Algeria, China, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates all share at least three qualities in common: they are all recidivist violators of human rights, they are all members in good standing of the UN General Assembly Human Rights Council, and they all voted for that Council’s Resolution S-21/1 of 23 July 2014, which condemns Israel for violation of a broad array of human rights in Gaza, and then appoints an “independent” commission to investigate.
It is eminently clear from the text of the resolution that Israel has already been judged guilty and that it is Israel’s actions which are to be “investigated.” The preamble cites Israel as having violated almost every conceivable edict of international human rights starting from the failure to tear down the illegal “wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” including the “systematic failure to carry out genuine investigations in an impartial, independent, prompt, and effective way,” “deliberate [military] targeting of civilians,” systematic and widespread violations of humanitarian law and of Palestinian rights, “disproportionate and indiscriminate attacks,” and many, many others. Among the many acts “deplored” are the recent “military assault on the occupied Gaza Strip, the latest in a series of military aggressions by Israel and actions of mass closure, mass arrest, and the killing of civilians in the occupied West Bank.”
The appointment recently of the members of the panel headed by Professor William Schabas, a notorious opponent of Israel’s efforts to defend itself, significantly advances the clear goal of the Human Rights Commission to indict Israel without getting bogged down by the facts.
It is hard for an Israeli to understand the perspective of the authors of this distorted and delusional account of reality. The rote incantation of demonic description seems to reflect a depth and intensity of hostile opinion that is nothing short of overwhelming. Israel, it seems, is reviled by many on the Council, and the issue is not whether that opinion, or more accurately, that visceral emotional disposition, is grounded in reality or at all justified, what really matters is its cumulative empirical consequence. And the consequence can be great, indeed.
The world has been exposed to the unremitting scenes of destruction and of gruesome pictures of Palestinian civilians wounded, maimed and killed. While Israeli media screens have shown some of this, there has been no fixation on repetition.
This makes it even harder for people here to understand the depths of the enmity. Another factor contributing to this skewed perception at the UN is the fatality ratio of more than 20 to 1, which discourages a rational inquiry into the real causes of the fatalities. The attention spans of those experiencing the painful pictures do not allow for nuanced factual expositions regarding Israel’s investment of vast resources, effort and technology to protect civilian lives on both sides, while Hamas cruelly innovates to sacrifice innocent civilian lives on both sides. What the world sees are the pictures.
It is also true that the objective facts often fall on deaf ears. For there is widespread anti-Semitic feeling fueled by growing Islamist legions and the swelling of the Muslim population in Europe, but extending far into the political camps of both Left and Right across different cultures and religions. The 20 to 1 fatality ratio reinforces already ingrained notions that the Jews of the Jewish state act immorally and with disregard for others. The more we are perceived as resilient, resourceful, successful, the greater the hate and visceral abhorrence.
It seems then that the circle of people we can hope to persuade with fact and reason is limited, and they are likely to be influenced by a commission report which condemns both Israel and the Hamas for violating international norms. Such an illusion of symmetry, though wholly unjustified, appeals to the Western mind conditioned to believe that there is right and wrong on both sides and that no one side possesses a monopoly on truth and virtue.
A commission report as described will thus resonate and could play a convincing role in the international verbal warfare, which will erupt as soon as a stable cease-fire is achieved.
Israel can do little regarding the pre-programmed commission, except perhaps to cooperate with them by providing irrefutable proof regarding disputed events (for example, the true story of the explosions at the UN school complex). Whether or to what extent Israel should cooperate with such a biased commission is a judgment that must be made by those who know the facts, what proofs can be produced, and the international constellation of interests.
But we must not leave the field to this profoundly prejudiced commission chartered by such a distorted mandate and chaired by such a dedicated foe. Something dramatic and captivating needs to be done to elicit a process of reasoned analysis by those capable of forming a rational conclusion about what transpired.
We need a second, independent, impartial and credible commission of inquiry to investigate “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law” in Gaza. This commission should be composed of prominent members, internationally respected for their knowledge of international law and for their integrity and independence.
In order to earn public respect and to capture public attention, the commission should hold hearings and receive documentary and oral evidence in Israel, in Gaza (if at all possible), as well as in Geneva (the home of the UN General Assembly Human Rights Council), at the Hague (the home of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court), in Washington, DC, Paris, Berlin and possibly in other appropriate locations. It should receive the full cooperation of the Israeli government and its armed forces.
The commission should explore the facts surrounding the shooting of rockets and other missiles indiscriminately into civilian areas; the placement of rocket launchers within civilian neighborhoods, homes and garages; and the relationship between Hamas and the UN, which allowed for the storage of rockets and live ammunition in its schools, and then for their return to Hamas in time to continue its wanton attacks. The commission should also examine the tunnel complex leading to civilian settlements and neighborhoods inside Israel and determine what actions were planned.
In the end, the commission should issue a detailed report on the extent to which Hamas observed or violated international humanitarian and human rights standards.
The commission should also examine the conduct of the Israeli forces in Gaza and whether the measures taken to avoid or minimize civilian casualties were sufficient and effective. It should issue a detailed report on the extent to which Israel observed or violated international humanitarian and human rights standards.
The effect of the commission’s work and the influence of its conclusions will by directly related to the credibility it earns for the thoroughness, objectivity and independence of its work.
It seems inevitable that those interested in the truth will examine and compare the work of both commissions. This possibility of comparison will have a prophylactic effect on the institutional prejudice of the UN commission.
The existence of two commission reports will force the international media to examine carefully and critically the conclusions of both. It will force the world to focus on fact and proof and not just on summary conclusions easily contrived.
The independent commission will have a dramatic influence on the crucial universe of individuals who are open to rational persuasion. These are the leaders and the mainspring for Western opinion. This is the only real audience receptive to reason, and the best possible audience if we are to win the battle of public understanding in the key countries. And this may be the most important battle of them all.
The author is an attorney in Israel and the US, and is the Founding President of the Institute for Zionist Strategies.