The UN Human Rights Council, many of whose state members are world champions in violating the moral principles the Council is obligated to protect, issued its Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on the 2014 Gaza War today. The eighth such attempt since 2002 to single out Israel as guilty of war crimes, this was the first replay since the discredited Goldstone document in 2009. This time, some lessons were learned, but any serious analysis of the COI would find it seriously flawed. At best, it is Goldstone lite, with little lasing impact; but at worst, it will accelerate the dirty political war begun at Durban 2001, seeking the “total international isolation of Israel.”
The COI is clearly written in two voices: the harsh ideological accusations of William Schabas, interspersed with the more reasonable caution of Mary McGowan Davis. This was expected—Schabas, the anti-Israel warrior originally selected by the UNHRC’s Islamic bloc majority, neglected to mention his paid job with the PLO, and was replaced after the research was completed by Judge Davis. But instead of throwing out the draft, she added and revised the original sporadically, leaving a fundamentally flawed document, drafted by the same UN-based staffers.
As a result, the report is premised on the immoral and absurd equivalence and parallelism between a terrorist group (Hamas) and a democratic state under attack (Israel). The recommendations at the end, which call for investigations, enforcement of international legal principles, cooperation with the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, and other measures, are ostensibly addressed to Israel and to Hamas. This can be compared to placing the police and mafia on an equal moral plain.
Another major flaw that remained was the heavy reliance on highly political non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with façades of “expertise” without the substance. This NGO network is deeply entrenched in the UN structure, and visible on almost every page. Amnesty International’s versions of events are quoted 53 times; Human Rights Watch, 22; B’tselem, 69; Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR), 50, and so on. In other words, as in the case of Goldstone, and, going back to the 2002 Jenin “investigations”, these political organizations, which clearly lack any systematic or professional fact-finding methodology, created the scaffolding around which the COI was constructed.
For example, Amnesty International, which has essentially no research expertise or professional methodology, is cited on a wide range of issues, from Hamas rocket production to compensation of Negev Bedouin struck by one of these rocket, to determining that the size of a crater in Gaza is ostensibly “consistent with the dropping of a large bomb”, whatever that may mean. None of these claims are in any way “evidence” that could be accepted in legal proceedings.
Similarly, the report notes that in regards to the Israeli security operation that followed the kidnapping and murder of the three teens on June 12, “the commission reviewed information suggesting that cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was used extensively during interrogations in the period under examination.” Once again, this accusation, which strips away the context, is attributed to a group of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs with whose politicized claims cannot be verified.
In this destructive process, the European government backers of the political NGOs that lobbied for this report and from which it was largely constructed must be held accountable. (Most of the Israeli NGOs are part of the New Israel Fund’s network, including B’tselem, Breaking the Silence, PHR-I, etc.) The COI repeats standard NGO slogans decrying Israeli “impunity,” but the impunity enjoyed by these funder-enablers of abusive NGOs is very real.
The COI is also notable for what it did not examine—there is no mention of the role that Iran played in supplying Hamas and other “militant groups” with deadly missiles that hit Ashkelon, Tel Aviv, and beyond, and were also aimed at the airport with the objective of mass killing. Nor is there any mention of Qatar’s pledge of $400 million to Hamas, or of the fact that Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal uses the Qatari capital, Doha, as his base.
While these are clearly war crimes, they were missed by the UN-Schabas-McGowan Davis team because the NGO networks also erased this deadly dimension, which is not part of their anti-Israel agenda. Similarly, the COI ignored the evidence that NGO submissions on which they rely have no fact-finding methodologies – they largely make it up as they go. (For the details on these and other issues, see the June 2014 NGO Monitor/UN Watch report Filling in the Blanks)
The bottom line is that Schabas, McGowan Davis, and the UN staffers produced another destructive but substantively empty shell—a compilation of rumors and accusations, as in the case of Goldstone and all the preceding UNHRC reports on Israel. And like Amnesty International, B’tselem, PCHR, Human Rights Watch, and many others in the NGO network that are quoted on these pages, they simply do not know what happened.
Indeed, in an example reflecting the lighter touch of the report, it acknowledges that in many cases “it was not possible to establish with certainty the factual circumstances of a given incident.” This moment of honesty is very unusual in the UN and among NGOs, as is the recognition that “the death of civilians during an armed conflict, no matter how grave and regrettable, does not in itself constitute a war crime.” The next logical step, which was not taken, is to distinguish between aggression by Palestinian terrorists and Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense. Without this distinction, all such reports are morally meaningless.
Gerald Steinberg is the President of NGO Monitor.
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