terrible for that relationship. While many would point out that Obama hasn’t been good either (a point I would disagree with), it’s more important for the Israeli Prime Minister to be attentive to the needs of our president. We’re the ones who give them billions of dollars a year in aid and state-of-the-art military technology for protection.
Earlier this week, the United Nations Human Rights Council released a report about last summer’s Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The results of the report are pretty damning for the state of Israel. And yet, Netanyahu seems unfazed, simply writing off the United Nations as “biased.” Perhaps it is time that Mr. Netanyahu take the findings of this report and the overall concerns of the international community more seriously moving forward.
What Did the UN Say?
The United Nations acknowledged that Hamas is guilty of war crimes as they fired rockets indiscriminately at Israel and targeted civilians. Although Hamas denies the latter aspect, the evidence contradicts their claim. Hamas rockets killed six Israeli civilians and 67 IDF soldiers lost their life in the conflict. In general though, this should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with Hamas.
The surprising aspect of this report is that Israel is also probably guilty of war crimes. There were 2,251 Palestinians killed in the conflict last summer, of whom 1,461 were civilians. Of those 1,461 people, 551 of them were children. This is an egregious number of civilian casualties. More than half of the Palestinian people who died in the conflict were civilians; and 18,000 housing units, 73 medical facilities, and much of Gaza’s infrastructure suffered total destruction.
The General Assembly found that many of these residential structures were attacked at night when the likelihood of the entire family being there was far higher. Israel provided no information as to why many of the residential buildings targeted were specific military objectives. Targeting residential buildings without a military objective is a strict violation of international law and fits the definition for war crimes. In addition, it’s a safe assumption that Israel’s military leadership would have understood that attacking these residential buildings were more than likely going to result in a disproportionate number of civilian deaths.
The report found that warning times given by Israel before they bombed a residential location, again a requirement under international law to prevent civilian casualties, were often insufficient. Some warnings were effective, to be fair, but others left very little time for the residents of the homes to evacuate.
The report also raised concerns about those locations that were designated as military objectives by the Israeli government, observing that the Israeli government’s definition may be broader than the one provided under international humanitarian law.
What Was Israel’s Response?
Well, as expected, there was nothing even remotely remorseful that came from the mouth of Prime Minister Netanyahu. He instead said the report was bogus because the United Nations is “biased.”
Well, if that’s true, there’s a funny story as to why: while Palestine cooperated with the United Nations investigation fully, the Israel government didn’t cooperate. At all
The United Nations commission repeatedly asked Israel to cooperate with the investigation by granting it access to Israeli and Gaza war sites. Israel didn’t respond to these requests. The commission learned through an Israeli press release that the government was not going to cooperate. The commission gave a list of questions to both the government of Palestine and the government of Israel. Only Palestine responded.
So maybe the reason the report is biased is because Israel made no attempt to entertain the United Nations. Is it pure arrogance? Does Netanyahu think he’s above international law? Or does he think the UN is biased? If that were the case, why not fully cooperate and then try to dismiss the results after the report comes out? That way, he would have a leg to stand on. But you can’t deny cooperation with the United Nations because you think they’re biased and then dismiss the report itself because you think it’s biased. It’s only biased because you made it biased when you refused to cooperate. Refusing to cooperate just makes it appear to the rest of the world that Israel has something to hide.
Israel is a developed country and a modern democracy, one that has a strict rule of law and one that should adhere to international law as well. Make no mistake: this is a failure of leadership by President Netanyahu. Leaders of civilized countries don’t show such low levels of respect to the United Nations and the concept of international law.
The Palestinian Response to the Report
Needless to say, the Palestinians are pleased with the results of the report. The Palestinian Liberation Authority (PLA) can shift the blame to Hamas, a well-known terror organization, while maintaining that they are the victims of Israeli military aggression.
Accordingly, the Palestinian Foreign Minister has filed a case with the International Criminal Court (ICC). Palestine would like to see war crime charges levied against Israel. They understand that Hamas will also be charged with war crimes, but they rightly understand that the bigger story would Israel getting charged with war crimes.
In the wake of filing these charges, Netanyahu vowed that his soldiers would never be dragged in front of judges at the ICC. Never mind the fact that foot soldiers would never actually face charges (they would press charges against high ranking military officials or Netanyahu himself), why would you be so defiant towards an institution set up by the developed world to protect the human rights of noncombatants?
The ICC isn’t out to get Israel. It simply has to address those criminal charges that come its way. Again, what is the rationale here for Netanyahu? Instead of saying something along the lines of, “we have nothing to hide, Israel acted within international law,” Netanyahu is fighting this tooth and nail. He even went so far as to say that there would be “severe consequences” if Palestine continued with this path. The path of pursuing a nonviolent course of punishment?
Other advanced countries don’t react like this in the face of war crimes. For example, when Britain (and specifically, British soldiers) was being investigated for war crimes in Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair didn’t resist the ICC and try to belittle its significance.
Here is the British Attorney General’s response to the investigation: “British troops are some of the best in the world and we expect them to operate to the highest standards, in line with both domestic and international law…the UK has government has been, and remains, a strong supporter of the ICC and I will provide the office of the prosecutor with whatever is necessary to demonstrate that British justice is following its proper course.”
This is the type of response Israel should have made. When you are being investigated for war crimes, accept it. If you’re guilty, own it. Learn from it. Don’t make the same mistakes again. There is no doubt that Israel is in a tough situation. They have enemies all around them, but that doesn’t give them the right to scoff at international law in the name of “security.”
This is all on Netanyahu. He’s alienating the rest of the world in an overzealous attempt to protect Israel’s national security. He needs to start listening to what the rest of the world is telling him. He needs to change his approach and adjust his attitude.
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