The Schabas Commission – Hear our voices

The commission claims that it has been trying to collect the testimony of Israelis, too, but that the Israeli government has blocked access.

Scene of rocket attack in Ashkelon (photo credit: ASHKELON MUNICIPALITY)
Scene of rocket attack in Ashkelon
On December 29, the Palestine Center for Human Rights – Gaza forwarded to its list-serve a press release in English and Arabic, soliciting testimony for the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. The commission, headed by Canadian law professor William Schabas, has been collecting Palestinian testimony about Gazans hurt in the conflict for months now. The deadline for submission of testimony is January 31, 2015. The commission claims that it has been trying to collect the testimony of Israelis, too, but that the Israeli government has blocked access.
Nonetheless, the commission says it is “in the process of interviewing a wide spectrum of witnesses and victims in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory using technology to overcome the physical distance.”
The jaundiced Goldstone Report – produced by a similar commission investigating the 2008 round of the Gaza conflict (Operation Cast Lead) – lends justification to the government’s decision to shun the Schabas Commission.
The Israeli government also refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission, believing that – no matter what the evidence truly showed – the commissioners would produce a report incorrigibly biased against Israel, based upon foregone conclusions. The commission did not disappoint.
After receiving the information from a follow-up investigation, Judge Goldstone himself retracted central accusations of the initial report, announcing in The Washington Post: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
Judge Goldstone followed up with a New York Times op-ed, adding that “The charge that Israel is an apartheid state is a false and malicious one that precludes, rather than promotes, peace and harmony.”
The stated mandate of Schabas’s commission is: “To investigate all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after.”
It is not clear whether this tasks the commission with investigating violations which originate in “occupied territory” (like Hamas missiles landing in Sderot, Beersheba, Ashdod and Ashkelon, or fired from hospitals) or violations that affect only people living in “occupied territory” (which might preclude people targeted and hurt in west Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or other major Israeli cities). However, if the commission is to conduct a meaningful assessment of the violations in the context of the war, it should clearly be looking at both. Post-war investigations are not victimhood competitions, but any commission tasked with such investigations must be exposed to the evidence that the Palestinians have no monopoly on suffering – and the PA and Hamas have calculatedly caused plenty of misery to both Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis, alike.
Per the UN Commissioners’ press release requesting submissions of testimony: “The Commissioners wish to make it clear that they interpret this mandate to include investigations of the activities of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including attacks on Israel as well as the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip and Israeli actions in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. The Commission of Inquiry is looking at a broad range of alleged violations committed by all parties, and is considering the full range of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.”
However, a close read of the commission’s website indicates an initial bias vis-à- vis the suffering in this round, as well.
This predisposition is discernible in the commissioners’ explicit interpretation of their mission, inter alia, to investigate (only) Israeli actions in the West Bank and east Jerusalem (while apparently ignoring Hamas activity there). Also, although the solicitation of testimony is available in English, Arabic and Hebrew on the site, the press release publicizing the solicitation apparently didn’t make it to the Israeli media and is available on the commissioner’s site only in English and Arabic (indicated by the letters “E” and “A”). While Hebrew is not an official language of the UN, it is curious that the commission would translate its solicitation of testimony to Hebrew but not the announcement ostensibly meant to inform Israelis of its existence.
The commission’s anti-Israel prejudice is no surprise, though. Professor Schabas is on record naming Benjamin Netanyahu his “favorite” to indict at the International Criminal Court, supposedly “echoing” the initial Goldstone Report – even though Netanyahu was not Israel’s prime minister during Operation Cast Lead and was never mentioned in the Goldstone Report.
In addition, testimony will be accepted only in Hebrew, Arabic and UN official languages. On the surface that constraint would seem reasonable; however, it effectively ignores and hobbles many elderly Jews – who still speak chiefly Amharic, Yiddish, etc. and escaped anti-Semitic persecution in their countries of immediate origin to eventually find themselves subjected to rocket attack here.
The restriction also discourages Thai and Filipino caregivers, African migrants and many others traumatized here by Palestinian- sourced violence from submitting testimony.
One suspects that a commission led by Professor Schabas – who has slandered Israel as being an “apartheid state” – might simply be oblivious to the true diversity of the populations here adversely impacted by Hamas’s rockets and other violence fomented via Palestinian incitement this past summer.
The commission should not be handed a “pass” on its lopsided solicitation and consideration of victim testimony.
Some Israelis have discovered the solicitation and – with the help of organizations like the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists – succeeded in submitting testimony to the commission.
Private citizens have recently put up a website, (currently in English, Hebrew and Russian) to provide more information about submitting testimony. Unless the commission is presented with a representative volume of gripping first-hand testimony by those in Israel who were impacted by the Palestinian violations of international law this summer, there is nary a chance that the Commission can be true to its ostensible mission – much less held accountable to it.
Even if, like the initial Goldstone Report, the conclusions of this “Commission of Inquiry” are a foregone conclusion, all Israelis should be able to have their voices be heard.
The writer practiced law and provided financial services in Boston, Massachusetts. He has served in leadership roles for a variety of Jewish communal organizations and is an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. He is currently a member of the Israeli Bar, provides advice on US-based insurance and lives in Efrat.