Obfuscating the truth: The UN report on war crimes in ‘Operation Protective Edge’

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This morning the UN Commission appointed to investigate “Operation Protective Edge,” the Israeli attack on Gaza last summer, published its findings.  The report strongly condemns the Israeli attacks on civilian targets–which, it says,  “may” have been war crimes—but it is seriously deficient in several  important respects.

First–in what I assume is more likely to be a failure of nerve rather than a failure of understanding—the report is inappropriately “balanced.”  To begin with, it is more or less equally critical of Israeli and Hamas actions, without regard to the differences between the vast and horrific extent of civilian destruction caused by Israel and the far lesser civilian deaths and destruction  that resulted from the largely ineffective Hamas attacks. But far more importantly, the report does not note the radical moral and political difference between  the war crimes committed by Israel in order to maintain its repression of the Palestinians and those committed by Hamas in order to end that repression.  In this respect, the report parallels the deficiencies of the Goldstone Report on “Cast Lead,” the 2008-09 Israeli attack on Gaza, which harshly criticized the Israeli methods but accepted the Israeli contention that it acted only in “self defense.”

Here’s one instructive example of the Report’s effort to be “balanced:”  on the one hand, it describes in some detail the devastating effects of the Israeli attack on the civilian population of Gaza; on the other, it notes that the discovery of Hamas tunnels extending into Israel “caused great anxiety” and led to a “sense of panic among many Israelis,” who feared that the tunnels might be used to attack Israeli civilians.  No doubt.  However, these anxieties might have been more worthy of note had the Israeli electorate subsequently rose up in wrath against the crimes of their government, rather than voting into power an even more extremist government.

As for the responsibility of the Israeli government for what “may amount to war crimes,” the Report ever-so-gingerly concludes that “the large number of targeted attacks against residential buildings and the fact that such attacks continued throughout the operation, even after the dire impact of these attacks on civilians and civilian objects became apparent, raise concern that the strikes may have [been]…reflective of a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by decision-makers at the highest levels of the Government of Israel.”

How about this: “The fact that the Holocaust continued throughout the Nazi period in Germany, even after the dire impact it had on the Jews became apparent, raises concern that it might have reflected a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by the decision-makers at the highest level of the Government of Germany.”

It is instructive to compare the timidity–if that’s what it is–of the UN Commission’s failure to tell the full truth with the almost unbelievably courageous  oped column by the great Amira Hass in this morning’s Haaretz (not even written in response to the UN report), entitled “In Israel, We Walk Amongst Killers and Torturers.” For the benefit of those who can’t access the piece on line, here are some of passages:

“In our homes, our streets and our places of work and entertainment, there are thousands of people who killed and tortured thousands of other people or supervised their killing and torture. …The vast majority of those who kill and torture (now as well) are proud of their deeds, and their society and families are proud of their deeds….The Jewish killers and torturers and their direct commanders act as they do with official permission.”

“We’re not satisfied with the land, the homes and the direct connection to the place that we stole from them and appropriated and destroyed, and that we continue to destroy and appropriate and steal.  No.  We also deny all the reasons, all the historical and social context of expulsion, dispossession and discrimination, that have led a very small handful of those Palestinians who are citizens of Israel to try to imitate us by taking up arms. They deluded themselves into thinking that weapons were the proper means of resistance, or reached a peak of fury and helplessness and decided to take lives….Whether or not they regret it, their delusion doesn’t cancel out the fact that they had and have every reason to resist the oppression and discrimination and wickedness that are part and parcel of Israel’s rule over them.”

This post first appeared today on Jerome Slater’s site.

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