“Our overall findings are that during Operation Protective Edge last summer … Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.”
That was the conclusion reached by the High Level International Military Group report submitted last week to the UN Human Rights Council. According to the report, this inquiry was unprecedented, and so was the access granted to IDF personal and information.
This group, made up of former chiefs of staff, generals and senior officers from the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom, among others, was intently focused on one of the most pressing issues surrounding modern armed conflict: “How civilian lives can be protected and military forces can fight effectively … in a densely packed civilian area.”
This challenge haunts not only Israel, but all Western democracies. Today, these nations face asymmetric armed conflicts where armies no longer fight armies, but must rather contend with paramilitary organizations that exploit international laws of war for their advantage. This yet unresolved challenge is a cause of severe headache for many statesmen and generals.
Contrary to the anti-Israel rhyme heard all over the world, these 11 experts appeared to be concerned that Israel was in fact going “beyond the required legal principles of proportionality.”
Though not saying so explicitly, they feared that Israel’s extraordinary efforts to avoid civilian casualties represented too high a standard, and would therefore hinder effective military action.
Rather than condemn Israel for alleged war crimes, this group seemed to be saying quite the opposite. Because of its fear of condemnation, Israel becomes an example of ineffective military operations that can have dire consequences not only for Israel, but for any other Western country fighting terror.
Though Israelis have long known it to be true, the conclusion that the Gaza campaign “was a legitimate war” carries extra weight coming from an independent international commission of inquiry.
It confirms the fact that “Hamas’s rocket attacks deliberately and indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilian population.”
It reiterates that “Hamas launched attacks against Israel from the heart of its own civilian communities in Gaza and positioned its munitions and military forces there also, including in schools, hospitals and mosques.”
These experts also arrived to the conclusion that “in general Israeli forces acted proportionately as required by the laws of armed conflict and often went beyond the required legal principles of proportionality, necessity and discrimination.”
And finally, just like the Israelis, this fact-finding commission is also concerned that “the measures taken [to avoid civilian casualties] were often far in excess of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions. They sometimes placed Israeli lives at risk. To an extent these steps also undermined the effectiveness of the IDF’s operations by pausing military action and thus allowing Hamas to re-group and replenish.”
This report is a ray of light trying to penetrate the thick prejudice encapsulating the UN. Based on past experience, however, it is unlikely that such reports will make so much as a dent in the world’s blatantly anti-Israel attitude.