Israelis testify in Geneva before UNHRC's Schabas commission on Gaza

The government of Israel has refused to cooperate with the three-member panel, headed by Canadian legal expert William Schabas.

The United Nations in Geneva  (photo credit: REUTERS)
The United Nations in Geneva
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Gadi Yarkoni lost both his legs and two of his friends during a severe rocket attack on Kibbutz Nirim, just one hour before a cease-fire ended last summer’s Gaza war on August 26.
As Yarkoni lay bleeding on the ground, an additional rocket and a mortar barrage sent the medics treating him scurrying for safety.
The medics threw a flak jacket on him to protect him, because there was no way to safely evacuate him until the attack stopped.
“I was awake during the whole event,” Yarkoni told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday, as he repeated some of the testimony he gave to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry on Gaza last week in Geneva.
The government of Israel has refused to cooperate with the three-member panel, headed by Canadian legal expert William Schabas.
It has charged that the panel is biased and the equivalent of a kangaroo court, because it holds that its mandate is slanted against Israel. In addition, Schabas has already said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be brought before the International Criminal Court.
Israel has denied the panel entry into Gaza and the West Bank. It has held hearings in Geneva either in person or via Skype. On Sunday, the commission arrived in Jordan to hear additional testimony.
The commission has solicited testimony from Israelis.
Among those who have responded is the Tel Aviv-based International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists.
Ronit Gidron-Zemach, the association’s director, said she has been working with the commission for months and provided it with testimony from some 22 people about the impact of living under rocket fire in the South.
In December, the association arranged for Gila and Doron Tragerman to testify via Skype about their son, Daniel, 4, who was killed when a mortar round struck Kibbutz Nahal Oz toward the war’s end in August.
Last week, the association brought seven people to Geneva including Yarkoni and Eshkol Regional Council head Haim Yellin to testify in person before the panel.
Yarkoni said it is important for Israeli citizens to give the commission firsthand details of 14 years of ceaseless suffering under rocket attacks.
“I told them the IDF is the most humane army in the world,” Yarkoni said. “You will not find another army that notifies citizens before bombing an area.”
The 47-year-old spoke to the commission as someone who was born and plans to die on Kibbutz Nirim, which is close to the Gaza border. He recalled for them a time when Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis were able to interact and even helped each other with their farms.
As the father of three children aged 16, 12, and 10, Yarkoni described his children’s fear of the rockets from above and their even more terrifying nightmare of Hamas terrorists emerging suddenly from underground tunnels.
“It was very important to explain the fear,” Yarkoni said.
As the head of the kibbutz, he described the dangers of farming under rocket fire and what it was like to send people to farm knowing they could be killed.
Finally, they told them of the last day of the war when a rocket took out the kibbutz’s electricity.
In the late afternoon, he, along with the kibbutz’s chief security officer, Zeevik Etzion, and former security officer Shahar Melamed stood outside to help a team from the electricity company repair the damage.
A warning siren brought the work to halt. Within seconds, before they could run for safety, a rocket landed near them, immediately killing Etzion. Melamed died later in surgery.
“I flew in the air,” recalled Etzion.
He survived, but lost both his legs.
Gidron-Zemach said she focused on providing the commission with testimonies from the South, but ended up inadvertently talking with them about the wider level of trauma and fear from the war that spread as far as Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
She told them of how she had been in the water at a Tel Aviv beach with her two boys, ages 4 and 6, when a warning siren went off.
“The alarm caught us by surprise.
I grabbed my two boys and ran for shelter,” Gidron-Zemach said, but her older son was traumatized. He refused to go to summer camp, she said.
She was impressed by how receptive the commission was to the information they provided and how knowledgeable they were.
“I am not naive to think that they would shift their decisions, because the mandate is political.
But I am hoping it will be difficult to disregard the people that sat in front of them,” Gidron-Zemach said.
The commission is examining the activity that occurred in the West Bank, east Jerusalem, and Gaza from June 13 until the end of Operation Protective Edge in August.
It is due to submit its report to the UNHRC in March. It assumed that the Palestinians will use the document should they sue Israel for war crimes in Gaza before the ICC.