22 Oct, 2020

The UN’s Human Rights Council (UNHRC) published its commissioned report into the 2014 summer conflict between Israel and Hamas on Monday. The report was directed at all sides of the conflict but focused much more particularly on Israeli actions.

While not going so far as to make direct accusations of war crimes against Israel, the report concluded that both sides in the conflict “may have committed war crimes.” The report still drew criticism over implied and structural bias.

Justice Mary McGowan Davis’s report drew immediate criticism from both Israeli officials and observers of the controversial panel, casting doubt on the very mandate of the commission and the inherent bias of the UNHRC.

According to the UNHRC, the commission is mandated to investigate “all violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military operations conducted since 13 June 2014, whether before, during or after.”

“This report was born in sin,” said Attorney Yifa Segal, director of the International Legal Form, to Tazpit News Agency. “From its inception the very wording of the mandate presupposes Israeli culpability and directs the investigation to focus on Israel’s action and not the actions of Hamas.”

“Not to mention it is factually misleading, seeing as the Gaza strip has not been under Israeli occupation since the summer of 2005,” Segal added.

Echoing this sentiment was the official press communique by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), noting that the entire process which lead to the production of the report was politically motivated and morally flawed. The MFA stated, “This report was commissioned by a notoriously biased institution, given an obviously biased mandate, and initially headed by a grossly biased chairperson, William Schabas.”

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Segal expanded on the matter to Tazpit. “Even though this current report no longer bears Schabas’ name on it, it is important to understand that he headed the commission through all critical working progress before being forced to step down due to conflict of interests. Therefore, the outcome of the report still bears his fingerprints on it and is tainted by his bias.”

“The International Legal Forum, as well as many other NGOs have indicated Schabas’ clear partiality and bias to the UNHRC. We wrote and petitioned to the UN about the moral problem and illegitimacy and lack of due process of such a commission” Segal told Tazpit. “However the UNHRC didn’t even take our pleas into account, without preventing Schabas’ activity.”

One of the problems raised by critics of the report is the outright refusal of the commission to dub groups who target civilians as terrorists. Using the vague term “Palestinian armed groups,” the commission de facto separates them from the Palestinian Authority and from Hamas, the internationally designated terrorist organization that rules Gaza, and spares them from responsibility and culpability to action by these groups under their supervision and control.

In one section of the report, the commission names one of these “groups” by name as responsible for deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians, by their own admission. However the report fails to reiterate and explain that said group, the Al-Qassam Brigades, are an official organ of Hamas.

Hamas uses civilians in Shuja'iya as human shields against Israel.

Hamas uses civilians in Shuja’iya as human shields against Israel during Operation Protective Edge.

One of the main points the report makes against Israel is questioning the legality of IDF strikes on residential buildings. Utterly ignoring the mitigating circumstances, being that those building where used by Hamas military leaders and by armed groups as launching points against civilians, the report extremely downplays the role Hamas played in preventing civilians from leaving these targets, despite Israeli forewarning.

“The report implicitly absolves Hamas of terrorism, while laying the full brunt of the burden of proof solely on Israel. How is that not biased?” asks Segal.

“Israel is being held to a much higher standard than any other state in the world, an impossible standard. A standard which is not even in accordance with the requirements of International law and its implementation on any other armed conflict in the world,” she explained.

Colonel Richard Kemp, the former Commander of the British Forces in Afghanistan and recent member of a high level international group of military and International law experts who conducted an independent inquiry into Israel’s actions during Protective Edge, previously told Tazpit News Agency that the “international governments and organizations such as the UN were intentionally distorting the interpretation of the rules of armed conflict in order to vilify Israel.”

“[The military experts] were therefore surprised to find the full extent of the reality – that Israel actually goes further than most to stick to international law and protect non-involved civilians,” Kemp told Tazpit.

The report noted positively the steps taken by Israel to investigate alleged violations of the law of armed conflict by the IDF during Operation Protective Edge and towards bringing its system of investigations into compliance with international standards. However the report noted that flaws in Israel’s system remain.

On the other side the commission concluded that investigations by Palestinian authorities are woefully inadequate, despite allegations of violations of international humanitarian law on the part of Palestinian actors, leaving Israeli victims without an effective remedy. With respect to the local authorities in Gaza, no steps appear to have been taken to ensure effective investigations into actions by Palestinian armed groups.

Additionally, the human rights organization, Amnesty International, published their own reports on Operation Protective Edge, concluding that Palestinian authorities and armed groups in Gaza are responsible for more human rights violations and denials, including extrajudicial death, than Israel.

While the commission was aware of the reports’ findings, and even used parts of Amnesty’s reports in its own inquiry, it ignored and did not present Amnesty’s findings on the full scope of Palestinian culpability and accountability for Palestinian civilian deaths and human rights violations by Palestinian groups, mainly Hamas and it’s Al-Qassam Brigades.

“Amnesty raises a grave humanitarian issue, directly relating to the 2014 Summer conflict. Yet its absence from the UNHRC report is clear and worrying” said Segal.

“The one sided and libelous mandate, presupposing Israel’s guilt from the get-go, Schabas’ impartiality and ousting, they are all connected and run as the scarlet thread through this commission’s activity and subsequent report” said Segal. “These elements taint the credibility and partiality of any report that might have come out. And the report itself indeed verifies these claims by being extremely one sided”