Time for a credible inquiry into Israel’s continuing Gaza war

The United Nations has announced yet another “internal and independent” inquiry into Israeli attacks on U.N. facilities in Gaza

Chris Doyle

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To general media disinterest, Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations secretary-general has announced yet another “internal and independent” inquiry into Israeli attacks on U.N. facilities in Gaza. He knows the routine, having done so before in 2009, and a year later, following the Israeli assault on the flotilla. His predecessors have also announced such inquiries not least into the bombing of Qana in Lebanon in 1996.

Elsewhere in the United Nations universe, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has similarly set up such an inquiry into the war on Gaza as it did in 2009, this time under the leadership of William Schabas, a Canadian professor of international law. If the past is any indicator, all the reports will be ignored or attacked, underlining the Council’s weakness. Although there will be political pressures, the panel members are unlikely to dilute their findings.

What matters to the Israeli authorities is that there can be no accountability for their actions

Chris Doyle

Israel also has its own inquiries. In fact, Israel has had inquiries following every conflict it has ever been involved in. Yet as the Israeli human rights group B’tselem argues, “there is currently no official body in Israel capable of conducting independent investigations of suspected violations of international humanitarian law.”

Little excitement

But there is precious little excitement now about any of them. Even if such inquiries are independent, they are not comprehensive and nobody will be held properly accountable. Israel refuses to deal with the UNHRC inquiries or permit it access, in a blatant attempt to undermine their work. The inquiry team may not even be able to visit Gaza given Israel’s refusal and the situation in Egypt but operate out of Jordan using Skype calls to take evidence. One look at the make-up of Ban Ki Moon’s latest inquiry sees representatives from the U.S., Canada, India and the Netherlands all states with a strong historic record of not just being pro-Israeli but serial apologists for its violations of international law. Ban Ki Moon’s inquiry into the flotilla included Alvaro Uribe, the former president of Colombia, whose record has been slammed by human rights groups. The perception, at least be in the Middle East, will that this latest inquiry has been neutered before it has started, reminiscent of the inquiry into the flotilla.

The Israeli inquiries generally have two underlying purposes. Firstly, to examine how military operations were conducted and whether they could have been improved from an operational standpoint. Secondly, to validate, internationally and occasionally domestically, Israeli actions and to reinforce the monumental myth of the Israeli armed forces that they are the most moral army in the world. For the avoidance of any doubt, the Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made it abundantly clear in launching the inquiry into the flotilla killings that it was a foregone conclusion, that Israel took “appropriate defensive actions in accordance with the highest international standards.” Just to cement this, he chose the panel including Lord Trimble, a northern Irish politician who was in the process of setting up a Friends of Israel group.

What matters to the Israeli authorities is that there can be no accountability for their actions. Any attempt to enforce this or to bring it about necessitates a massive Israeli backlash. This was most noticeable over the so-called Goldstone report into Operation Cast Lead in 2009 that accused both Israel and Hamas of have committed war crimes. The then Israeli Ambassador in the U.S. Michael Oren ludicrously and maliciously wrote: “it portrays the Jews as the deliberate murderers of innocents--as Nazis. And a Nazi state not only lacks the need and right to defend itself; it must rather be destroyed.” When Amnesty International produced its most recent report into Israeli actions in Gaza accusing it of “ callous indifference” to civilians, the Israeli Foreign Ministry claimed: “Amnesty serves as a propaganda tool for Hamas and other terror groups“. Amnesty actually criticised Hamas quite rightly for firing rockets at civilians but was hauled up for not using the term “terror.”

Lacking credibility

Yet Israel increasingly lacks any credibility outside of Capitol Hill. The trouble is that the U.N. also is lacking this vital commodity. Israel has been bombing U.N. installations for decades and getting away with it. The 2009 Board of Inquiry report called in vain for full accountability for Israeli actions and indeed reparations. Lamely, Bank Ki Moon refused to publish the full report, just a short summary, but he did get Israel to cough up $10 million in compensation. The secretary-general will once again be failing his duty to the organisation, those who work for it as well as Palestinians if this inquiry does not have the requisite teeth. Unlike in 2009, this inquiry must publish its report in full, not just the summary. Transparency is key to any credible effort.

Yet, fresh from having to make further financial commitments at the conference in Cairo, one wonders why donors continue to pay up? Assuming there is no peace deal, without proper accountability, Israel will at some stage be bombing Gaza again, destroying donor-funded facilities. Only if there is a credible threat of real accountability based on a genuine independent inquiry will Israeli politicians start to reevaluate their options.

What should be happening now is not just an inquiry into the recent escalation but an update on the Goldstone Commission report that assesses all the reports on Israel’s wars on Gaza. The crimes committed are a recurring theme not a one off. Indeed each escalation has been ended by a ceasefire so it is the same aggression, the same conflict that is being perpetuated.

The United Nations has to stand up for its founding principals, defend the defenseless, in this case Palestinian civilians in Gaza and deal with the situation as it is: a protracted illegal aggression, blockade and occupation.


Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

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