Human shields and casualty figures
The report avoids mentioning the following verifiable reasons for the evidently high civilian casualty rate
a) Gazan citizens were not allowed to take refuge in the vast number of tunnels controlled by Hamas.
b) Gazans were urged by Hamas to act as human shields by defying warnings of imminent attacks as verified below and
c) As Hamas information officials gave explicit instructions to call every casualty an “innocent civilian,” regardless of the facts, it was virtually impossible to distinguish between combatant and civilian. (Is this 15 year old a child or combatant?)
On August 29, 2014 The Washington Institute reported that on July 17, the Hamas Interior Ministry posted a video with the following instructions:
“Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in jihad or his military rank. Don’t forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks in Gaza” (see the Middle East Media Research Institute’s Special Dispatch No. 5799). And the official Hamas television channel in Gaza, al-Aqsa TV, broadcast this remarkable proclamation on August 10:
“Even the jihad fighters in the battleground are actually Palestinian civilians fulfilling their religious and national duty. This is why we…say ‘a civilian car,’ ‘a civilian target,’ and so on, since we have no regular army and no real military targets, as the occupation is trying to claim in its propaganda” (as reported by Palestinian Media Watch).
While Hamas declares it has no real military targets one must ask whether or not a house which serves as a command post or which contains an entrance to a tunnel is a legitimate target.
As the UN report fails to address the use of human shields by Hamas, it is important to ask the commission what steps it took (if any) to verify the authenticity of an official Hamas manual which explains how the civilian population was used as human shields. (I drew the Commission’s attention to this manual in Appendix E to a memorandum I sent on January 19, 2015 which may be downloaded here.
The manual titled “Urban Warfare,” produced by Hamas’s Shuja’iya Brigade includes detailed instructions on how to use the civilians of Gaza against Israel. It explains, because of Israel’s concern about civilian casualties, how Hamas can use the “presence of civilians” to its military advantage, emphasizing the benefits of damage to civilian property. It says the destruction of civilian homes increases the hatred of the citizens towards Israel and increases world support and discloses that the cruel use of the Gazan population was intentional and preplanned.
While the Commission may well have had reservations about the authenticity of this document, in seeking the truth it was duty bound to at least investigate it with vigor equal to that accorded to evidence it received in telephone and Skype conversations as described below.
The report demonstrates its bias by diverting from the widely acknowledged use of human shields by Hamas to accusing Israel of doing so on the flimsiest grounds. It ignores indisputable evidence and confessions by Hamas leaders not only that it used human shields as a matter of policy, but that it also encouraged high civilian casualties and property damage to gain the sympathy of the UN and world politicians as admitted by Hamas officials eg. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri on official Hamas TV Al Aqsa can be seen boasting of the results of using human shields on this Youtube
The callous attitude of Hamas to the lives of Gazan citizens is not new. On February 29 2008 Hamas MP Fathi Hammad said on official Hamas Al Aqsa TV
“we desire death like you desire life. That is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly and the mujahideen
In contrast to the above hard evidence, Clause 346 of the report resorts to innuendo to accuse Israel stating vaguely
“Based on the information available to the commission the manner in which the Israeli soldiers forced Palestinian civilians to stand in windows, enter houses/underground areas and/or perform dangerous tasks of a military nature, constitutes a violation of the prohibition against the use of human shields contained in article 28 of Geneva Convention IV, and may amount to a war crime.”
The credibility of the above conclusions is best evaluated by reading them in conjunction with Clause 8 of the report which reveals that the commission obtained evidence by means of interviews conducted via Skype, videoconference and telephone referring to this as “first-hand testimony”. Moreover, clause 15 states that the Commission recognizes the limitations resulting from the fact that the interviews were done remotely, the lapse in time since the incidents occurred, and the possibility of reprisals and that in many cases, as a result of the constraints imposed on the commission, in particular in terms of access, it was not possible to establish with certainty the factual circumstances of a given incident.”
Threats of reprisals for giving evidence
The report is unfortunately short on facts and long on assumptions such as the vague statement in clause 9 of the detailed findings of the independent commission which notes that
“a number of Israeli non-governmental organizations were reluctant to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry, fearing in some cases that there could be negative repercussions on their work.”
One must wonder what “some cases” means and the reason given by others who were reluctant to cooperate?
Anyone who is familiar with the daily vigorous and often harsh criticism of Israel in Israeli media and the supercritical vocal activities of NGO’s like B’tselem, the NIF, Breaking the Silence and others, must wonder about the gullibility of the commissioners in believing the claim of fearing negative repercussions by Israel merely for speaking out.
Nathan Sharansky distinguishes between “fear societies”, in which people cannot express their true opinions, and “free societies” such as the USA and Israel in which anyone can stand in the market square and shout “Down with the ruler” without fear.
To any impartial observer it is obvious that any reprisals that were feared were from Hamas or the PA not from Israel. Palestinians cannot speak or act freely as confirmed by President Abbas himself who complained about 120 Fatah members killed by Hamas merely for breaking a curfew, and others sentenced to death by summary execution on Gaza’s streets (Financial Times ft.com September 7, 2014). The UN report is strangely silent on these and other fatalities caused by Palestinians on Palestinians
It is inexcusable that the Commission chose to ignore the public protest by The Foreign Press Association (FPA) about “blatant, incessant, forceful and unorthodox” intimidation of journalists in the Gaza Strip by Hamas. The FPA complained that foreign reporters working in Gaza have been harassed, threatened and questioned about some of their reports thereby denying readers and viewers an objective picture from the ground” The FPA added
“we are also aware that Hamas is trying to put in place a ‘vetting’ procedure that would, in effect, allow for the blacklisting of specific journalists. Such a procedure is vehemently opposed by the FPA.”
That this protest by the influential and highly regarded FPA was not mentioned in the UN report must be attributed either to sloppy methodology or bias or both.