Head of UN probe on Gaza clashes resigns for ‘personal reasons’

Human Rights Council says it will begin search to replace David Crane, who unlike past jurists didn’t draw criticism from Israel when he was appointed

Prof. David Crane giving a lecture in October 2017 at Syracuse University (YouTube screenshot)
Prof. David Crane giving a lecture in October 2017 at Syracuse University (YouTube screenshot)

The head of a United Nations Human Rights Council commission to investigate deadly clashes in recent months on the Gaza border has resigned for “personal reasons,” the council said on Wednesday, less than a month after he was appointed.

Vojislav Suc, Slovenian ambassador to the UN in Geneva and president of the council, has accepted US academic David Crane’s resignation and will have the task of appointing a new president of the commission, which also includes lawyers Sara Hossein from Bangladesh and Betty Murungi from Kenya, an official statement said.

Crane, an expert in international law who is currently a professor at Syracuse University, is also a former prosecutor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and worked in the US federal government for over 30 years.

He was appointed on July 25 to investigate the weekly “March of Return” protests on the border that began in March 30.

A large incendiary kite launched from Gaza which was removed from power lines near Kibbutz Sufa, August 11, 2018. (Israel Electric Corporation)

The clashes, which Israel has accused Gaza’s Hamas rulers of orchestrating, have included the throwing of rocks and explosives at troops, as well as attempts to breach the border fence and attack Israeli soldiers.

Palestinians in Gaza have also launched incendiary airborne devices toward Israel, burning thousands of acres of forest and farmland resulting in millions of shekels of estimated damages.

At least 171 Gazans have been killed by Israeli fire since the start of the clashes, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. An Israeli soldier was shot to death by a Palestinian sniper. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of the Palestinian casualties were members of terror groups.

Additionally, Israel and Hamas have engaged in a number of brief exchanges of fire in recent months that have seen terror groups in Gaza launch hundreds of rockets and mortars toward Israeli territory, including one earlier this month that was the largest flareup in violence since the 2014 war.

A picture taken on August 17, 2018 shows tear gas canisters thrown by Israeli forces at Palestinian protesters during a demonstration along the border of the Gaza Strip, east of Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

While Israel has blasted the UNHRC probe, criticism of Crane himself has been muted, likely owing to his lack of overtly critical statements on the Jewish state compared to past jurists who worked for the council.

Crane in the past had written about Israel.

“Every nation has a right to defend its citizens… but you must launch an attack in a proportional way and can’t cause unnecessary suffering for civilians,” he said in 2006. “Israel tends toward disproportional responses, which just fuel further anger [in the region].”

Illustrative: The UN Human Rights Council during an interactive dialogue with the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip on June 29, 2015 in Geneva, Switzerland. (UN photo)

In 2009, Crane told CBS News that Hamas firing rockets at civilians violates the laws of war.

But, he added, violations on one side do not excuse them on the other. “Even if the other side is not following the laws, you cannot step away from them.”

In determining whether Israeli troops were justified in shelling a building with dozens of civilians, one must find out whether they were aware of the likely civilian casualties, or if they merely knew that “they were being fired upon,” he said.

Contacted by The Times of Israel last month, Crane vowed to enter the investigation “with an open mind with no preconceived positions or perspectives.”

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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