Commentary

Israel Tries to Preempt Critical UN Report

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Representatives from 47 member-states of the United Nations Human Rights Council are meeting this week in Geneva, Switzerland to discuss, among other things, a UN report dealing with Israel’s 2014 incursion into the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials are trying to preempt any criticism by releasing their own report into last year’s carnage, as well as going on a well-coordinated PR offensive. Even though it is unlikely Israel will escape unscathed from the UNHRC report, the Israeli government does seem to have avoided being included in another UN report containing a list of the worst offender of children rights in armed conflicts. Judging from the editorials in some of the regional dailies, that omission has provoked outrage among Israel’s critics who see it as a sign of the UN’s buckling under U.S. and Israeli pressure.

The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon reports that, not wanting to leave anything to chance, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “went on the offensive Monday, trying to delegitimize the delegitimizers....he said, the council first appointed as head of the Gaza investigation committee a man, William Schabas, who at one time received payment from the PLO. The ‘so-called investigation’ committee established by the UNHRC, Netanyahu said, pronounced Israel ‘guilty even before the examination began’....Netanyahu said Israel has the legitimate right, as well as the responsibility, to protect its people against terrorists committing a double war crime: firing indiscriminately at Israeli citizens from behind their own.”

The Israeli Ambassador to UNHRC also pushed back against the report, reflecting on what he believes was the UNHRC’s anti-Israeli bias, noting that unlike their enemy, “’Israel does not behead people. We use our heads to create innovation,’ Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva Eviatar Manor said on Monday as he delivered an unusual speech in defense of his country. The UNHRC has a growing obsessions with Israel, said Manor as he spoke on the first day of its 29th session, which will last for three weeks....The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in Geneva on Monday said that those who violated human rights against civilians in Gaza should be prosecuted....According to Israel 2,125 Palestinians were killed, of which 936 were combatants. The identities of another 428 has yet to be determined.”

Next in line was the Israeli Defense Minister, who justified Israel’s incursion into Gaza in terms of the effectiveness of the military action: “Ahead of the publication of a UN Human Rights Council commission report on last summer's war between Israel and Hamas, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon Monday defended the IDF's conduct. ‘The criticism on the results of the operation are not consistent with the situation on the ground,’ he said of the military's Operation Protective Edge against the Palestinian Islamist organization of Hamas....Ya'alon indicated that the latest IDF operation in Gaza had been more effective than prior Israeli offensives. ‘Hamas has had difficulty growing stronger in an intensified manner as it did after Operation Cast Lead and Operation Pillar of Defense,’ Ya'alon underlined.”

According to a Times of Israel report, in response to the anticipated criticism, Israeli government also brought together an international panel of military leaders who in a report presented to the UNHRC pushed against the narrative of an Israeli army gone targeting Palestinian civilians: “A multinational military group comprised of former chiefs of staff, generals and politicians submitted a report to the United Nations on Friday indicating that Israel went to great lengths to adhere to the laws of war and to protect Palestinian civilians during last summer’s 50-day war with Hamas in and around the Gaza Strip....The report was submitted to the official UN probe into Operation Protective Edge, the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry....While acknowledging that some Palestinian deaths were caused by some errors and misjudgements during the war, the panel said Hamas and other Gaza-based terror groups ‘as the aggressors and the users of human shields’ were responsible for ‘the overwhelming majority of deaths in Gaza this summer.’”

But for many in the region, as indicated by a Saudi Gazette editorial, the findings of the various Israeli sponsored military panels or investigations regarding the 2014 Gaza war were proof of Israel’s bias: “Israel usually fails to thoroughly investigate its military operations or prosecute soldiers for abuses. Israel says it does investigate its actions, although those inquiries rarely lead to criminal punishment. Israel never allows a third party to question its actions. It investigates itself, like a killer who puts himself on trial and after interrogating himself, finds himself innocent. Something which, of course, never happens, not even in the world of make-believe....The killing of the four boys on the beach was an incident so full of tragedy and high emotion that it should have knocked some sense into Israel and caused it to abandon its senseless, murderous onslaught on the Palestinians in Gaza. It did not.”

While the UNHRC report is expected to come out in the next couple of days, another UN report has been a cause of heated debate in the region. In particular, the exclusion of Israel from a UN ‘shame list’ of countries with a record of violations against children in armed conflicts has been seen as a sign of UN buckling under U.S. and Israeli pressure. For example, a Gulf Today editorial finds that “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's decision to exclude Israel from the list of countries that commit grave violations against children in armed conflict is highly disappointing....What adds to the surprise is that the decision was taken despite the fact that Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC), Leila Zerrougui, had recommended Israel’s inclusion in the list. The annual list is significant because it names and shames governments and insurgent groups that violate children’s rights in conflicts. According to children’s rights NGO, Defense for Children International Palestine, this is believed to be the first time the secretary-general has not accepted the recommendation of the SRSG-CAAC.”

Considering the aberrant nature of this omission, an Oman Tribune editorial suggested that Israel’s absence from the list pointed to UN Secretary General’s dependence on the United States and the need for UN reform: “The entire world is aware that Ban Ki-moon is an American stooge. That is why the United States strongly batted for him during the search for a successor to Kofi Annan. The biggest proof of his servility to the Americans is his failure to include Israel in the latest United Nations’ ‘List of Shame’ of children’s rights violators for the mass murder of Palestinian children during its assault on Gaza last year. Ban was content with just expressing his alarm over the “grave violations” due to the Israeli military operations in Gaza last year....It’s time men with international standing like Ban acted rationally without following directions from Washington. Ban, like some of his predecessors, has ensured that the United Nations is an appendage of the United States....As a result of such outrage, an undeniable is that the United Nations is beyond reform now.”


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