Israel signaled this week that it would not cooperate with the Schabas Committee that the UN Human Rights Council has appointed to investigate alleged war crimes committed during Operation Protective Edge.
The probe is being led by Canadian international law expert William Schabas, who is well-known for his harsh criticism of Israel. The Schabas Committee has been tasked with identifying those responsible for “violations of international humanitarian law” and holding them accountable. It is due to deliver its report to the UNHRC by March next year.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was justifiably scathing in his response to the appointment of Schabas, saying his panel had “nothing to look for” in Israel.
“The UN Human Rights Council gives legitimacy to murderous terrorist organizations such as Hamas and ISIS,” Netanyahu said after meeting with New York Gov.
Andrew Cuomo in Jerusalem on Wednesday. “Instead of inquiring into Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians and its use of the residents of Gaza as human shields and instead of inquiring into the massacres that [President Bashar] Assad is perpetrating against the Syrian people or that ISIS is perpetrating against the Kurds, the UN has decided to come and check Israel – the only democracy in the Middle East, a democracy which is acting legitimately to defend its citizens against murderous terrorism.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman went further than Netanyahu, saying Jerusalem should not allow Schabas to step foot inside the country. Saying “Israel should not cooperate with the committee,” Liberman added: “We must deal with them, but not cooperate or give legitimization to haters of Israel.”
Israeli officials noted that at a hearing of the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in 2012, Schabas was filmed saying that of all the leaders he would like to bring to the dock of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, his first choice would be Netanyahu. Surely this comment alone requires him to recuse himself.
One of the two people the UNHRC appointed to the committee together with Schabas did notably recuse herself.
Amal Alamuddin, a London-based, British-Lebanese lawyer who happens to be actor George Clooney’s fiancée, gave work commitments as her reason for pulling out. The third panelist is Senegalese legal expert Doudou Diène, who was the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. We can only hope that his definition of intolerance includes terrorism.
The Schabas Committee follows its infamous predecessor, the Goldstone Committee, which accused Israel of committing war crimes during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead offensive against Hamas into the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009. According to UN Watch, Schabas once lauded the Goldstone Report, saying that its primary author, South African jurist Richard Goldstone – who later distanced himself from its unbalanced findings – should be “on next year’s Nobel short list.”
Here in Israel, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira announced that he too would open a probe into the decision- making process at the military and political levels during Operation Protective Edge. Shapira said his decision was the result of claims that the State of Israel had violated international law in the Gaza Strip.
We welcome the internal inquiry into the conduct of the government and the IDF during the conflict. It can only lead to improvements within what is the region’s most moral army. It is clear that the IDF did its best to avoid civilian casualties in its attacks on terrorist targets in Gaza. But if it turns out that the army was remiss in its actions that led to unnecessary deaths, it is imperative that lessons be learned and responsibility be assigned.
At the same time as Israel was trying to target terrorists without harming civilians, Hamas did its best to kill Israeli civilians, while using Palestinian civilians as human shields when it fired its rockets and mortars at Israel. Still, in interviews following his appointment, Schabas, while stridently denied that he was “anti-Israeli,” declined to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization.
It’s not an encouraging sign from the head of a probe that is meant to be stand on the side of morality and justice.
Perhaps those qualities will emerge in Schabas sooner rather than later (as was the case with Goldstone), and his investigation will ascertain that there really is no moral equivalence between the aims of Israel and Hamas.