Promoting lies about Israel’s “villainy” has become almost routine in many agencies and many parts of the world. Sometimes it reaches proportions that are so ludicrous, so without possible basis in fact, that it becomes a sort of self-satire. There was recently, for example, the action of the World Health Organization, a body of the UN, in singling out Israel among all the nations of the world for criticism. Israel’s “crime”? Violating the health rights of Druze and Arabs in the Golan, who are in need of “health related technical assistance,” whatever that means.
This is so absurd in light of the death of 200,000 Syrians within their own country, and the readiness of Israel to treat hundreds of wounded Syrians, providing them with the best of care, that no further comment is necessary.
But sometimes extensive “comment” is indeed necessary in order to refute the slander and provide the facts. This is the case with the war with Hamas in Gaza – Operation Protective Edge – that Israel fought last summer.
I have written many times about the painful difficulty of doing battle from a moral stance when confronting an enemy totally devoid of morality or concern for civilian life. There is no army on earth more moral in its fighting stance than the IDF. And a conflict such as Operation Protective Edge puts us in a horrific bind – for the enemy makes extensive use of human shields. IDF fighters are faced with a choice between killing Arab civilians in order to eliminate munitions that are to be used against Israeli civilians or refraining from an action in order to avoid hitting Arab civilians and thereby exposing Israeli civilians to lethal attack.
For Hamas, it’s a win-win situation. Either the IDF cancels an attack so as to not hit Arab civilians, thereby allowing rockets, etc. to remain available for use against Israel, or the IDF decides it must attack and Hamas then utilizes the death of Arab civilians in its PR war against Israel.
The UN Human Rights Council (an agency that is blatantly and notoriously anti-Israel) mandated a “Commission of Inquiry” to investigate the Israeli role in Operation Protective Edge. It was understood here in Israel from the get-go what the “findings” of this commission were likely to be.
We understood from the history of the Goldstone Report, and from the bias of persons involved with the commission. William Schabas resigned in February from his role as head of the inquiry, after he was charged with bias because he had previously done work for the PLO.
We knew from the virulently anti-Israel stance of NGOs – such as B’Tselem – that gave alleged testimony to the commission.
In an effort to preempt the anticipated international effect of the UNHRC inquiry, NGO-Monitor and UN Watch last week released a major report entitled “Filling in the Blanks.” It can be read in its entirety here: http://www.ngo-monitor.org/2014_Gaza_Conflict.pdf . (All emphasis in sections I cite below is added.)
I particularly would like to call your attention to two sections.
One, beginning on page 71, is “The Credibility of Reports and Allegations from Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) Regarding the 2014 Conflict,” which provides important context to a seriously misunderstood set of circumstances:
A ‘soft power’ political war, says this report, is “led by NGOs that claim the mantle of universal human rights and humanitarian goals…
“NGOs…adopt the rhetoric of human rights and international law in their publications and campaigns. By couching political attacks in legal terms, NGOs seek to create a veneer of credibility and expertise for their claims…
“NGOs like HRW, Amnesty International, Oxfam, Save the Children, B’Tselem, and others issue splashy, full-color publications, accompanied by videos and interactive multimedia. Under a façade of universality and morality, they push their narratives using highly sophisticated and expensive efforts led by media,
advertising, and fundraising professionals…Their campaigns achieve visibility globally in the biggest news outlets, including The New York Times, the BBC, and Le Monde.
“NGOs escape critical evaluation by the media and other actors due to a ‘halo effect,’ by which groups perceived to promote ‘good’ principles are insulated from scrutiny by a cloak of morality. This ‘halo effect’ compensates not only for the lack of accountability but also for the lack of expertise in the military and diplomatic spheres with which many NGOs concern themselves.”
The report considers the fact-finding methodology of NGOs, which is often lacking in thoroughness and impartiality. In a study cited in the American Journal of International Law, for example, it was found that, “There is often difficulty in distinguishing ‘between objective facts and slanted information provided for
Another analyst cited found that NGOs “focus to near exclusion on what the attackers do, especially in asymmetrical conflicts where the attackers are Western armies,” and the reports tend “to present to the public and press what are essentially lawyers’ briefs that shape the facts and law toward conclusions
that [they] favor… without really presenting the full range of factual and legal objections to [their] position.”
