Israeli Gaza war report defends IDF actions, fingers Hamas

Document presented as pre-emptive strike against forthcoming UN report, which PM calls a waste of time

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli soldiers seen at a deployment area near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 25, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israeli soldiers seen at a deployment area near the border with the Gaza Strip on August 25, 2014 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Anticipating the imminent publication of a United Nations report on last summer’s war in Gaza, the Israeli government on Sunday published its own account of the events surrounding the conflict, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge.

The 275-page report, which officials say has been in the making ever since the war ended in late August 2014, places the blame for the war’s casualties squarely on Hamas and armed factions operating in the Strip.

While Israel has previously published much of the information and many of the arguments provided in the report, it also contains some new data. For instance, it presents for the first time the army’s analysis of the war’s casualties. According to the IDF’s account, 44 percent of the 2,125 Palestinians killed in Gaza were “militants,” and 36% were “uninvolved civilians.” Some 20% of victims have yet to be identified.

The report (PDF) highlights Israel’s efforts to protect Israeli civilians and its ceasefire offers, while accusing Hamas, which rules the Strip, of deliberately targeting Israeli civilians and embedding its military capabilities in civilian areas. The report also highlights the efforts of the Israeli army to warn Gazans of imminent airstrikes.

The report, which was compiled by officials in the Foreign Ministry, Justice Ministry, IDF Military Advocate General and National Security Council, attempts to stave off harsh criticism likely to be leveled at Israel by the UN Human Rights Council. The UN’s document is expected to be released sometime this week.

“Israel is a law-abiding nation that respects all international legal standards,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said. “I apologize for the cliché, but Israel’s army is the most moral army in the world.”

In all its military operations, the IDF adhered and continues to adhere to international law, she asserted. “There is no more moral army in the world than the IDF and no country investigates [itself] in a more transparent manner than the State of Israel,” she said.

The Israeli army is also unique in that it sends legal advisers into the battlefield together with combat soldiers to ascertain that they act in accordance with international law, the deputy foreign minister said.

“The most important thing that is coming out is the fact that Israel wants to expose the truth. Israel is not ashamed of the facts,” Hotovely concluded.

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The UN commission of inquiry whose report is slated to come out this week was headed by legalist William Schabas before he quit in February over allegations of anti-Israel bias. The probe was concluded by former New York judge Mary McGowan Davis.

Israel refused to cooperate with the commission, arguing that the very language of the UN resolution that created it was biased against Israel, the Foreign Ministry’s new director-general, Dore Gold, said.

“So Israel created its own body, its own commission of inquiry, and it just so happens that in recent days it concluded its work,” he said. “We needed to put forward our story because we have nothing to hide.”

Israel has pursued “a general policy of transparency,” and the new report proved as much, he said. “Israel has nothing to hide.”

Containing dozens of pictures and primary Palestinian and Israeli military sources, the report makes an elaborate case for Israel, arguing that the army went beyond requirements of international law to protect civilians. It reveals for the first the elaborate orders given by IDF commanders to combat soldiers to ensure no civilians were present in the targets they were about to attack.

At the same time, the report attempts to show how Hamas and Gaza’s other armed factions intentionally violated the laws of armed conflict and committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

“Hamas and other terrorist organizations prolonged the hostilities, and repeatedly rejected ceasefires or accepted and then violated them,” the report states. “Had Hamas accepted the initial Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that the Arab League endorsed and Israel accepted on July 15 — which featured the same terms as the ceasefire offer to which Hamas ultimately adhered to on August 26 — approximately 90 percent of the casualties incurred during the 2014 Gaza Conflict could have been avoided.”

Some 2,100 Gazans and 70 Israelis were killed during the operation, which lasted from July 7 to August 26, 2014. Israel’s Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center tracked all Palestinian casualties and believes that half of them were Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad operatives.

According to the new report, 936 of the 2,125 Palestinians killed during Operation Protective Edge, or 44%, have been identified as militants. More that two thirds of those militants were affiliated with Hamas, while 201 (or 22%) belonged to the Islamic Jihad. Over 100 (or 11%) were affiliated with other factions.

A man sits in a destroyed house in Al Shejaeiya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City, August 28, 2014 (photo credit: Emad Nassar/Flash90)
A man sits in a destroyed house in Al Shejaeiya neighborhood in the east of Gaza City, August 28, 2014 (photo credit: Emad Nassar/Flash90)

The IDF classified 761 Palestinians casualties (or 36%) as “uninvolved civilians, either because there was no indication that they were involved in the hostilities or because they were assumed to be uninvolved based upon their age and gender,” according to the report. Among them, 369 were children under the age of 15.

“The number of fatalities in the course of the 2014 Gaza Conflict — though unfortunate — does not imply that IDF actions violated the principle of proportionality,” the report states. “Moreover, any estimation of the breakdown of civilian versus militant fatalities must be undertaken carefully, on the basis of reliable information and a rigorous methodology. The need for a careful examination of such statistics is especially important given Hamas’s efforts to manipulate the number of civilian fatalities from hostilities with Israel.”

The report was presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday during the weekly cabinet meeting.

“Whoever wants to know the truth should read this report on the Israeli position and read the senior generals’ report,” Netanyahu said. “Whoever wants to automatically – and without foundation – blame Israel, let them waste their time with the UN Human Rights Council report. For our part, we will continue to defend our soldiers and they will continue to defend us.”

The Palestinian Authority rejected the report, claiming that Israel had deliberately targeted civilians. “Israel’s decision to deny having targeted civilians in Gaza is the logical extension of what it did in the Gaza Strip,” Ihab Bseiso, a spokesman for the Palestinian government in Ramallah, told AFP.

AFP contributed to this report.

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