Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid stands in a house damaged by a rocket, fired by Palestinian militants, that landed in the southern town of Sderot.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The latest report by B’Tselem on Operation Protective Edge which was published this week and titled “Whitewash Protocol” isn’t a real report. It’s incitement. It’s a biased opinion piece by a radical-left-wing organization which has no problem lying to achieve its goals.
The lies hit the reader from the opening lines in which the report determines unequivocally that 63% of those killed in the operation were innocent civilians with no connection to Hamas. The IDF’s number, which come from an in-depth investigation, is almost the reverse – 36%. Even Israel’s harshest critics admit that Hamas inflated the numbers to serve its propaganda.
If anyone needs proof that the IDF doesn’t fire indiscriminately, they should look at B’Tselem’s own numbers. They’ll discover that the number of men of fighting age who were killed during the operation (aside from the 810 that even B’Tselem admits were terrorists) is five times greater than the number of women. If the IDF had fired indiscriminately then the ratio should have been close to 50-50, but hey, why let the facts ruin good hateful propaganda?
The simple truth is that B’Tselem doesn’t have the tools, or any real way, to know who among those killed was a terrorist and who wasn’t, but the NGO instinctively prefers to adopt Hamas’s position. It prefers an Islamic terrorist organization with utter contempt for the truth over the official position of a democratic and law-abiding state which conducts meticulous investigations. The staff at B’Tselem didn’t even bother to highlight that there are differences of opinion on the matter. They just copied Hamas’s position into their report and then – like always – translated those lies into English and circulated them around the world.
The facts are the exact opposite. As someone who was a member of the security cabinet during Operation Protective Edge I remember the frustration felt by some members of the cabinet in the face of legal limitations which were placed on IDF operations: the missions which were aborted because of a fear of harming civilians, the opportunities we missed because drone operators saw women and children in the field, the visual evidence that Hamas was firing at our soldiers from within hospitals, kindergartens and schools.
I have a public disagreement with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the nature of our preparation for Operation Protective Edge, but his insistence that the IDF operate in complete accordance with international law is praiseworthy.
We spent countless hours in discussions on avoiding harm to innocent civilians. Sadly, it didn’t always help. Combat in densely populated urban areas causes civilian casualties. That’s true everywhere in the world, sometimes even more so in Gaza due to the population density and Hamas’s reprehensible use of women and children as human shields. And still, the civilian causalities resulting from IDF operations in urban areas are low relative to those of other militaries, including Western ones.
None of this interests B’Tselem. It just throws around accusations without seeking to prove them. For example, it writes at length about the IDF’s attacks on residential buildings in Gaza even though the NGO’s staff knows (or is supposed to know) that there is no immunity under international law for residential buildings which are being used for military purposes. They ignore the fact that the IDF is the only army in the world which regularly phones ahead to warn civilians before attacking, and strangely claim there is a concern that many residents in Gaza don’t understand the “knock on the roof” protocol (a warning shot that follows the phone call in order to make sure the civilians left the building). After Operation Pillar of Defense, Operation Cast Lead, Operation Protective Edge and dozens of smaller security incidents in the past decade, the likelihood that even one person in Gaza still doesn’t understand the “knock on the roof” protocol is identical to the likelihood that B’Tselem doesn’t know that its claim distorts the truth.
Regarding the investigations by the Military Advocate-General Corps, B’Tselem writes, “A review of the updates issued by the MAG Corps, including the reasons provided by the MAG, indicates that even the investigations that are carried out fail to get at the truth or contribute to accountability.”
This sounds serious until you remember that B’Tselem, as it proudly writes in the report, unilaterally cut all connection with the Military Advocate-General Corps. According to its own report the decision to cut contact means the NGO doesn’t know how many teams were created in the MAG Corps, what the timetable was for investigations, what authority they were given and what resources were allocated to the issue.
Let’s be honest – that’s a significant number of gaps in knowledge for an organization which claims expertise in investigations. In fact, the only significance of the investigation to which it refers is that its people read the MAG Corps press releases on the Internet and decided they don’t like them. Why? Because for them the IDF is always the bad guy. Of course, if the IDF wasn’t the bad guy their donations (including those from Palestinian organizations) would dry up and B’Tselem would close.
The IDF acted differently. At the beginning of Operation Protective Edge the Military advocate for operational matters, Lt.-Col. Ronen Hirsch, approached B’Tselem and asked it to forward any information it receives about breaches of human rights in Gaza. B’Tselem disdainfully rejected his request because it doesn’t believe in the IDF.
There is no limit to this lack of belief. For example, B’Tselem write at length about the fact that of 24 complaints of looting only one led to conviction. B’Tselem sees that as proof that the MAG is “whitewashing.” Not only does it not have a shred of evidence to support its claim, it entirely ignores two possibilities:
a) That the Palestinians put forward false claims as part of their propaganda campaign (and in an attempt to extract compensation); and
b) That IDF soldiers who entered Gaza didn’t engage in looting.
Once again, the people at B’Tselem have no way of knowing, but that doesn’t stop them automatically assuming that the military advocate- general is engaged in clearing IDF soldiers of war crimes. This is the same military advocate-general who is currently prosecuting Sgt. Elor Azaria, who prosecuted soldiers and officers for opening fire when it wasn’t justified, who is regularly criticized for being too strict on those serving in the field. The military advocate-general is under the direct command of the chief of staff who told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that he won’t allow the IDF to operate with a “gang mentality.”
And again, B’Tselem has no doubt whom it believes. Its identification with the Hamas narrative is so total that it’s difficult to overlook the fact that the CEO of the organization, Hagai El-Ad, refuses to call Hamas a terrorist organization. The fact that the United States, Canada and the European Union define Hamas as a terrorist organization clearly doesn’t convince Mr. El-Ad. Neither is he convinced by the Hamas Charter explicitly calling for the annihilation of Israel, labeling the Jewish people “Nazis” and endorsing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or by Hamas leaders denying the Holocaust. He is unmoved by Hamas’s persecution of the LGBT community and abuse of women who are considered property of their husbands. When considering that the previous spokesperson of B’Tselem called Israel a “Nazi state” and one of its central researches was videotaped denying the Holocaust, it’s hard to be surprised by the new B’Tselem report.
B’Tselem will do what it always does and try to use this report to delegitimize Israel in the international community and strengthen those who wish to see Israel disappear. That’s why it’s up to each of us to expose it for what it really is, cheap anti-Israel propaganda.
Yesh Atid MK Yair Lapid was a member of the security cabinet during Operation Protective Edge and today serves on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Subcommittee on Intelligence and the Security Services.