By Shaun Sacks
Senior Researcher at NGO Monitor – the globally recognized research institute promoting democratic values and good governance.
On February 28, 2019, the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the riots along the Israel-Gaza border, which began in March 2018, alleged that “Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law… and may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity.” The COI created a “confidential file” of “which is recommended be given to the International Criminal Court (ICC)” and to be used by governments to “consider imposing individual sanctions, such as a travel ban or an assets freeze.”
- In contrast to professional fact-finding standards, the COI clearly established pre-determined legal and factual conclusions and merely gathered “evidence” to fit its desired outcome.
- In preparing its report, the COI relied heavily on Palestinian sources, including Hamas and terror-linked non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Notably, the COI uncritically adopts the NGOs’ application of a domestic law enforcement paradigm – erasing the context of the armed conflict with Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups – to analyze cross-border violence.
- The COI used anonymous and unverifiable “testimonies.” When asked during a press conference to provide details about how many of the 325 the interviews it conducted itself or how it selected the 325 individuals reportedly interviewed, the Chairperson of the COI was unable to answer the question and stated he would have to provide that information “at a later date”.
- The information provided in the published summary is a near copy-paste from NGO submissions to the COI. For example, all names of Palestinian children killed were provided by Defense for Children International – Palestine (DCI-P), an NGO with ties to the Popular of Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group, i.e. one of the parties to the conflict in Gaza. (DCI-P’s submission was prepared in partnership with the CUNY School of Law Human Rights and Gender Justice Law Clinic.)
- Reflecting the COI’s lack of expertise and muddled analysis, throughout the report, the COI mixes up the concepts of “international human rights” and “humanitarian law” and applicable rules and standards. For example, according to the Commission, the violence along the Israel-Gaza border was not a “military” or “combat” situation and therefore human rights law was the appropriate standard. Therefore, its conclusion that “human rights violations” may also constitute “war crimes” is baseless, since war crimes can only occur where the laws of war are applicable.
- The UN’s shoddy researching and reporting led them to write identical paragraphs about the same fatality, Mo’min Hams, on different pages of the “protected groups” section of the report.
Minimizing Palestinian Violence, Erasing Palestinian Terror
- The COI largely erases the dimension of Palestinian violence along the Gaza border, as well as Hamas’ leading role in orchestrating the attacks. NGO Monitor’s two submissions to the COI provided significant detail regarding the presence of violence – including use of guns, Molotov cocktails, stones, burning tires, incendiary kites, etc. as well as the exploitation of children to perpetrate these acts – along the Gaza border. These and other evidence of violence are freely available from open sources. The COI ignored and minimized these armed attacks and reconstituted the riots as “peaceful protests.”
- According to a statement made at a press conference, the COI deliberately focused on five main riot locations during the specific times of protests. This means that the COI ignored essential context including that the riots were used as diversions to attacks occurring elsewhere at the same time as well as military attacks, shootings and other violence that occurred at other times, particularly at night.
- Although the COI acknowledges the involvement of terrorist organizations in planning the events along the border, it absurdly insists that “the armed wings of these parties were not represented on the [planning] committee.” In Gaza in particular, the distinction between “armed wings” of terror groups and other branches of these groups is meaningless.
- The COI whitewashes statements made by Hamas officials that demonstrate Hamas’ role in organizing and directing the violence along the Gaza. On May 17, 2018, Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar stated that “when we talk about ‘peaceful resistance,’ we are deceiving the public. This is a peaceful resistance bolstered by a military force and by security agencies and enjoying tremendous popular support.”
- On May 16, Hamas spokesman Salah Bardawil claimed “I am giving you an official figure. Fifty of the martyrs in the recent battle were from Hamas,” referring to clashes that took place on May 14.
- According to analysis conducted by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, dozens of fatalities named by the CoI were members of or were tied to terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Among these was 16 year-old Islamic Jihad member Ahmad al-Shaer, indicating the recruitment of children into terrorist organizations.
- The COI claims that Israel “intentionally shot” children, health workers, journalists, and those with disabilities, “knowing” that these people were “recognizable as such when they were shot.”
- It is unclear how the COI could determine intent of or the information known to IDF soldiers at the time of a given incident.
- One such disabled individual is identified as deaf. Obviously, an Israeli soldier, at a distance of 150m away, could not possibly know of this person’s condition.
- In its press conference, COI members admitted that “maybe some of them weren’t visibly children.”
Illegitimacy of the COI
- None of the COI members has any expertise in international humanitarian law or military operations. Not surprising then, the report ignores the applicable legal framework and instead lazily refers solely to human rights law, making the absurd claim that “the demonstrations were civilian in nature… and despite some acts of significant violence, did not constitute combat or a military campaign.”
- The COI was marred by a lack of transparency and accountability. It was allocated the massive sum of $1.5million to complete this report yet kept secret how this money was spent. The identities of the staffers and any consultants employed are not disclosed, making it impossible to independently verify their professional qualifications.
The COI was established by the notorious UN Human Rights Council – a body controlled by dictatorships and authoritarian regimes and known for extreme anti-Israel bias. Therefore, it is not a true “inquiry,” but rather a rigged effort to recycle the claims of partisan NGOs and to grant them the legitimacy of the UN. This is another round to target Israel via such pseudo-investigations, including the notorious and subsequently discredited 2009 Goldstone report.
About the writer:
Shaun Sacks immigrated to Israel from South Africa in 1998. He received his BA from Bar Ilan University. Before joining NGO Monitor as a Senior Researcher, Shaun was the Senior Project Manager for NETSOURCE, an Israeli firm that specializes in providing technology employment opportunities to Ultra-Orthodox communities, and emerging market manager for McAfee Inc.