The second section, beginning on page 127, is Appendix 1, “Submission to the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict by Colonel Richard Kemp CBE [Commander British Empire].
Colonel Kemp, pictured below, commanded the British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003. He also worked in the UK Cabinet Office on intelligence relating to international and domestic terrorism. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad were among the extremist groups that he monitored and assessed.
The Colonel was in Israel for much of the summer 2014 Gaza conflict, and was briefed by Israeli political leaders, senior officials and IDF soldiers from top rank to private.
“In my opinion the actions taken by the IDF were necessary to defend the people of Israel from the ongoing, intensive and lethal attacks by Hamas and other groups in Gaza. It is the inalienable duty of every government to use its armed forces to protect its citizens and its terrain from external attack…
“I know of no other realistic and effective means of suppressing an aggressor’s missile fire than the methods used by the IDF, namely precision air and artillery strikes against the command and control structures, the fighters and the munitions of Hamas and the other groups in Gaza. Nor have I heard any other military expert from any country propose a viable alternative means of defense against such aggression.
“Much of the Hamas military infrastructure was located amongst the civilian population in Gaza. In these circumstances, neutralizing the threat from Hamas made civilian casualties unavoidable. Under the Laws of Armed Conflict this fact does not render such operations illegal assuming they were necessary. However the IDF had a duty to distinguish between legitimate military targets and civilians and to ensure that operations were conducted in accordance with the principle of proportionality as well as necessity.
“It is worth emphasizing that proportionality is not, as often believed by critics of Israel, a relationship between the numbers of casualties on either side in a conflict, but a calculation that considers whether the incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated in an attack.
“From my own research as well as briefings from and discussions with Israeli legal, military and political leaders, I understand and know well the ethos and operating principles of the IDF and I know that their commanders place great emphasis on adherence to the laws of armed conflict. This includes the principle of proportionality…
“…the IDF codify the relevant laws into rules of engagement that determine when Israeli military personnel may or may not use lethal and less than lethal force…IDF rules of engagement keep the IDF soldier within the laws of armed conflict by a significant margin. All Israeli soldiers are trained on these rules and regulations and the IDF emphasizes continuous updating of this training for their troops.
“I have found that communication of these directions is effective. In my experience the most junior soldiers in the IDF understand them and the imperative of adhering to them in conflict.
“Israel’s emphasis on preventing civilian casualties during this conflict started at the top. The Prime Minister, the Minister of Defense and the Chief of Staff of the IDF made clear their directions that civilian casualties were to be minimized. I was told that the first item on the agenda of every meeting of the Israeli security cabinet during the conflict was Palestinian civilian casualties…
“I was briefed on the following procedures that were routinely implemented prior to launching an attack in Gaza. Before a target could be attacked at least two separate and independent intelligence sources had to verify that it was a legitimate military target…
“Each separate aerial attack mission had to be personally authorized by the Commander of the Israeli Air Force or one of his deputies, at least one of whom had to be present in the operations center throughout the conflict. Authorization was also subject to legal advice. To confirm whether or not civilians were in the target area surveillance had to be conducted by both manned combat aircraft and unmanned air vehicle (drone).
“If surveillance or other intelligence sources confirmed the presence of civilians, or the presence of civilians was suspected, one or more of a series of measures was taken to warn the civilians before the attack could go ahead. These measures were:
Broadcast radio message.
Warning via UN.
An additional measure was the use of a specially designed harmless airdropped munition known as ‘knock on the roof’ which was dropped on buildings to make a loud percussion…”
You can see a leaflet drop in Gaza here (from AP, not this report):
And here you see a screen shot from a TV broadcast, with civilians on the roof of the home of a terrorist. Israel Matzav shared this. The building was not destroyed by Israel because of those human shields.
Continues Colonel Kemp:
“Further surveillance was then conducted to confirm the civilians had left the target area. If they had not the attack would not be carried out until they had. Once a pilot was authorized to attack he had authority – and it was his duty – to abort the attack if he had reason to believe civilians were present when he made his attack run.
