The head of a UN commission appointed to investigate the recent Israel-Gaza confrontation said he would not resign despite Israeli pressure exerted on him to do so.
Canadian law professor William Schabas, who has come under fire for what critics call his antipathy to Israel after having called for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stand trial at the ICC for war crimes, said he would only quit if the UN Human Rights Council, which appointed him, decides that his role at the commission hampers its activity.
“I do not hate Israel and do not want to engage in a debate regarding my previous positions on Israel,” Schabas told Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat in an interview published Wednesday. “I have had positions in the past concerning Palestine and Israel and they have nothing to do with my mission now. I will put my opinions aside during the investigation and they will have no bearing on it.”
Schabas opined that the American and Israeli opposition he has faced was not directed at him personally.
“Yes, Israel has forcefully attacked me. I believe these attacks came from principled opponents of the investigation commission who also oppose the UN Human Rights Council. I believe the problem is not actually with me. Even if Spider-Man were appointed to head the commission they would attack him, and I don’t take it personally.”
Israel has not yet decided whether to cooperate with the Schabas commission. An Israeli television report last month indicated that a majority of cabinet ministers oppose cooperation, but the IDF has reportedly augmented its legal staff and is conducting internal investigations into the army’s activities during Operation Protective Edge.
Schabas told the daily that his investigators, currently being assembled by the UN, will arrive on the ground “soon” to begin collecting evidence. The report is expected to be submitted by March 2015.
A thorough investigation of the Gaza operation would require 500 field investigators, Schabas said, but added that the UN budget will only allow for six or seven staff members. He called on eyewitnesses to submit their testimonies and documents to his group through a website that will be launched within days, with pages in Hebrew and Arabic.
In August, Netanyahu criticized the UN Security Council for choosing to investigate Israel rather than the nearby war-torn areas of Iraq or Syria.
“The committee chairman has already decided that Hamas is not a terrorist organization. Therefore, they have nothing to look for here. They should visit Damascus, Baghdad and Tripoli. They should go see ISIS, the Syrian army and Hamas. There they will find war crimes, not here,” the prime minister said in a recent statement.
A campaign sponsored by the Im Tirtzu organization in August collected 13,000 signatures for a petition calling on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to prosecute the leaders of Hamas for war crimes.
Ban said the UN would launch a separate probe into deaths at several UN-run schools in Gaza during the conflict, apparently from Israeli shelling, in an interview with Arabic language daily al-Hayat published Wednesday. He said he was also considering investigating the storing of Hamas rockets at some UNRWA schools.
Tamar Pileggi contributed to this report.