UNHRC - Continuing to Empower Terrorism
By REUVEN BEN-SHALOM
On 27 May 2021, a special session of the UN Human Rights Council launched a permanent investigation against Israel for alleged war crimes. Never was such measure taken with a UN member state.
A scathing statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, describes the circumstances leading to the conflict in Gaza, but portrays Israel as the aggressor. The power struggle between the Palestinian factions is absent, as well as the fact that Hamas wanted this escalation and premeditated the attack on Jerusalem, after the cancelation of the election for the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Here we see the price of oversimplification, especially in one of the most complex regions in the word.
The High Commissioner adopts Palestinian propaganda by blaming the Jews for threatening Al Aqsa Mosque and attacking “peaceful protesters and worshippers.” In fact, Israeli police only responded when rioters, desecrating their own holy site, amassed piles of rocks and broken furniture inside the mosque and then hurled them at police and Jewish worshipers.
The threat to Al Aqsa is an annual propaganda ritual during the month of Ramadan. In reality, Al Aqsa is under no threat. Freedom of worship for all religions is enshrined in Israeli culture and law.
The statement also echoes the false narrative that Israel plans to evict Palestinians from their homes in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah “to make way for settlers.” Actually, it is a legal dispute over ownership rights dating back to the 19th century. Hopefully, a creative resolution will be eventually reached here, but as this is merely an excuse for fueling tension, there will always be new ones.
This is not to say that each and every Israeli action was wise. A heightened debate still rages among Israelis as to the logic and sensitivity of various actions. But there is a world of difference between questioning things that actually took place, and inventing imaginary conspiracies.
When addressing the situation in the West Bank and even inside Israel, Bachelet delivers a twisted tale about evil Israelis that kill, attack and harass. Here I choose to merely point out that this is total hogwash.
As for the Gaza conflict, it began when Hams implemented its preplanned attack on Israel’s capital, after issuing a ridiculous “ultimatum,” and then went on to fire more than 4,000 rockets at cities throughout Israel.
Of course, the statement pays lip-service by mentioning that Hamas fired indiscriminately. Bachelet does not go as far as asserting that Hamas aims to kill civilians. Instead, she states that these rockets “fail to distinguish between military and civilian objects.”
Throughout the statement, Hamas is referred to as an “armed group.” No reference is made to the fact that Hamas is an internationally-recognized terror organization. Israel is described as the “occupying power” with security forces that seem to hurt Palestinians for no reason. So distorted is the balance of responsibility and accountability, that the terrorists get away with a slap on the wrist for “violation of international humanitarian law,” while Israel’s actions are depicted as “war crimes.”
Apparently the UNHRC does not acknowledge that firing from within civilians, at civilians, constitutes a double war crime.
The wording relating to Israel’s actions is intentionally subtle: “such attacks may constitute war crimes.” They may, and they may not. Are we now supposed to believe that an impartial, fact-finding mission will seek the truth? I am skeptical.
It is widely documented that the IDF only hits military targets, and approves each and every strike via a meticulous process, including careful legal consideration. The many ways in which the IDF minimizes civilian casualties are also widely known, such as text messages, warning calls and the “knock-on-roof” procedure. Strikes are frequently aborted, even in real-time, when the expected risk to civilians exceeds the military goals of the operation.
The High Commissioner asserts that these are merely Israel’s “claims” as she has “not seen evidence.” You don’t assume war crimes and then demand evidence, unless the “war crime” narrative is sought after to begin with. Since Israel does not plan to cooperate with this charade, Bachelet will probably never see such evidence anyway. But the evidence exists and is shared with allies.
Bachelet admits that Israel “undertook a number of precautions,” but deduces that there is reason to believe these attacks were indiscriminate and disproportionate. Before explaining why these claims are baseless, it is worth pointing out that even Matthias Schmale, head of UNWRA in Gaza, admitted in an interview that IDF strikes appeared to be precise and sophisticated. Brave man.
During the last 20 years I participated in numerous international conferences, seminars and workshops on asymmetric conflict, urban warfare and counter-terrorism, with military leaders and scholars from around the world. Adapting the laws of war and incorporating ethics and morals in modern-day warfare, were many times centerstage.