“Pilots utilizing laser-guided munitions were required to identify a safe open area in advance so that if civilians were identified in the target zone even after the missile was launched, it could be diverted in flight to the safe area…
“A further consideration for ground operations was the safety of the IDF’s own forces…As any military commander must minimize the risk of civilian casualties in a combat zone so he must also minimize the risk of casualties to his own forces for moral reasons, because of his duty of care and for reasons of fighting morale and combat effectiveness against the enemy. This is often overlooked when investigating human rights issues in a conflict.
Colonel Kemp also discusses a variety of other related issues, including the IDF system for fact-finding and legal action against those soldiers who have conducted themselves improperly. This system is not exclusively an internal military process; the Supreme Court of Israel oversees it. It is a system that enjoys wide respect among international legal authorities.
The Colonel concludes:
“…in my opinion the IDF took exceptional measures to adhere to the Laws of Armed Conflict and to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. During the conflict many politicians, UN leaders, human rights groups and NGOs called on the Israelis to take greater action to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza. Yet none of them suggested any additional ways of doing this. I conclude that this was because Israel was taking all feasible steps. I believe Israel to be world leaders in actions to minimize civilian casualties; and this is borne out by the efforts made by the US Army, the most sophisticated and powerful in the world, to learn from the IDF on this issue.
“In my opinion Israel is also making strenuous efforts to investigate incidents where civilians were apparently unlawfully killed, wounded or ill-treated, and where civilian property was unlawfully damaged or stolen. I am not aware of any nation that has conducted more comprehensive or resolute investigations into its own military activities than Israel during and following the 2014 Gaza conflict.”
You might also want to see this news item:
“A multinational military group comprised of former chiefs of staff, generals and politicians submitted a report to the United Nations on Friday indicating that Israel went to great lengths to adhere to the laws of war and to protect Palestinian civilians during last summer’s 50-day war with Hamas in and around the Gaza Strip…
“The High-Level International Military Group on the Gaza Conflict in 2014 held a fact-finding mission to Israel between May 18-22. It was sponsored by a pro-Israel group, was reportedly given unprecedented access to senior officials, and investigated allegations of war crimes and disproportionality.
“The group found that ‘during Operation Protective Edge last summer… Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.’
“They wrote that ‘in some cases Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives.’
“…The war that Israel was eventually compelled to fight against Hamas and other Gaza extremists was a legitimate war, necessary to defend its citizens and its territory against sustained attack from beyond its borders,” the group wrote, adding that even in that time of war, Israel took extraordinary measures to protect the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians.
“’Each of our own armies is of course committed to protecting civilian life during combat. But none of us is aware of any army that takes such extensive measures as did the IDF last summer to protect the lives of the civilian population in such circumstances,’ the report read.”
“…The mission, sponsored by the Friends of Israel Initiative, was headed by the former chief of staff of the Bundeswehr and chairman of the NATO Military Committee, General Klaus Naumann, and included 10 other generals, chiefs of staff, politicians and officials from Holland, Spain, Italy, Australia, Colombia, the US and the UK.”
I speak about our holding our heads high. And indeed we can with regard to how we conduct ourselves during war.
(In all candidness, I would wish that not one single one of our boys in uniform, never mind a single one of our civilians, had to die because we were taking measures to protect enemy civilians that “significantly exceed” international standards on conduct in war. But in light of how we do conduct ourselves, the fact that we are criticized is beyond outrageous.)
When the UNHRC releases its inquiry into the war, we are likely to be hounded by libelous charges that echo internationally.
It falls to each of you reading this then, to familiarize yourselves with the facts, and utilize them in Israel’s defense at every opportunity – by writing letters to the editor, writing talk-backs on the Internet, posting information on websites and Facebook pages, sharing with discussion groups.
We are in the midst of a horrendous BDS battle, and each of you – by refuting charges with truth – can undermine those who seek to delegitimize Israel.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
If it is reproduced and emphasis is added, the fact that it has been added must be noted.