Whatever you think of the report released yesterday by the United Nations Human Rights Council on last summer’s Gaza war, take a moment to reflect on its causes.
In a nutshell, it was the result of aggression on the part of Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip with an iron hand since the spring of 2007.
Hamas and its sister organization, Islamic Jihad, violated the tenuous ceasefire brokered by Egypt and the United States after the last round of hostilities in 2012. Furthermore, they initially rejected appeals by Israel to end the war, which raged from July 7 to August 26.
Amid the explosion of rockets, the crashing din of artillery and the roar of aircraft, it’s sometimes forgotten that Hamas has started each war with Israel since 2008.
On Ariel Sharon’s orders, Israel withdrew unilaterally from Gaza 10 years ago come August, evacuating the settlers and more or less levelling the string of settlements in which they had lived. Not without reason, the Israeli government hoped that the pullout would encourage the Palestinians to develop Gaza and coexist with Israel.
In retrospect, it was a forlorn hope.
Within a year of the withdrawal, Hamas defeated Fatah in an election. And then, in a violent coup, Hamas ejected Fatah — the mainstream Palestinian faction — from Gaza, leaving it exclusively in the hands of an Islamic fundamentalist group that not only rejects Israel’s very existence but draws sustenance from its antisemitic charter.
So from that point onward, Gaza — an impoverished, overpopulated enclave which has never realized its economic potential — was converted into a launching pad for attacks against Israel. Gaza thus reverted to what it had been prior to the Six Day War, a periodic source of aggression against Israel.
Hamas argues that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, which came into effect after Hamas’ seizure of power, is itself a form of aggression. The opposite is true. The siege was imposed to thwart efforts by Hamas to smuggle arms and munitions into Gaza. If Hamas had abandoned its armed struggle against Israel, there would have been no need for a blockade.
Lest it be forgotten, the hostilities in Gaza last summer were set off by Hamas rocket and mortar barrages aimed at Israeli kibbutzim and towns near the border. The latest UN report makes a clear reference to the “inherently indiscriminate nature” of these bombardments. During the course of the war, the Palestinians fired 4,881 rockets at Israel, causing death and destruction.
Israeli casualties would have been higher had it not been for the Iron Dome anti-missile system and the network of bomb shelters, both of which were expressly built with this chilling scenario in mind.
The UN report also points out, correctly, that Palestinian factions in Gaza “put Gazans in danger” by firing projectiles from “densely populated areas.” By doing so, Hamas and its allies committed war crimes.
A report issued by Israel on June 14 struck a similar theme. Hamas, it says, “intentionally and systematically used strategies designed to maximize harm to civilian life and property,” firing rockets and mortars from in or near homes, schools, mosques and hospitals.
In other words, Hamas cynically adopted a “human shield” policy, knowing full well that Israel would be condemned for killing innocent civilians. It’s obvious that Hamas was prepared to consign its own people to the status of sacrificial lambs.
Given these facts, it’s hard to understand why Israel refused to cooperate with the UN inquiry. True, the Human Rights Council has been biased against Israel. But what did Israel have to lose by cooperating?
Nothing at all.
Indeed, the Israeli case for responding to Hamas aggression might have been stronger had Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invited members of the UN commission to Israel and given them full access to political leaders, army commanders and pertinent files.
When Israel issued its own report on the Gaza war last week, Dore Gold, the new director of Israel’s foreign ministry, told journalists, “We need to put forward our story … to create an Israeli narrative.” In the same vein, Israel would have been wise to cooperate with the UN commission gathering material for its report.
It’s not too late for Israel to shore up its narrative of self-defence.
The International Criminal Court, which the Palestinians have joined, is reportedly planning to issue a report on the war. In its own best interests, Israel should offer to cooperate with this important and influential body.