This week’s publication of the UN Human Rights Watch report on last year’s Gaza war made the expected splash.
Reporting on the findings of this “independent commission of inquiry,” most Israeli journalists and specialists concluded that it wasn’t as bad as the 2009 Goldstone Report that had likewise accused Israel of war crimes. They also complained about equating Israel with Hamas and about predetermined conclusions, but none of what I heard in the Israeli media touched on the amateurish and deeply biased nature of the report, which can now be used as evidence in courts of law.
The report refers to the “State of Palestine” time and again, even though no such state exists. Hamas is never referred to as terror organization, despite the fact that the US, EU, UK, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand formally regard at least the military wing of Hamas as a terror group. The report doesn’t even use terms like “insurgents” or “militants,” but rather “Palestinian armed groups.” By choosing this term the commission is effectively recognizing Hamas as legitimate.
Denied the cooperation of both Israel and Egypt, the commission based its report on 500 written submission from unspecified sources. The commission also “obtained first-hand testimony by means of interviews conducted via Skype, videoconference and telephone.” In other words, the commission collected unverified testimonies from people whose reliability can’t be verified.
When the report does speak of Hamas war crimes, it does so reluctantly, as if these were the unintentional results of primitive ammunition. “The use of rockets in the possession of Palestinian armed groups,” says the report, was “indiscriminate in nature,” which is why hits on civilian areas “may amount to a war crime.” The report also makes it very clear that “the majority of projectiles fired by Palestinian armed groups were rockets without guidance systems so they could not be directed at specific military objectives.”
Though there is abundant verified evidence that Hamas used schools, hospitals, mosques and residential houses for military purposes, the report excuses Hamas by saying that “the obligation to avoid locating military objectives within densely populated areas is not absolute. The small size of Gaza and its population density make it difficult for armed groups to always comply with this requirement.”
This is probably why whenever there is an indication of a Hamas war crime, it is framed as allegation. So, for example, the commission can’t verify if a building hit by Israel was used for military purposes.
The report concludes that the use of civilian facilities for military purposes amounts to allegation: “Palestinian armed groups allegedly often operated from densely populated neighbourhoods, including by firing rockets, mortars and other weapons from built-up areas. In addition, they were alleged to have frequently placed command and control centres [sic] and firing positions in residential buildings and to have stockpiled weapons and located tunnel entrances in prima facie civilian buildings.”
The commission could have easily verified these “allegations” simply by watching YouTube.
When it comes to Israel, however, the report avoids the qualifying label “allegation,” thus giving the impression that, unlike alleged Hamas war crimes, Israeli war crimes are very real. It even suggests that Israel targeted civilians intentionally.
“The large number of targeted attacks against residential buildings,” says the report, “raise concern that the strikes” were “approved at least tacitly by decision-makers at the highest levels of the Government of Israel.” In lieu of the lack of evidence, the report resorts to psychology and the subconscious.
There is much more to say about this unworthy report, including the absence of a proper definition of proportionality, and the insinuations throughout that Hamas’ violence should be blamed on “occupation.” Ultimately, the report was noting more than one more political tool in the global war to delegitimize Israel.