Israel vs. UN on Gaza war: ‘Diplomatic battle where Netanyahu govt have personal stakes’

Reuters / Suhaib Salem
Israel’s paper on 2014 Gaza War issued ahead of the UN report is part of a propaganda battle, said Haaretz correspondent Amir Oren. If the Netanyahu cabinet and generals are found culpable, they may face troubles travelling abroad, he added.

The UN fact-finding mission on the summer 2014 war in Gaza is set to release its report on the conflict. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli government refused to recognize external data and have released their own report on the war. Its attention is focused on the plight of the Israeli civilian population and there is a large section dedicated to the economic damage. The document doesn’t go into as much detail about Palestinian fatalities and damage. The number of people killed on the Palestinian side is about thirty times more than the lives lost by Israel.

RT:Have you had a chance to take a closer look at the report released by Israel? How accurate is it, in your view?

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Amir Oren: Maybe the Rosetta mission could find out how it all started between Israelis and Palestinians if they are looking into ancient history in the solar system. As of now what we have are competing views on the same conflict, and there is no dispute regarding the fact that there were many more fatalities and much more damage in Gaza than there was in Israel.

The question is: did Israel and Hamas act according to the laws of land warfare, are there mechanisms to find out if people were culpable, were responsible for war crimes, and what measures the two sides are going to take, because we may be very close to another round of the conflict. We are looking both back and ahead.

RT:Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli report paints the true picture, dismissing the UN document as not worth reading. Why is he so opposed to it?

AO: Netanyahu decided last year, right after the combat stopped late August, not to cooperate with the UN commission. This was criticized by many in Israel, and indeed a way was found to bypass the official non-participation and let some civilians present the Israeli case to the commission. But Israel decided to boycott the commission, and now of course the report is one-sided. This is a diplomatic battle, a propaganda battle. Perhaps if the Israeli cabinet headed by Netanyahu is found culpable, Netanyahu and his ministers as well as his top generals may face some troubles when they travel abroad. So they have a personal stake as well as a national one in the result.

RT:The Israeli report seeks to justify actions of the IDF. But an Israeli NGO actually got quotes from former Israeli soldiers who admitted to deliberately firing at civilians. Are those accounts receiving enough attention?

AO: Yes, the accounts are receiving enough attention, and the question is - what did the commander on the scene believe was happening at that time. Looking back with the war having subsided and with all the facts before them, examiners whether from Israel or from abroad can get some other conclusion. But the question is - whether the colonel or the major, or the sergeant on the scene, when he looked at someone or something ominous really believed that his life is threatened and therefore he fired only to find out that regrettably it was a civilian. In that case the two accounts can coexist with each being accurate for its time.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Reuters / Abir Sultan)

‘Hamas gives inflated numbers’

Sarah Weiss Maudi, director of the international law department at Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that "the Human Rights Council singles out Israel..." and "over half of their state specific resolutions focus specifically on Israel."

RT:Can you comment on why Prime Minister Netanyahu has dismissed the upcoming report of the UN fact-finding mission in Gaza as "a waste of time"?

Sarah Weiss Maudi: As a rule, Israel usually does participate in international investigations. We do that when the mandate is objective and neutral. We just did that when the Secretary General [Ban Ki-moon] was looking at damage to UN facilities in the Gaza Strip, the board of inquiry - Israel fully participated in that inquiry. And we’ve done that time again in the past; when there was the flotilla incident, we participated.

This particular commission, the mandate of the commission of inquiry that comes under the Human Rights Council is very problematic. The Human Rights Council singles out Israel time and again. Over half of their state specific resolutions focus specifically on Israel. In this particular case the mandate presumes violations of Israel’s guilt. Certainly when you go into a court room [you’re] innocent till proven guilty. It’s one-sided- the only actor that is mentioned is Israel. It talks about violations before looking into them.

People on the commission have no background or expertise in the laws of the armed conflict. In fact, the person who was appointed as the head of the commission, William Schabas, had a very clear political agenda, it wasn’t particularly challenging when they appointed him to find statements stating his clear agenda, clear anti-Israel bias. Now he stepped down because we found ethical violations by him, the UN found ethical violations by him, but the same commission remains - they didn’t change the people, his finger prints are all over report…

RT:Indeed, we have to respect that, but it’s very worrying that you say that Human Rights Council is “problematic”. As a legal expert maybe you could bring some advice here? The UN (UNICEF) says 539 Palestinian children were killed during that war. Are they simply “collateral damage”, or does international law cover the issue of children being killed in armed conflicts?

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SWM: First of all, let’s be straight about those numbers. The UN is fed numbers by the Hamas Health Ministry; they are giving very inflated numbers. One of the big problems of the whole dynamic of asymmetric conflict is that often times people who might be wearing regular clothes like you and I are actually combatants; it is not like a regular military - like Israel that is committed to war where people are actually wearing uniforms. These numbers of the children we’ve been going through this statistics- we have lower numbers. The report talks about 369 causalities.

And I’ll say first of all as a mother and with children on this side of the conflict, it’s a very tragic thing when children lose their lives in crossfire, and unfortunately in a war, children, civilians can and do lose their lives. That doesn’t necessarily mean there was any violation of war. When we look at the laws of war, we’re looking incident by incident, and we’re always looking at the test of in the shoes of the reasonable commander- that is what the laws of war say, that’s is what the Geneva convention says; was the action taken proportionate to the military advantage to be gained.

RT:You say that the numbers in various reports coming perhaps from Ramallah are being puffed up, but the IDF: around 800,000 active personnel, more than 4,000 tanks, 242 fighter jets. You said that the number of the children killed should be lower. What should be the balance here?

SWM: Often times the international community wants to strike a balance. We really need to look at the root causes of this conflict, and when we’re looking at the root causes, we need to point the finger at Hamas. Hamas embeds themselves in densely urban populated centers. It holds children; it holds women as human shields and fights behind them. We have endless reports, and I urge all of you to take a look at our report of actual army footage where you show where the rocket launch site will be embedded within meters of private homes, within meters of hotels, within mosques, within schools…

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.