Israeli leaders on Thursday angrily rejected the findings of a UN probe into Israeli soldiers’ actions in Gaza, calling it “hostile, deceitful and biased.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel “rejects outright the report” by a UN commission of inquiry set up by the world body’s Human Rights Council, which alleged soldiers may have committed crimes against humanity in Israel’s response to Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza last year.
“The council is setting new records in hypocrisy and lies, out of obsessive hatred of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “It is Hamas which fires rockets at Israeli civilians, bombs and carries out terrorist activities during the violent demonstrations on the fence.”
He said “soldiers will continue to firmly protect Israeli citizens against attacks by Hamas and terrorist organizations funded by Iran, which declares its intention to destroy Israel.”
Earlier on Thursday, the independent Commission of Inquiry mandated by the HRC alleged that soldiers intentionally fired on civilians who did not pose an “imminent threat” at the border. The panel acknowledged significant violence linked to the demonstrations, but said they did not amount to combat campaigns, essentially rejecting an Israeli claim of “terror activities” by the Strip’s Hamas rulers.
Foreign Minister Israel Katz called the report “hostile, deceitful and biased,” labeling it “the theater of the absurd.” He said the entity “pushing the residents of Gaza to the fences, including women and children, is Hamas, an organization whose declared goal is to destroy the State of Israel.” Hamas, he said was “the one to bear the responsibility.”
Katz, who is also intelligence and transportation minister, said the report was based on false information and wasn’t properly researched.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also criticized the UN for the “patently false” report, accusing the world body of ignoring Hamas’s “cynical exploitation of ‘civilian’ terror marches as cover for terrorist attacks.”
In denying “Israel’s right to defend its citizens, it becomes a partner in Hamas’s terror,” he said.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett said it was “hard to imagine the UN could sink any lower. Alternating between excusing terror and ignoring terror it is letting down democracies and backing dictators and tyrants.”
The probe investigated possible violations from the start of the protests on March 30, 2018, through December 31.
“The Commission found reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot at journalists, health workers, children and persons with disabilities, knowing they were clearly recognizable as such,” it said.
The investigators specified that there were reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli troops killed and injured Palestinians “who were neither directly participating in hostilities, nor posing an imminent threat.”
It said more than 6,000 people were shot by military snipers using live ammunition during the period investigated, with 189 killed.
The UN team dismissed claims by Israel that the protests aimed to conceal acts of terrorism that have included shootings, grenade and bomb attacks, Molotov cocktails and breaches of the border fence.
“The demonstrations were civilian in nature, with clearly stated political aims,” the statement said. “Despite some acts of significant violence, the Commission found that the demonstrations did not constitute combat or military campaigns.”
The commission said it conducted 325 interviews with victims, witnesses and other sources, while reviewing more than 8,000 documents. Investigators looked at drone footage and other audiovisual material, the commission said.
“The Israeli authorities did not respond to repeated requests by the Commission for information and access to Israel and to the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the report said.
The Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on the report, directing questions to the Foreign Ministry.
The UNHRC report came a day after Israeli jets struck multiple targets in the southern Gaza Strip linked to Hamas, in response to an incendiary device flown over the border from Gaza that damaged a home in the Eshkol region. There were no reports of casualties from the Israeli strikes.
Since March 2018 when the border violence began, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched thousands of balloons carrying incendiary and explosive devices into Israel, causing wildfires in nearby agricultural fields, forests and nature reserves.
These arson and bombing attacks largely stopped at the end of last year, following a de facto ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, but they returned earlier this month as this understanding began to fray.
Last week a brush fire in southern Israel was sparked by incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip.
According to the pro-Israel watchdog group UN Watch, other UNHRC reports in the coming weeks are set to accuse Israel of alleged human rights violations in the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, and in territories claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, Channel 12 news reported earlier this month.