With much to hide, Israel is running scared

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By not cooperating with the UNHRC, Tel Aviv is obstructing justice which in itself is a crime.

It seems that Israel will not be cooperating with a panel set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to investigate possible war crimes committed by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip. Israel’s Foreign Ministry is bitterly critical of the probe and the panel, claiming that the findings of UNHRC’s investigations are predetermined, while the prime minister and the foreign minister announced that UNHRC long ago became the ‘Terrorists Rights Council’ and a ‘kangaroo court’.

The Israeli position towards UNHRC is not surprising considering the UN body has found Israel guilty in the past. In the 2010 Mavi Marmara killings by Israel of 10 Turkish nationals seeking to deliver aid to Gaza, the UNHRC report found that the Israeli blockade of Gaza was illegal, and therefore, the boarding and seizure of the vessel was illegal, that the detention of the passengers was illegal, that the confiscation of the passengers’ possessions was illegal and that there was wilful killing on the part of Israeli commandos.

Also the UNHRC Goldstone report on the 2008-2009 Gaza war – Operation Cast Lead – charged Israel with a policy of deliberately targeting civilians.

These findings are not the fault of UNHRC. It is simply reporting the facts, reporting what Israel did. And in Gaza 2014 Israel has done plenty. In this conflict since 8 July Israel has killed nearly 2,000 Palestinians. It has killed more children than Hamas fighters, as opposed to the death of 67 Israelis, mostly soldiers. It has maimed 10,196 Gazans and displaced 520,000 Palestinians (approximately 30 percent of Gaza’s population) of whom 273,000 were taking shelter in 90 UN-run schools of which at least half a dozen have been shelled by Israel. Almost every piece of critical Gaza infrastructure, from electricity to water to sewage, has been seriously compromised by either direct hits from Israeli air strikes and shelling or collateral damage.

Is it any wonder then that the majority of Israeli government ministers, 14 out of 22, oppose the probe ordered by the UNHRC into Operation Protective Edge? Of course, Israel would be frightened silly of any such investigation for it will uncover the truth.

And who will be more fearful of the truth than the man behind Protective Edge? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has intimated that Israel will not cooperate with UNHRC, for he and his officials are at odds with the man who will be running the inquiry. They believe Canadian international lawyer William Schabas is hostile to the Jewish state and will thus come out with a very biased, one-sided report.

The Israeli leader accuses Schabas of having already decided that Hamas was not guilty of anything and that there is nothing to investigate there. Actually, Netanyahu is claiming just the opposite; that it is Israel which has done nothing wrong and, as such, need not be investigated.

Netanyahu finds it hard to believe that Israel should be investigated at all. He would rather that UNHRC focus on what’s happening in Iraq, Syria and Libya. That will come, but for now the UN focus is on Gaza.

In Schabas’ defence, he has frequently lectured in Israel, at universities in Israel, and he’s a member of the editorial board of the Israel law review. Nor are the commission’s findings a foregone conclusion. Nothing has been written yet, and that’s the whole point of an investigation.

Needless to say, Schabas will also be looking into the actions of Hamas. The mandate requires him to look at both sides. The resolution establishing the Commission of Inquiry clearly states the commission will investigate all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. This directly implies that both parties will be subjected to a thorough investigation.

Schabas is just one of several UN officials Israel has lashed out at for investigating it, even when these investigations were carried out by Jews like South African judge Richard Goldstone of the Goldstone Report, and American Jewish academic Richard Falk. Falk, who has served as UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, wrote in a 2002 op-ed that Operation Defensive Shield was “state-sponsored terrorism”.

Goldstone and Falk, among others, have reached conclusions not in Israel’s favour. But that’s Israel’s problem. Not cooperating with the UN not only proves Israel has something to hide but it’s a serious matter. The decision to launch an inquiry was made shortly after UNHCR chief Navi Pillay said there was a “strong possibility” that Israel was violating international law and may have committed war crimes through Protective Edge. The UN wants to get to the bottom of this but Israel won’t let it. Israel is thus obstructing justice which is a crime in itself.

Israel would rather investigate itself, by which it can easily get away with murder. Can the guilty party ever find itself guilty? Will the guilty party ever own up and take the blame, like Hamas did. When Hamas was implicated of war crimes in 2009, it urged world powers to embrace the findings.

To be fair, Israel is not the only country slamming the UN. The US State Department says any investigation related to Gaza should be done in a way that is non-biased. America, though, is the last country to talk about bias after it had earlier rejuvenated Israel’s military coffers – then announced it had reached a ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas. What kind of supposedly honest broker would strengthen one side to pulverise the other, then after the vanquishing, call for a truce?

Israel has always refused to cooperate with the UNHCR. It has always accused the international body of being biased toward Israel and Jews, even though there have always been Israeli allies among the UNHCR member states.

But this time, Israel is slamming UNHCR for an inquiry into massive Israeli breaches during war even before the investigation begins. How scared can you get?

Alaa Abdel-Ghani is an affiliate professor, Faculty of Journalism, American University in Cairo.