By AHARON LESHNO YA'AREdited from the speech given by Israel's ambassador to the UN before the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.
Five years ago, in a remarkable gesture of peace, Israel removed every one of its soldiers and over 8,000 civilians from the Gaza Strip. And the states of the Human Rights Council (HRC), applauded this unprecedented measure. They told us in no uncertain terms that in the nightmare scenario that terror would take root, they would back us in our inherent right to self-defense.
Five years later, the greenhouses we left behind had been ransacked by Hamas, over 8,000 rockets and mortars had been fired on schools and kindergartens in Sderot and other Israeli towns, and an unceasing supply of weaponry was smuggled through tunnels into Gaza from terror-sponsoring states like Iran.
Israel's urgent appeals to the international community were to no avail, and our attempts to extend a fragile cease-fire were met with new, increased barrages of missiles from Hamas. All the while the range of the attacks was increasing. Now Ashkelon and Beersheba were within reach. One million Israelis had to live within seconds of a bomb shelter.
The decision to launch a military operation is never easy. It is even more challenging when we have to face an enemy that intentionally deploys its forces in densely populated areas and launches rockets from crowded school yards and mosques. These are new and horrendous challenges, and we sought to deal with them responsibly and humanely. Yet when we dropped millions of leaflets and made thousands of phone calls to warn civilians in advance of operations, we were witness to the callous and deliberate Hamas tactic of sending women and children onto the rooftops of terrorist headquarters and weapons factories. In such cases, missions were aborted, letting the terrorists escape. Israel protected Palestinian civilians that Hamas had put at risk.
IN GRAPPLING with these dilemmas we sought the guidance of other states. We may not have all the right answers but we struggle to ask the right questions. And in discussions between officials charged with securing the lives of their civilians we hear genuine admiration for our restraint. For example, when Colonel Richard Kemp was asked about Israel's conduct in Gaza, he replied: "I don't think there has ever been a time in the history of warfare when any army has made more efforts to reduce civilian casualties and deaths of innocent people than the IDF in Gaza."
In complex urban warfare, though, civilian casualties are tragically inevitable. There also may have been incidents in which soldiers did not always maintain the standards that we expected of them. The true test of a genuine democracy is how it deals with such cases. Following the Gaza Operation, Israel has opened over 100 separate investigations into operational questions, like damage to UN centers and medical facilities, as well as specific allegations of misconduct. Of these investigations, 23 have already resulted in criminal proceedings. And this process continues.
Israel struggles to deal with these tough questions, raised by terrorists acting within civilian centers.
But these questions seem to not occupy the authors of the shameful report which was presented to the HRC.
Like many other states, we could not support a resolution which only addressed one side of the conflict, and which established four separate mechanisms to condemn Israel and not even one to examine Hamas.
Like many of the distinguished individuals who rejected invitations to head the fact-finding mission with its one-sided mandate, we objected to a mission which, in the words of Mary Robinson, was "guided by politics, not human rights."
While Israel has cooperated with dozens of inquiries and investigations from international organizations into the events in Gaza, it refused to cooperate with this Mission. And the report presented Tuesday justifies that decision.
This is a report in which the right of self-defense is not mentioned, in which the smuggling of weapons into Gaza through hundreds of tunnels deserves not a word.
A report based on pre-screened Palestinian witnesses, not one of whom was asked about Hamas terrorist activity or the abuse of civilians, hospitals and mosques for terrorist attacks.
A report which gives credibility to every allegation or hearsay against Israel, and none to even direct admissions of guilt by Hamas leaders
AS JUSTICE Goldstone revealed in an open correspondence: "We did not deal with the problems of conducting military operations in civilian areas. We avoided having to do so in the incidents we decided to investigate."
The authors of this "Fact-finding Mission" had little concern with finding facts. The report was instigated as part of a political campaign, and it represents a political assault directed against Israel and against every state forced to confront terrorist threats. Its recommendations are fully in line with its one-sided agenda.
Unlike the Hamas terrorists who rejoice with every civilian death, Israel regards every civilian casualty as a tragedy and is committed to fully examining every allegation of wrongdoing, not because of this report, but despite it.
For let there be no doubt - this report will do nothing to ease the lives of those in Sderot and Gaza City, Kiryat Shmona and Jenin. In providing support and vindication for terrorist tactics, it is a betrayal of Israelis and moderate Palestinians alike.
Regrettably the report, claiming to represent international law but in fact perverting it to serve a political agenda, can only weaken its standing in future conflicts. It broadcasts a troubling - and legally unfounded - message to states everywhere confronting terrorist threats, that international law has no effective response to offer them, and so serves to undermine willingness to comply with its provisions. At the same time, it signals an even more troubling message to terrorist groups that the cynical tactics of seeking to exploit civilian suffering for political ends actually pays dividends.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we want to find a way to live in peace with our neighbors. This is the ultimate question that Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the General Assembly last week: "The same UN that cheered Israel as it left Gaza and promised to back our right of self-defense now accuses us ... of war crimes? And for what? For acting responsibly in self-defense? [...] Israel justly defended itself against terror. This biased and unjust report is a clear-cut test for all governments. Will you stand with Israel or will you stand with the terrorists? Because if Israel is again asked to take more risks for peace, we must know today that you will stand with us tomorrow. Only if we have the confidence that we can defend ourselves can we take further risks for peace."
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