The majority of Israeli government ministers oppose the probe ordered by the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) into the IDF’s Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.
A report published on Wednesday by Channel 2 showed that a majority of ministers, 14 out of 22, believe Israel should not cooperate with the fact-finding mission, which is led by academic William Schabas.
The 14 ministers told the news channel that Schabas’s commission should be boycotted by Israel, as was the commission led by Justice Richard Goldstone into 2008-2009’s Operation Cast Lead. The Goldstone Report, which was released in 2009, found both Israel and Hamas guilty of war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
Most senior ministers, among them Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, vocally criticized the commission’s establishment and its position regarding Israel, Channel 2 reported.
Others, such as Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, reportedly refused to comment.
Meanwhile Wednesday, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira announced he would launch an investigation into the military and political leadership’s handling of Operation Protective Edge.
According to a statement from his office, Shapira’s decision was triggered by claims that Israel violated international law in the month-long military campaign in the Gaza Strip. In addition, there are claims that Israel doesn’t monitor IDF activities in keeping with international law, the statement said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Wednesday that Israel should not cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council probe into the conflict in Gaza, and threatened the lives of top Hamas leaders if the terror group didn’t return the bodies of two IDF soldiers who were killed in the fighting.
Speaking while on a tour of southern Israel, the hard-line minister decried the investigative panel and urged that Israel not participate in its activities to avoid giving it any form of approval.
“This committee, appointed by the Human Rights Council, is a symphony of hypocrisy,” he said. “Israel mustn’t cooperate with this committee. We have to deal with it, but not cooperate and give legitimacy to Israel-haters.”
On Monday, Israel decried the appointment of the three members of the investigative UN committee to review the recent military operation in Gaza, saying the identity of the three proved that the results of the probe were a foregone conclusion.
The committee will be headed by Canadian Prof. William Schabas, and was to include British-Lebanese rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin, and Doudou Dienne of Senegal, who has previously served as the UN’s watchdog on racism and on post-conflict Ivory Coast. Alamuddin later released a statement saying that she was too busy with eight other cases and could not take on the UN position.
Schabas, who was appointed to lead the inquiry, defended his record to Israeli media Tuesday and said past statements he’s made that paint him as anti-Israel would have no bearing on his probe of the Gaza conflict.
Schabas told Army Radio in an interview on Tuesday that he is not anti-Israel, has visited Israel in the past to give university presentations and is a member of the editorial board of an Israeli legal journal.
The Canadian law professor indicated his panel would look at all aspects of wrongdoing regardless of which side was behind them, stressing that regardless of his personal opinions, he will be objective.
“What has to happen in a commission like this is that people like myself have to put anything they may have thought and said behind them and to approach their mandate in the most fair and objective and impartial manner possible. And that’s what I intend to do,” he told Channel 2.
But Israel’s Foreign Ministry was bitterly critical of the probe and the panel. “Already at the time that the decision to establish the committee was adopted, on July 23, the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister announced that the Human Rights Council long ago became the Terrorists Rights Council and a ‘kangaroo court,’ and that the findings of its ‘investigations’ are predetermined,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“If further proof is needed, the appointment of the chairman of the committee, whose opinions and positions against Israel are well known, proves beyond any doubt that Israel cannot expect justice from such a body.”
The statement concluded that “the committee’s report has already been written and at the moment it has only been defined who will sign on it.”
Schabas, a professor of International Law at London’s Middlesex University, has called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes.
He also supported the 2009 Goldstone Report into Israel’s last ground offensive in Gaza, though he said in a later interview that the scale of destruction in Gaza did not compare to other atrocities in the world.
The report is likely to be seen by many as a new iteration of the 2009 report, the result of a UNHRC investigation led by South African former judge Richard Goldstone, which accused Israel of a policy of deliberately targeting civilians during Cast Lead, a previous military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
Israel, which had refused to cooperate with the investigation at the time, sharply rejected the claim. In 2011, Goldstone retracted the accusation of a deliberate policy to target civilians.
Almost 2,000 people have been killed in Gaza in the past month’s fighting, according to officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Israel says 750-1,000 of the dead are combatants, while Gaza has not broken down the deaths.
Israel also blames Hamas for all civilian fatalities, since Hamas set up its rocket launchers, tunnel openings and other elements of its war machine in Gaza neighborhoods and uses Gazans as “human shields.”
Israel lost 64 soldiers and three civilians in the fighting, which is on hold as the sides attempt to negotiate a ceasefire in Cairo.
Eleven of the Israeli soldiers were killed by Hamas gunmen emerging from tunnels dug under the Israeli border. Hamas fired over 3,000 rockets at Israel, including some 600 from areas close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, the Israeli army says.
The probe team has been tasked with reporting back to the council by March 2015.
— AFP contributed to this report