Israeli officials responded to the publication of a long-anticipated report from a commission appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) into Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas last summer.
Israel launched the operation on July 8, 2014 after enduring daily rocket and tunnel attacks mounted from Gaza, as well as the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by Hamas operatives. The conflict lasted seven weeks.
The report concluded that both Israel and Hamas may have been responsible for war crimes during the Gaza conflict. Although the report acknowledges that Israel took action to limit civilian casualties during the fighting, it says more might have been done.
Hamas is accused of firing indiscriminately at Israeli civilians and carrying out military activities from civilian areas in Gaza. Hamas is also heavily criticised for executing 21 alleged “collaborators” during the conflict.
Israel declined to cooperate with the UNHRC investigation as the commission’s mandate, which British Foreign Minister Philip Hammond described as “fundamentally unbalanced” appeared to target Israel. Meanwhile, the UNHRC itself has a track record of hostility towards Israel.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry published an initial response to the report, reiterating the UNHRC’s inherent bias. It also noted that the commission “lacked the necessary tools and expertise to conduct a professional and serious examination of armed conflict situations” and lamented “that the report fails to recognise the profound difference between Israel’s moral behaviour during Operation Protective Edge and the terror organisations it confronted.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also accused the report of bias, given that the UNHRC, does “everything but protect human rights,” focusing disproportionately on Israel. He also said, “Israel defends itself according to international law and we are not the only ones to say so.”
Israel’s government last week published a 277-page report into the Gaza conflict, documenting a lengthy legal process before attacks were approved and extensive efforts to facilitate humanitarian aid to Gaza’s civilians.
Also last week, a “High Level International Military Group”, a consortium of some of the world’s leading military experts, published a report which laid much of the blame on the Palestinian side.
“Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard,” the report said.
The High Level Military Group’s report was conducted by 11 high-ranking former military commanders and senior international politicians from around the world. The panel includes the former chiefs of staff of the German, Italian and Spanish armed forces, a former commander of the Australian Defense College and the former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan. It also includes several U.S. diplomatic and military leaders, including a former ambassador at large for war crimes issues and a former senior United States Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gen. Klaus Naumann, former chief of staff of the German armed forces and chairman of the NATO Military Committee, who led the fact-finding mission on which the HLIMG report is based, said Israel paid a price for following the law.
“A measure of the seriousness with which Israel took its moral duties and its responsibilities under the laws of armed conflict is that in some cases Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives,” Naumann said.
IDF Captain (res.) Dor Matot, who fought last summer in Gaza’s Shejaiya and is a deputy company commander in the Golani Brigade, responded to the UNHRC report in an article he wrote in the Jerusalem Post, explaining that “humanitarian considerations in Gaza cost us in blood.”
He wrote : “I served in the Shejaiya rescue force. Certain rules of engagement were made clear for our six days there. The night before the ground incursion, a Shin Bet officer came to us and explained that there was a large civilian population in the direction that we were headed. Because of this, we did not enter Shejaiya at that time, although that was what we had practiced and it was the correct tactical maneuver.”
“After consideration, we went the following day in the anticipated direction, where Hamas gunmen were awaiting our arrival. Hamas understood our strategies, and how each of our operations had humanitarian and moral considerations, and because of this they were ready to receive us. They had set up observation posts in the surrounding areas, and they anticipated our arrival because of the previous decision not to enter into a civilian population.”
“On the first night we went in, we were attacked. Five of our soldiers were killed and 20 others were injured. In spite of the claims made against the IDF that they have gone against international law, in this instance it is understood that our morality cost us our lives.”