The UN Human Rights Council’s report on the Gaza war of 2014 watered down Israel’s crimes in an effort to break through to the Israeli public, but it marks a continuing shift in world opinion against Israel’s actions, and puts more pressure on the International Criminal Court to take action against Israeli settlements, according to Diana Buttu, the Canadian Palestinian lawyer who formerly worked as a negotiator for the PLO.
Buttu gave an interview to Law and Disorder radio 3 weeks ago and was largely critical of the UN report. It creates a “false symmetry” between Israel’s actions, which killed over 2200, most of them civilians, and the actions of Palestinian militants that killed 72, six of them civilians.
It did so by ignoring the context, Israel’s unending occupation.
What this report… ignores is the very context of occupation. They mention the siege, they mention the occupation, but they don’t talk about what it is like to live under Israel’s military rule and what it is like to live under this prolonged siege, and they certainly don’t go into the issue of whether Palestinians have a right to protect and defend themselves against these attacks, which Israel is routinely carrying out..
Buttu said that the Human Rights report strikes this false balance in an effort to distance itself from its predecessor, the Goldstone Report of 2009, and disarm Israeli critics: “what they were trying to do is make it a little more palatable for an Israeli public, to recognize that they did some wrongs.”
But as a result, the report bends over backwards for Israel. Buttu:
I’ll give you an example. One of the things that they talk about in the report is the fear from the tunnels. And this is a topic that the Israelis had consistently been repeating, this fear from the tunnels. Yet… these tunnels weren’t used in any attacks, they certainly weren’t used in attacks against civilians. And most of the times they were being used either to smuggle in or smuggle out, equipment and foodstuffs, etc. Yet in the report they play up the idea of these tunnels as being so terrifying to Israelis.
You will recall that Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu issued “cartoon evidence” of attacks from the tunnels last summer, US politicians went over to examine the tunnels, and the New York Times regularly played up the tunnels, they were a running story for our paper of record, and . (Our own James North repeatedly exploded these claims at the time, here, here and here.)
Buttu then lamented the fact that Israel would face no accountability at all for dropping one-ton bombs on hospitals, schools and neighborhoods, and the United States would continue to condone such practices, to prevent any accountability for Israel.
And yet there is a possibility of a prosecution going forward in the International Criminal Court, and the report is important to Israel’s changing image internationally.
One thing that has changed is… at least this prosecutor is beginning to recognize that there is a problem…. I’m not expecting that anything is going to happen swiftly. But… Israel is reaching the point where the international community is beginning to recognize that every year or two years, it is committing mass war crimes against Palestinians, in addition to the war crimes of building settlements and displacing Palestinian citizens…. It’s certainly creating a shift in public opinion.
Interviewers Michael Smith and Michael Ratner seized on the issue of settlements, and the fact that the report describes crimes in the West Bank: housing demolitions, destruction of olive trees, and movement of settlers into occupied territories.
Ratner pointed out that the issue of settlements is likely to be one part of the submission of Palestine to the International Criminal Court. He said, “There’s no real defense of that. None. The court is almost illegitimate if it doesn’t take that on. That one I can’t even begin to get my arms around– how they cannot take that on.”
Buttu said that the court has evaded the issue by portraying the settlements as a “political issue” that was going to be resolved through negotiations. But this is a smokescreen.
“Negotiations will not ever work, they have not worked in 20 years. The world needs to begin to stand firm on the position of settlements.”
Her fear is that the settlements have been around so long that the ICC and other international bodies have begun to accept that “some settlements are OK, whereas they really are all war crimes.”