It is less than a month since the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) released its report on last summer’s war in Gaza, and it seems as if it has already been shelved along with numerous U.N. General Assembly and Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli behavior toward the Palestinians.
Of course, the Israeli government - which had refused to cooperate with the commission charged with investigating human rights violations on both sides - immediately dismissed the report. And that was that, as Israel’s pronouncements shifted entirely to non-stop warnings about Iran’s “existential threat,” even though all of Tehran’s recent energies are focused on intervening in intra-Arab conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.
The findings of the report clearly indicate that there was no real balance in the nature of the respective war crimes allegedly committed by both sidesAbdallah Schleifer
In Gaza post-UNHRC report, politics has become even more complex, with heightened tensions between the political and military wings of Hamas. Its political leadership in Gaza is seeking a détente or long-term truce with Israel via Qatari intermediaries, and actively seeking rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the leading Arab countries still pressing for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.
However, Hamas’s military wing claims it has thoroughly rearmed, is building new assault tunnels from Gaza into Israel, and is working to rehabilitate ties with Iran, thereby undermining the aforementioned efforts of the political leadership. More ominously, there are indications that Hamas’s military wing is cooperating with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at the very moment that ISIS has declared war against the Palestinian faction’s political wing.
The U.N. report has been criticized by some Palestinians for attempting to balance its accusation that Israel committed war crimes with accusations that Hamas did the same by firing rockets at civilian areas rather than military targets.
However, such balancing made it possible for cautiously pro-Israeli media in America, such as the New York Times, to report extensively on the findings of the report, which clearly indicate that there was no real balance in the nature of the respective war crimes allegedly committed by both sides.
The main thrust of the UNHRC report (as accurately observed by Israeli newspaper Haaretz) was particular concern that the Israeli armed forces continued to use methods that knowingly caused large numbers of civilian casualties and widespread destruction of civilian homes.
So the burden, according to the U.N. Commission, is on Israel “to explain what turns a house or a person inside into a military target, and what the military advantage would be from such an attack. In the absence of such explanations, it looks as if the principle of distinction was violated, raising the suspicion of a war crime.”
Part of that explanation is provided by a far less publicized report by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israelis formerly enlisted in the military. “This is How We Fought in Gaza” is a lengthy testimony by some 60 Israelis who served in the 2014 Gaza war.
To sum up the utterly damning testimony: The early phase of pinpoint bombing involved such heavy explosives that neighboring buildings were invariably brought down. Then severe and devastating artillery barrages preceded the advance of Israeli infantry. Since Palestinians in these neighborhoods had been warned to evacuate before the barrage and when Israeli forces moved in, any remaining Palestinian was assumed to be an enemy to be shot on sight unless waving a white flag or shouting their surrender. As the Israeli infantry moved from house to house, armored bulldozers followed, destroying everything: buildings, streets, gardens and farmland.
This conduct, says the U.N. report, suggests “that the conduct in the field may have constituted military tactics reflective of a broader policy approved by decision makers at the highest levels of the Israeli government.” No need for such tentative phrasing.
The 2009 report of the U.N. fact-finding mission on the 2008 Gaza war, known as the Goldstone report, was far more direct in drawing firm conclusions than this latest U.N. report. The former took note of Israel’s “Dahiya Doctrine,” which takes its name from the Dahiya district of Beirut that was totally leveled during the 2006 Lebanon war.
The doctrine states that Israeli forces in combat will “apply disproportionate force and the causing of great damage to civilian property and infrastructure and suffering to civilian populations” as a form of deterrence.
The primary goal when waging war in Gaza, according to an authoritative Israeli intelligence review, is not to suppress Hamas rocket fire, but to impose a ceasefire under conditions that will increase Israel’s long-term deterrence, prevent a war of attrition, and leave the enemy floundering in long, expensive processes of reconstruction - in other words, war crimes as a strategic necessity, not a tactical misstep.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.