Our colleagues kept telling us of the striking resemblance to the fighting they have experienced in Iraq, Afghanistan and other warzones. I vividly remember British and American officers telling us that the scenes from Gaza resembled Fallujah in 2004, for that is the nature of urban warfare.
We are repeatedly commended by our colleagues for taking extreme measures to safeguard civilians, and bottom-line figures of civilian casualties relative to targeted combatants are evidently low.
This is why I can say with confidence that Israel has done more than any country in the history of warfare to protect civilians.
The main reason for civilian deaths in Gaza is that Hamas deliberately places them in harm's way. The terror organization understands the impact this has on the international community, so they maximize civilian deaths by embedding all terror activity within civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and mosques. It's heartless and brutal, but their “dead baby strategy” works. The UNHRC and media outlets prove them right by making civilian deaths the main issue and using it to blame Israel.
Under international law, placing military activity in civilian areas does not change its status as legitimate military targets. When terrorists turn a mosque into a rocket warehouse or launching pad, the mosque is a lawful military target. Pointing to damage to civilian infrastructure as proof of misconduct is misconstruing the laws of war.
It is important to note that uninvolved civilians have also been killed directly by Hamas. More than 600 rockets fired by Hamas have fallen short, inside the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding civilians. Most rockets were locally manufactured in Gaza, and it is known that accidents are common when operating nonstandard weapons. When munition caches are deliberately placed in schools and mosques, every mishap costs the lives of innocent people. Sometimes small scale, pinpoint airstrikes by Israel spark secondary explosions and even set off rogue rockets which create much more damage. Tunnels under residential areas compromise the integrity of foundations, so strikes on terror infrastructure sometimes results in secondary, unintended damage, outside the targeted area.
It is widely documented that terrorists attribute own-inflicted deaths, even from totally unrelated causes, to Israeli attacks.
One of the most misguided claims that Bachelet echoes in her statement is that Israelis have the Iron Dome while Gazans “have no place to escape to.” First off, Israel need not apologize for investing huge efforts and funds in defense, for we are constantly threatened by a massive arsenal of rockets. We humbly refuse to accept that more of us should die so the UNHRC may see a balanced image of suffering.
The simple truth is this: If the terror regime would not attack Israel, there would be no war. If the terrorists would not deliberately operate within civilians, they would not be in harm’s way. Hamas diverts all resources to terror, not health, education or defense. They build underground bunkers to launch rockets at Israeli civilians, not as shelters for their own civilians. But they should need no shelters, for unlike Hamas that aims to kill as many Israelis as possible, Israel goes to great lengths to safeguard civilians in Gaza. It’s a twisted situation, all calculated and led by Hamas.
From the UNHRC to American comedians, it seems that such claims comparing Israel and Gaza fail to recognize the nature of asymmetric warfare, and reflect a widespread misunderstanding of fundamental principles in the laws of war.
“Proportionality” has nothing to do with inequality of casualties or disparity in military might. Rather, it means that military commanders must always ensure that the expected collateral damage is not excessive in relation to the military advantage. It is a complex calculation that requires weighing various factors and deciding what is reasonable to do according to military standards. This may come as a surprise to some, but international law clearly recognizes that civilians may get hurt as a result of a lawful military operation. It is an inherent consequence of war.
To be honest, Israelis are fed up with defending against absurd accusations by people who apparently haven't a clue what the laws of war really are, or know but take advantage of other people's ignorance for anti-Israel propaganda purposes. Don't take my word for it. Google "law of war."
I have been trying to avoid this topic for years, but unfortunately the evidence is overwhelming. This “war crime” narrative is part of a wider discursive assault against Israel, some of it deeply rooted in antisemitism. Israel is obsessively singled out and attacked with an arsenal of fabrications, distortions, double-standards and hypocrisy.
Narratives and terminology used to attack Israel resonate with deeply ingrained antisemitic tropes, such as perceiving Jews as innately cruel. This is why contrary to all evidence, Israel is constantly accused not only of transgressions, but total indifference to the consequences of war on civilians and even intentionally and indiscriminately killing Palestinian civilians. This is a classic blood libel.
Tragically this is why we also see a rise in antisemitism worldwide. Otherwise, why would a Jew abroad bear any responsibility for Israel’s actions?
