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If you suffered last summer, tell the UN

Israelis who suffered during the summer's Gaza conflict should send testimony to the UN commission of inquiry

The Independent United Nations Commission of Inquiry On The 2014 Gaza Conflict has been collecting testimony of Palestinians claiming injury due to the conflict for some time, now. The deadline for submission of testimony is January 31, 2015. The Commission avers that it has been trying to collect the testimony of Israelis, too, but that the Israeli government has blocked access. Nonetheless, the Commission of Inquiry says it is” in the process of interviewing a wide spectrum of witnesses and victims in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory using technology to overcome the physical distance.”

The badly flawed Goldstone report — which was the result of a similar Commission’s investigating the 2008 round of the Gaza conflict — might provide support for the government’s choice to stay away from the current Commission’s effort. The Israeli government refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission, believing that — no matter what the evidence truly showed — the Commissioners would produce a report incorrigibly biased against Israel, based upon their foregone conclusions. The prophecy was self-fulfilling.

However, upon receiving the information of a follow-up investigation, Judge Goldstone himself retracted key provisions of the original report in a 2011 Washington Post editorial, stating explicitly: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” Later that year, judge Goldstone also wrote an editorial in the New York Times, rebutting the slander that Israel is an Apartheid regime.

Bias against Israel on the part of current Commission — whether real or perceived — should spur, rather than discourage affected Israelis from submitting testimony. If the Commission refuses to relate seriously and transparently to the injuries and trauma of Israeli victims then this will constitute valid grounds for condemnation of a biased report. On the other hand, if the Commissioners do relate seriously and transparently to the testimony of Israelis impacted by Palestinian war crimes, they might be more cautious about repeating the same errors which characterized the Goldstone Commission’s initial report. In any event, submitting testimony would at least preclude later protestations of sheer ignorance to justify warped findings of fact or conclusions of law.

The stated mandate of the Commission is: 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.” (Emphasis added.) It is not clear whether this means the Commission is supposed to investigate violations which originate in “occupied territory” (like Hamas missiles landing in Sderot) or violations that affect only people living in “occupied territory” (which might preclude people targeted in West Jerusalem or Tel Aviv). However, if the Commission is to conduct a meaningful assessment of the violations in the context of the war, it should clearly be looking at both. Post-war investigations are not victim-hood competitions, but any Commission tasked with such investigations, here must be exposed to the reality that the Palestinians have no monopoly on suffering – and the PA and Hamas have caused plenty of it (both Palestinian and Israeli.)

Per the U.N. Commissioners’ Press Release requesting submissions of testimony:

“The Commissioners wish to make it clear that they interpret this mandate to include investigations of the activities of Palestinian armed groups in Gaza, including attacks on Israel as well as the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip and Israeli actions in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. The Commission of Inquiry is looking at a broad range of alleged violations committed by all parties, and is considering the full range of human rights, including economic, social and cultural rights.” (Emphasis added.)

“The Commissioners personally wish to reassure all those who have suffered so intensely as a result of this conflict that they will do their utmost to fulfill their mandate to the best of their abilities. The three Commissioners have traveled to the region and plan follow-up trips in early 2015.” (Emphasis added.)

A close read of the Commissioners’ site indicates a lopsided approach to the suffering. This is evidenced by the fact that its Press Release publicizing the request for submission of testimony is available on the site (as of January 7th) only in English and Arabic (indicated by the letters ‘E’ and ‘A’) – but not Hebrew. (The request itself is available in Hebrew, however.) This bias also is discernible in the Commissioners’ explicit interpretation of their mission, inter alia, to investigate [only] Israeli actions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem [while apparently ignoring Hamas activity there].) However, the Israelis’ silence about how they have been traumatized by Palestinian wrongdoing will only add to that lop-sidedness. Unless the Commission is  presented with gripping and voluminous first-hand testimony of how Israelis have affected by Palestinian violations of international law, there is nary a chance that the Commission can be true to its ostensible mission – much less held accountable to it.

A web-site, hearourvoices.org provides more information about submitting testimony.

About the Author
Elihu D Stone practiced law in Boston, Massachusetts and is currently a member of the Israeli Bar; He is involved in the Al Durah Project, an initiative dedicated to understanding and countering the dilemmas and vulnerabilities that face democratic cultures in this age of aggressive asymmetric and cognitive warfare. Elihu has been privileged to serve in leadership roles for a variety of Jewish communal organizations and is an alumnus of the Wexner Heritage Foundation. The writer currently maintains a U.S. life insurance clientele and lives in Efrat, Israel