Preempting ‘Goldstone II’

Detailed analyses of Protective Edge published by the Israel government, as well as a number of independent groups, hope to counter a biased UNHRC report.

J.R.Goldstone (photo credit: DENIS BALIBOUSE / REUTERS)
OVER THE past 13 years, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and its predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights, have established seven commissions of inquiry related to the Arab-Israeli conflict – far more than in any other dispute anywhere across the globe.
All were mandated to investigate alleged Israeli wrongdoing. None has investigated terrorist groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah, or their state supporters. And each of the reports – most notably the 2009 Goldstone report on Gaza – was characterized by bias, inaccuracy, lack of military expertise, secrecy, legal distortions and the absence of fact-finding methodology.
The newest “investigation” was initiated on July 23, 2014, in the midst of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, as 4,560 rockets and missiles were being fired from Gaza at Israel’s civilian population.
The UN resolution “deplore[d] Israeli military operations” but not Hamas’s attacks on civilians, and accused Israel, but not Hamas, of “gross violations” of international law. The objective, as in all the previous rounds, was to provide the basis for further attacks on and demonization of Israel, particularly in the International Criminal Court.
Last August, William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law, was appointed to chair the Commission of Inquiry (COI), despite or, more likely, in recognition of his long history of anti-Israel activism. But on February 2, Schabas resigned following exposure of his previous employment by the PLO, while claiming that the COI had “largely completed the task of gathering material” and begun drafting its report. Former New York Supreme Court Judge Mary McGowan Davis, already a member of the commission, took over. Unlike Schabas, McGowan Davis does not have a record of Israel-bashing. But she agreed to work under Schabas and inherited his biased mandate, staff and process.
At a press briefing on the publication of her report on June 22, to be debated at the UNHRC on June 29, McGowan Davis said that there was evidence to suggest that both Israel and “Palestinian armed groups” may have committed war crimes.
The report followed the usual pattern. Again, we received a litany of “testimonies,” amounting to false or unverified allegations against Israel, permeated with fundamental ignorance of military operations in a densely populated urban area.
Instead of presenting the background to the fighting, including the earlier kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens – Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah and Hamas rocketing of Israeli civilian targets – the commission’s mandate sets June 13 as the starting point, as if the Israeli operation came out of the blue. And, as in the past, the text uncritically parrots allegations from anti- Israel NGOs and largely reflects the Hamas narrative.
The UNHRC, whose agenda and appointments reflect the dominance of the Islamic bloc, will again accuse Israel of intentionally killing civilians and committing war crimes, diluted by token acknowledgement of “some” Hamas violations to provide a façade of balance.
The report also fails to acknowledge that Hamas is a terrorist organization and that its rocket attacks triggered this and previous wars.
FOR ALL of these reasons, the government of Israel has refused to cooperate with the inquiry to avoid giving it any semblance of legitimacy. The same policy was first adopted in 2002, when the UN created a commission to investigate allegations of a Jenin “massacre,” during Operation Defensive Shield. In that case, and in every one that followed, the mandate, the commission members and the UN machinery that produced the texts were blatantly biased – suicide bombing and mass terror were not on the agenda.
The Israeli policy of non-cooperation proved successful, particularly when the credibility of the Goldstone report on Gaza unraveled, and many of the “war crimes” allegations, copied from NGOs such as Amnesty and B’Tselem, were clearly shown to be unfounded.
Goldstone acknowledged this and the report quickly lost its standing. This might not have occurred had Israel given the commission credibility by cooperating with it.
However, by refusing to cooperate, the information Israel possessed to disprove the allegations was largely invisible. In late 2009, the government changed course and issued a detailed report on Operation Cast Lead, but only after Goldstone’s report had been published along with a wave of defamatory headlines in the media. By the time the Israeli version became available, the damage had already been done.
This time, the Israeli government, as well as a number of independent groups, preempted the latest round of political warfare and demonization by publishing detailed analyses of Protective Edge before the Schabas/McGowen Davis report sets the agenda.
These highly professional and detailed reports will be readily comparable with the UN product when it is published. To the degree that, once again, the UN report consists primarily of unverifiable “testimonies” from Palestinians, NGO allegations and journalistic accounts from the very same sources, the difference in quality and credibility will be immediately apparent.
Government officials, particularly in Europe, and journalists who take the time to read all the reports will have options.
The non-governmental groups that published reports include NGO Monitor and UN Watch (together), the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a “High Level International Military Group,” whose members included Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, Major General Jim Molan, former chief of operations in Iraq and commander of the Australian Defense College, and General Klaus Naumann, former German chief of staff and NATO military committee chairman. These detailed documents, which reflect far more expertise and professionalism than any of the previous UN publications, were also formally submitted to the McGowen Davis commission.
While each report covers a somewhat different set of issues, they all provide an account of what the UNHRC, dominated by the 55-nation Islamic bloc and chronic human rights violators such as Russia, China, and Venezuela, persistently ignores – the terror war against Israel and Hamas activities that violate international norms and law.
The NGO Monitor/UN Watch publication provides an independent examination of allegations by NGOs such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, Physicians for Human Rights – Israel and B’Tselem, including their uncritical repetition of Palestinian casualty claims without independent verification. This document also traces the development of the rocket industry in Gaza, the sources of materials and components (not surprisingly, Iran is a significant supplier) and the external financing of Hamas, via Qatar in particular.
THE OTHER reports provide an independent chronology leading up to the 2014 war, including the kidnapping and the initial steady pounding of rocket attacks from Gaza. In addition, these publications examine Israel’s adherence to the requirements of international law, delineate the war crimes committed by Hamas, and present detailed evidence regarding violations of human rights by Hamas within Gaza.
These reports, each from different angles and consisting of hundreds of pages of details and illustrations, reflect the complexity of the situation in Gaza, in sharp contrast to many simplistic UN, NGO and media accounts in which Palestinians are portrayed solely as victims and Israel as the aggressor.
One key point of contention concerns civilian casualty claims during the conflict.
In previous UN publications, including the discredited Goldstone report, Israel was accused of intentionally killing hundreds of Palestinian civilians – thereby providing a basis for war crimes charges.
But the evidence was all provided by Hamas-based sources and simply repeated without question.
In the 2014 conflict, this campaign was replicated: Israel was accused of killing 1,500 civilians, including hundreds of children. But, according to the Israeli government report, of the “2,125 Palestinians killed during the war, 936, or 44 percent” were clearly combatants and the activities of another 428 military-age males could not be determined. Compared to Iraq, Afghanistan and other similar conflicts, the percentage of civilian casualties in Gaza was remarkably low, demonstrating the effectiveness of Israeli efforts to avoid them.
While all this preemptive activity does not guarantee a different outcome this time, a strong basis for challenging the UN report and the accompanying narrative has been created. If the Schabas/ McGowan Davis document ignores all the evidence and dimensions in these publications, it will lack credibility and be subject to counterattack.
And if these issues are included in the final report, the Palestinian demonization campaign at the International Criminal Court and other venues will become that much more difficult.
Gerald M. Steinberg, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, is the president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem- based group that monitors the Israel-related work of NGOs worldwide