Israel has reacted strongly to the UNHRC’s report published on Monday into the last summer’s Operation Protective Edge conflict in Gaza, which concluded that the Hamas and the IDF both may have committed war crimes.
The report said: “The commission was able to gather substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups…In some cases, these violations may amount to war crimes”.
The commission called for individual IDF soldiers, as well as top decision makers in Israel’s military and political echelons, to be held accountable if they violated international law. It also stated that more might have been done by the IDF to limit civilian casualties during the conflict.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that the commission was “inherently biased” and underlined: “Israel defends itself according to international law and we are not the only ones to say so…That statement is backed by a report by senior generals from the US and Europe. One general said no other country [than Israel] makes such efforts to uphold the law”.
In November 2014, US General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to limit civilian casualties in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.
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.
A senior group of former chiefs of staffs, diplomats, and generals last week concluded its own investigation into the IDF’s contact during Operation Protective Edge, finding that “in the air, on the ground and at sea, 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 was written by the High Level International Military Group, whose 11 members include the former NATO Military Committee chairman Gen. Klaus Naumann of Germany; former Italian foreign minister Guilio Terzi; former US State Department ambassador at large for war crimes issues Pierre-Richard Prosper; and the former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Col. Richard Kemp.
It underlined: “We saw clear evidence of this from the upper to the lower levels of command. 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”.
At the time of the UNHRC commission’s foundation, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond called the inquiry “fundamentally unbalanced” against Israel.
When the commission was first announced in August 2014, it was headed by William Schabas, who had in 2012 called for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be put on trial for war crimes by the ICC. As a result of the commission’s perceived inherent bias, Israel declined to cooperate with the UNHRC investigation.
Israel has stated that it “will continue to uphold its commitment to the law of armed conflict despite the brutal tactics of its enemies. Israel will continue to investigate alleged wrongdoing in accordance with international standards and to cooperate with those UN bodies that conduct themselves in an objective, fair and professional manner”.
During Operation Protective Edge, Hamas and other terrorist organisations launched more than 4,500 rockets and mortars, which were deliberately directed at Israel’s civilian population. Hamas carried out ground infiltrations into Israel through it’s network of cross-border terror tunnels designed to facilitate attacks and kidnappings on Israeli civilians.
Hamas and other terror groups throughout the conflict deliberately embedded their rockets and terrorist infrastructure in densely populated and civilian areas in Gaza, using human shields. 550 rockets and mortars were identified by the IDF as being launched from ‘sensitive sites’ such as schools, UN facilities, hospitals, and places of worship.
In March 2015, an Amnesty International report accused Hamas of committing war crimes during the conflict by repeatedly launching deadly attacks on civilians, and in May 2015, an Amnesty report asserted that Hamas carried out a brutal campaign of human rights abuses in Gaza throughout the conflict, including abductions, torture and extra-judicial killings of Palestinian civilians.