Whether deliberate or subconscious, these modern-day blood libels serve a relentless and vicious campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel. Israel is the only country that must tolerate debates whether it has the right to defend itself or even exist. It is the only country openly threatened with annihilation from the podium of the UN. And the only country attacked by non-state terror armies and proxies of regional terror states, with practically zero international effort to disarm or deescalate. On the contrary, whether by action or inaction, the international community perpetuates conflict in the Middle East, and then blames Israel for it. Case in point, Hezbollah continues to destabilize and terrorize as they wave a fake flag of “resistance”" to an imaginary Israeli aggressor, despite the fact that we pulled out of Lebanon in the year 2000 and seek nothing but a peaceful neighborly relationship with the Lebanese. Here too, petty excuses are invented (the Shebaa Farms) in order to sustain an image of conflict. What does the world do about Hezbollah? Nothing.
Back to the High Commissioner’s statement. The part about the “crumbling infrastructure and diminished access to basic services” is worth noting. Hamas has the destruction of Israel at the top of its list, not the prosperity of Gaza. Israel invests huge efforts in sustaining Gaza, and even ensured safe passage of supplies during hostilities, while Hamas fired mortar shells at the convoys.
Bachelet goes on and on about “fundamental rights and freedoms” of Gazans. She even speaks of “freedom of assembly and expression,” preaching to a democracy where such freedoms are sacred, while turning a blind eye the autocratic genocidal regime of Hamas that deprives its people of every single one of these rights.
By the way, Bachelet mentions the “Israeli land, air and sea blockade” on Gaza. She not only fails to recognize the critical security rational, but conveniently omits the fact that Gaza shares a border with Egypt.
As usual in such statements by the UNHRC, Bachelet speaks of the “root causes” but then fails to address them. Just like a similar statement by the UNHRC after the 2014 Gaza campaign, there is this fantasy of building trust and promoting peace. This is classic western wishful thinking, detached from the fundamental agenda of Hamas.
Israel seeks peace with its neighbors. But Hamas strives to annihilate Israel, as depicted in their charter, and as its co-founder founder Mahmoud al-Zahar said just last week. They want no dialogue, no reconciliation, and no compromise. They are resilient and dedicated in their pursuit of an Islamic state on the ruins of Israel. They don't wish to give their children a better future, but lead them on a path of jihad, war, and martyrdom, in an endless struggle to realize unrealistic dreams. And they use millions of international aid dollars to accomplish this.
My main goal here is not to defend Israel against false accusations, but to point to a fundamental flaw in the perception of reality, leading the region to endless conflict.
The real problem is not the falsehoods, libels and twisted allegations aimed at a democracy defending itself from a jihadist Iranian proxy. This is sad and frankly insulting, but we are used to it and we’ll get over it.
The tragedy here is that the UNHRC betrays the Palestinian people and distances them from ever realizing their hopes of self-recognition. Instead of supporting the moderate Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) controlling the West Bank, UNHRC sides with their arch-enemy that rules the Gaza Strip since taking it over with force in 2007.
UNHRC does not support “Palestine” or the Palestinians but aids and abets a terror organization. Criticizing Israel is not only barking up the wrong tree, but perpetuating violence, destruction and suffering of the Palestinian People.
One might be baffled from the fact that the PA itself seems to side with Gaza. This is one of many complexities of this region, for the PA must assume this fake posture if they wish to sustain public support. In closed rooms they tell us: "Finish them off already!" The reason they need to put on this act is that Hamas is empowered and emboldened instead of contained and weakened. The UNHRC is to blame for this, among others.
The resolution by the Human Rights Council empowers and enables terror regimes to carry out their monstrosities. It teaches them how to literally get away with murder. We live in troubling times when humanity turns on itself, and dark and malign motives promote evil instead of good.
UNHRC presumes to “protect all civilians and ensure that human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled worldwide,” but in fact it deteriorates human rights and endangers the region and the world.
Hamas will now regroup, rearm and launch a massive campaign to once again drain all resources into rockets and tunnels. Every moment spent on blaming Israel is one more moment toward the next round of violence. The only way to break this cycle is to take steps toward the demilitarization of Gaza and unification of the Palestinian people under the PA.
The writer is a cross-cultural strategist and colonel in the IDF reserves.