The U.N.’s Gaza Report Is Flawed and Dangerous
New York Times
June 25, 2015
— As a British officer who had more than his share of fighting in Afghanistan,
Iraq and the Balkans, it pains me greatly to see words and actions from the
United Nations that can only provoke further violence and loss of life. The
United Nations Human Rights Council report
on last summer’s conflict in Gaza, prepared by Judge Mary McGowan Davis, and
published on Monday, will do just that.
report starts by attributing responsibility for the conflict to Israel’s
“protracted occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,” as well as the
blockade of Gaza. Israel withdrew from Gaza 10 years ago. In 2007 it imposed a
selective blockade only in response to attacks by Hamas and the import of
munitions and military matériel from Iran. The conflict last summer, which
began with a dramatic escalation in rocket attacks targeting Israeli civilians,
was a continuation of Hamas’s war of aggression.
an unusual concession, the report suggests that Hamas may have been guilty of
war crimes, but it still legitimizes Hamas’s rocket and tunnel attacks and
even sympathizes with the geographical challenges in launching rockets at
Israeli civilians: “Gaza’s small size and its population density make it
particularly difficult for armed groups always to comply” with the requirement
not to launch attacks from civilian areas.
is no such sympathy for Israel. Judge Davis accuses the Israel Defense Forces of
“serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human
rights law.” Yet no evidence is put forward to substantiate these accusations.
It is as though the drafters of the report believe that any civilian death in
war must be illegal.
to cases in which Israeli attacks killed civilians in residential areas, Judge
Davis says that in the absence of contrary information available to her
commission, there are strong indications that the attacks were disproportionate,
and therefore war crimes. But all we get is speculation and the presumption of
report is characterized by a lack of understanding of warfare. That is hardly
surprising. Judge Davis admitted, when I testified
before her in February, that the commission, though investigating a war, had no
military expertise. Perhaps that is why no attempt has been made to judge
Israeli military operations against the practices of other armies. Without such
international benchmarks, the report’s findings are meaningless.
commission could have listened to Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the United
States Joint Chiefs of Staff, who said last November that the I.D.F. had taken
extraordinary measures to try to limit civilian casualties. Or to a group of 11
senior military officers from seven nations, including the United States,
Germany, Spain and Australia, who also investigated the Gaza conflict recently.
I was a member of that group, and our report,
made available to Judge Davis, said: “None of us is aware of any army that
takes such extensive measures as did the I.D.F. last summer to protect the lives
of the civilian population.”
report acknowledges that Israel took steps to warn of imminent attacks but
suggests more should have been done to minimize civilian casualties. Yet it
offers no opinion about what additional measures Israel could have taken. It
even criticizes Israel for using harmless explosive devices — the “knock on
the roof” — as a final warning to evacuate targeted buildings, suggesting
that it created confusion. No other country uses roof-knocks, a munition
developed by Israel as part of a series of I.D.F. warning procedures, including
text messages, phone calls and leaflet drops, that are known to have saved many
Davis suggests that the I.D.F.’s use of air, tank and artillery fire in
populated areas may constitute a war crime and recommends further international
legal restrictions on their use. Yet these same systems were used extensively by
American and British forces in similar circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They are often vital in saving the lives of our own soldiers, and their
curtailment would jeopardize military effectiveness while handing an advantage
to our enemies.
I.D.F. is not perfect. In the heat of battle and under stress its commanders and
soldiers undoubtedly made mistakes. Weapons malfunctioned, intelligence was
sometimes wrong and, as with all armies, it has some bad soldiers. Unnecessary
deaths resulted, and these should be investigated and the individuals brought to
trial if criminal culpability is suspected.
reason so many civilians died in Gaza last summer was not Israeli tactics or
policy. It was Hamas’s strategy. Hamas deliberately positioned its fighters
and munitions in civilian areas, knowing that Israel would have no choice but to
attack them and that civilian casualties would result. Unable to inflict
existential harm on Israel by military means, Hamas sought to cause large
numbers of casualties among its own people in order to bring international
condemnation and unbearable diplomatic pressure against Israel.
Davis’s report is rife with contradictions. She acknowledges that Israeli
military precautions saved lives, yet without foundation accuses “decision
makers at the highest levels of the government of Israel” of a policy of
deliberately killing civilians. Incredibly, she “regrets” that her
commission was unable to verify the use of civilian buildings by “Palestinian
armed groups,” yet elsewhere acknowledges Hamas’s widespread use of
protected locations, including United Nations schools.
worrying, Judge Davis claims to be “fully aware of the need for Israel to
address its security concerns” while demanding that it “lift, immediately
and unconditionally, the blockade on Gaza.” Along with the report’s
endorsement of Hamas’s anti-Israel narrative, this dangerous recommendation
would undoubtedly lead to further bloodshed in both Israel and Gaza.
Richard Kemp, a retired British Army colonel, is former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan.