiers and commanders’ conduct during Operation Protective Edge, which placed the blame for the high number of Palestinian civilian casualties largely on the Islamist movement Hamas which rules the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that Israel "does not commit war crimes... Israel defends itself against a terror organisation which calls for its destruction and that itself carries out war crimes."
The Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict announced it had gathered "credible allegations" that both sides had committed war crimes during the conflict, which killed 73 people on the Israeli side, mostly soldiers, and more than 2,140 Palestinians, most of them civilians including over 500 children.
The report made detailed reference to the precepts of international humanitarian law, international human rights law and international criminal law as the framework for the findings and conclusions made throughout the inquiry. Nevertheless, Israeli officials were defiant: "It is well known that the entire process that led to the production of this report was politically motivated and morally flawed from the outset," a foreign ministry statement said. "This report was commissioned by a notoriously biased institution," it added, referring to the UN Human Rights Council, which commissioned the report.
The statement said "Israel will consider the report in light of these essential failings. It would encourage all fair-minded observers to do the same."
The report made repeated reference to “the lack of access to Gaza, Israel and the West Bank,” due to reluctance from both side in the conflict: “The commission addressed to the Government of Israel and the Government of the State of Palestine a list of questions relating to specific incidents and legal and policy issues. A comparable list of questions was also sent to Hamas. Only the State of Palestine responded to the requests.”
Israel, which has claimed that the report does not do enough to distinguish between Hamas ‘terrorism’ and the ‘moral behaviour’ of the IDF, protectors of Israeli democracy, was specifically cited for its reluctance to facilitate the investigation:
“The commission repeatedly requested Israel to cooperate, including by granting it access to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Regrettably, Israel did not respond to these requests. Subsequently, the commission learned from a press release that no such cooperation would be forthcoming.” Interviews were conducted in Amman and Geneva, as well as through Skype with citizens in Gaza trapped by the Israeli blockade.
The report criticised the "indiscriminate" firing of thousands of rockets and mortars at Israel, which it said appeared to be have been intended to "spread terror" among Israeli civilians. In some instances, Palestinian militants were found to have characterised population centres in Israel’s south as military targets.
It assessed Hamas’ use of military tunnels, some of which were found to reach beyond the Green Line into Israel, with one witness stating that she was “struck by the complexity of the tunnel and how well-built it was with a solid cement structure and a full electricity grid.”
It also noted the increased military capability among the various Palestinian military factions, as well as the increased level of cooperation among previously competitive militias , stating “armed groups coordinated their military activities to a certain degree and also conducted joint operations”.
The report found that Palestinian militants were culpable for using "inherently indiscriminate" projectiles and rockets against the military might of the IDF while being guilty of punitive measures against their own people:
“With regard to Palestinian armed groups, the commission has serious concerns with regard to the inherently indiscriminate nature of most of the projectiles directed towards Israel by these groups and to the targeting of Israeli civilians, which violate international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime. The increased level of fear among Israeli civilians resulting from the use of tunnels was palpable. The commission also condemns the extrajudicial executions of alleged “collaborators”, which amount to a war crime.”
The report decried the "huge firepower" used in Gaza, with Israel launching more than 6,000 airstrikes and firing 50,000 artillery shells during the 51-day operation, as well as its practice of “punitive home demolitions”, targeted at the families of those accused by Israeli security forces of collaborating with Palestinian militants.
“The commission notes the particular effect that home demolitions have on women and children. As a result of fixed gender roles and prevailing cultural norms, Palestinian women’s lives are centred around the home and their presence in the public sphere is limited.
… The commission is therefore concerned about the resumption of a practice that risks further fuelling hatred and the cycle of violence, rather than achieving its stated objective of deterrence.”
It noted the deaths and injuries of Palestinians during law enforcement activities, referencing the superfluous use of live ammunition against unarmed Palestinian protesters, and the “extensive material available on violations of Palestinians’ human rights resulting from Israeli settlements and settler violence.” The construction of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, illegal under international law, has risen sharply under the current right-wing government of Prime Minister Netanyahu.
The report is widely expected to be used as the basis for a Palestinian case against Israel at the International Criminal Court. Regarding the culpability of senior Israeli officials, the report states:
“Questions arise regarding the role of senior officials who set military policy in several areas examined by the commission, such as in the attacks of the Israel Defense Forces on residential buildings; the use of artillery and other explosive weapons with wide-area effects in densely populated areas; the destruction of entire neighbourhoods in Gaza; and the regular resort to live ammunition by the Israel Defence Forces, notably in crowd-control situations, in the West Bank. In many cases, individual soldiers may have been following agreed military policy, but it may be that the policy itself violates the laws of war.”
Israel's foreign ministry reiterated that it believed its military acted appropriately.
"In defending itself against attacks, Israel's military acted according to the highest international standards," it said. "This was confirmed by a comprehensive examination by Israeli military and legal experts, as well as reports produced by internationally renowned military professionals."
Hamas saluted the "condemnation" of Israel in the UN report.
"Hamas welcomes the report's condemnation of the Zionist occupier for its war crimes during the last war against Gaza," said spokesman Fawzi Barhum.In Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, a senior official from the Palestine Liberation Organisation said the report reinforces "our will to go to the International Criminal Court".
The Palestinians have been seeking to open criminal proceedings against Israel at the ICC as part of an increased focus on diplomatic manoeuvring and appeals to international bodies.