Israel on Monday said it would “seriously” evaluate the United Nations Human Rights Council inquiry on the Gaza conflict, while politicians from left and right slammed the international body for bias and declared that the international investigators lacked access to evidence.
The report, released in Geneva on Monday afternoon, said both Israel and Hamas may have committed war crimes during the 50-day war last summer. The UN Human Rights Council report (download) placed blame on both parties but focused more on Israel’s role.
It also accepted the Palestinian death count of 1,462 civilians killed out of a total of 2,251 Palestinian war dead — a 65-percent ratio — rather than Israel’s figures showing a lower proportion of civilian fatalities.
“The report is biased,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in response. “Israel is not perpetrating war crimes but rather protecting itself from an organization that carries out war crimes. We won’t sit back with our arms crossed as our citizens are attacked by thousands of missiles.”
The Human Rights Council “in practice does everything but worry about human rights,” the prime minister charged. “The commission spends more time condemning Israel than Iran, Syria and North Korea put together.”
The Foreign Ministry in an official statement said the report “was commissioned by a notoriously biased institution, given an obviously biased mandate, and initially headed by a grossly biased chairperson, William Schabas,” in reference to the original chairman of the probe who resigned in February amid Israeli allegations of bias over consulting work he once did for the Palestine Liberation Organization.
With Schabas’s appointment, the commission of inquiry “was politically motivated and morally flawed from the outset,” it said.
Still, the Foreign Ministry said it would investigate the claims of the report.
“Just as Israel seriously considered every complaint, no matter its origin, it will also seriously study this report. We take note of the fact that the authors of this report admitted that they lacked much of the relevant information.”
Israel had refused to cooperate with the international probe or to grant entry to investigators into the coastal enclave, arguing that the inquiry’s conclusions were pre-written.
The Foreign Ministry also castigated the UN Human Rights Council investigation for failing to distinguish between the Israeli military and Hamas.
“It is regrettable that the report fails to recognize the profound difference between Israel’s moral behavior during Operation Protective Edge and the terror organizations it confronted,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Likud minister Yuval Steinitz compared the conflict to a Palestinian suicide bomber commandeering a bus full of Palestinian civilians and ramming it into an Israeli tank. “Many Palestinian civilians would die,” he told Army Radio. “but that doesn’t mean the tank is to blame.” The UN panel’s approach was “absurd,” he said, in that it would require Israel not to fire back when terrorists fire at its civilians “because the terrorists are hiding behind their civilians.”
Steinitz also said the UNHRC’s obsessive focus on Israel points to anti-Semitism. Asked whether Israel would have done better to cooperate with the panel, he said, “You can’t explain to people who are not prepared to listen.”
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid also rejected the idea that Israel should have cooperated, saying the panel had drawn its conclusions before it even began its probe.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely defended the Israeli army’s conduct during the conflict, saying the measures it took to safeguard Palestinian civilian lives were “without parallel” globally.
“The State of Israel and the IDF scrupulously abide by the highest standards of international law,” she said.
“The measures Israel took during the Gaza Conflict to protect the lives of Israeli and Palestinian civilians are without parallel among other military forces,” Hotovely said in a statement.
“From the outset, the purpose of this report was to vilify the State of Israel and the IDF, with the ultimate aim of undermining Israel’s right to defend its citizens from attack,” she said, adding that the Human Rights Council “has completely discredited itself through its obsessive and prejudicial preoccupation with Israel, while turning a blind eye to genuine violations of human rights around the world.”
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, breaking an earlier directive from Netanyahu not to comment on the findings, termed the inquiry “a report with blood on its hands, because it permits the killing of Jews.”
“This is a report with blood on its hand because it ties our soldiers’ hands [preventing them] from defending the residents of the south and the entire state. This is a report with blood on its hands because it skips over the murder of the teens as if it didn’t happen and isn’t worthy of investigation,” he added, in reference to the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank last June.
The UN report also drew criticism from members of the opposition.
“The IDF is a moral military and I don’t need any international report or commission to know this,” said Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog. “While for Hamas killing innocents is the main goal, I can say from my own experience in many cabinet meetings that the question of hurting noncombatants is always on the table and a very significant consideration in operational decisions.”
Zionist Union co-chief Tzipi Livni lambasted the report for comparing the IDF and Gaza terror groups.
“We will not accept a comparison between terrorists and IDF soldiers. We will not agree to IDF soldiers and terrorists being mentioned in the same breath, and this distinction is important for any country fighting terrorism,” she said. “IDF soldiers are fighting terrorists, even if sometimes civilians are hurt. Terror organizations do not discriminate and kill civilians and soldiers.”
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigor Liberman, a former foreign minister, accused the Hman Rights Council itself of committing war crimes.
“Israel does not commit war crimes. The UN’s Human Rights Commission and the biased panels it establishes regularly commit crimes against humanity by rewriting history and distorting a reality in which one country fights to protect its children, who are being attacked by rockets fired by a terror organization [hiding behind] where children are found.”
Jonathan Beck and Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.