The report of the UN’s controversial Schabas-Davis commission of inquiry on Gaza is to be released imminently, and will be debated on Monday, June 29th, before the Human Rights Council.
UN Watch has obtained a copy of a key submission made to the probe: the preliminary findings of the High Level International Military Group that visited Israel in May 2015 for a fact-finding mission on the 2014 Gaza conflict, whose main points we publish below:
• The mission was led by General Klaus Naumann, former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the most senior officer in the Alliance, along with 10 other former chiefs of staff, generals, senior officers, political leaders and officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Holland, Spain, Italy, Australia and Colombia.
• The mission was the first multi-national group of senior officers to visit Israel in the context of the 2014 conflict, and were granted an unprecedented level of access.
• “We examined the circumstances that led to the tragic conflict last summer and are in no doubt that this was not a war that Israel wanted. Israel sought to avoid the conflict and exercised great restraint over a period of months before the war when its citizens were targeted by sporadic rocket attacks from Gaza.”
• “Once the war had begun, Israel made repeated efforts to terminate the fighting. 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.”
• “Hamas rocket attacks deliberately and indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilian population centres in the south of the country. We visited one, the kibbutz Nahal Oz, at which more than 150 Hamas rockets had been directed last summer, causing loss of life and large-scale destruction. Many attacks were also launched against major cities further north including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Hamas deliberately fired missiles at Ben Gurion International Airport, disrupting and threatening international civil air traffic. There is no doubt that all of these attacks constitute war crimes.”
• “Hamas also constructed an array of tunnels, using materials diverted from humanitarian supplies, which penetrated the border between Gaza and Israel, in many cases emerging close to civilian communities. We entered one such tunnel, which extended over two kilometres, terminating only a few hundred yards from a kibbutz and likely intended to eventually bore into the kibbutz itself. We can only conclude that these tunnels were designed, at least in part, to attack, kill and abduct Israeli civilians. This again constitutes a war crime.”
• “Hamas launched attacks against Israel from the heart of its own civilian communities in Gaza and positioned its munitions and military forces there also, including in schools, hospitals and mosques. As well as carefully documented IDF evidence of this, we have viewed international media footage confirming several cases and are aware of senior Hamas officials’ own claims to have used human shields. A recent report by the UN Secretary General confirmed that in some cases Hamas even used UN facilities for storing munitions and launching attacks.”
• “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.”
• “We agree with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who following the Pentagon’s fact-finding mission to Israel, went on record last November as saying that in the 2014 Gaza conflict, ‘Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties’.”
• “Our overall findings are that during Operation Protective Edge last summer, in the air, on the ground and at sea, Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.”
• “We saw clear evidence of this from the upper to the lower levels of command. A measure of the seriousness with which Israel took its moral duties and its responsibilities under the laws of armed conflict is that in some cases Israel’s scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers’ and civilians’ lives.”
For full report, click here.
Signed on 31 May 2015 by the members of the High Level International Military Group that visited Israel 18-22 May 2015
Giulio Terzi, former Foreign Minister of Italy
General Klaus Naumann,former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
General Vincenzo Camporini, former Chief of the Defence Staff of Italy
Admiral Jose Maria Teran, former Chief of Joint Staff of Spain
Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, former US State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues.
Rafael Bardaji, former National Security Advisor for the Spanish government
Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, former Standing Joint Force Air Component Commander, United States Pacific Command.
Major General Jim Molan,former Chief of Operations, Headquarters Multi National Force, Iraq and Commander of the Australian Defence College
Colonel Eduardo Ramirez, Member of Colombian Congress and former Chief of Security, Colombia
Colonel Vincent Alcazar, former senior United States Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan
Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan
The project was sponsored by the Friends of Israel Initiative.
General Klaus Naumann
Former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
General Vincenzo Camporini
Former Chief of the Defence Staff of Italy
Admiral Jose Maria Teran
Former Chief of the Joint Staff of Spain
former Foreign Minister of Italy
Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper,
former US State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues
Mr. Rafael Bardaji,
former National Security Adviser for the Spanish government
Lieutenant General David A. Deptula,
former Standing Joint Force Air Component Commander, United States Pacific Command
Major General Jim Molan
Former Chief of Operations, Headquarters Multi National Force, Iraq and Commander of the Australian Defence College
Colonel Vincent Alcazar
Former senior United States Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan
Colonel Richard Kemp
Former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan
Colonel Eduardo Ramirez
Member of Colombian Congress and former Chief of Security, Colombia
The Australian, June 10, 2015
By Major-General Jim Molan (Ret.)
We sat in the Israeli kibbutz 800m from the closest Gaza Strip buildings. Four Israeli women told stories of life during Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day conflict last year between Israel and Hamas, of the rain of rockets and mortars, 15 seconds’ warning, days in shelters and of a four-year-old child killed by shrapnel.
The rockets impacted on every aspect of life but the effect of finding one of the many sophisticated tunnels dug over several years at the very door step of the kibbutz for Hamas fighters to kill civilians more precisely and personally was an even greater shock.
“It is not the people of Gaza,” the woman said still visibly disturbed. “It is Hamas. We are of the Left of Israeli politics and want peace so much. The sound of our planes flying overhead to bomb Gaza challenged every belief I have. But we will not live with terror. Before Hamas we had Palestinian friends in Gaza and we care for those people, it is not their fault. Perhaps we will be friends again one day.”
Having spent a week in Israel courtesy of a pro-Israel organisation, I found myself saying rather gratuitously: “As a foreigner with only a week in Israel, I say that your military truly reflects your care for the people of Gaza.” I meant well, knowing that perhaps 2200 Gazans died of all causes in the latest clash, but she turned on me, saying: “Of course they do. They reflect our values. They are our sons.”
A week before I would not have been prepared to make the statement that the Israeli military “cared”. Despite the negative inference of most reporting, I had expected that Israel observed international law. This requires that wars be just, and fought in accordance with principles of proportionality, humanity, discrimination and necessity. Of course there is vast room for interpretation, with one man’s proportionality being the Human Rights Council’s war crime.
I suspect that I was invited to Israel because I had publicly criticised the bizarre 2010 UN Goldstone Report on a previous war in Gaza, and I was as a general in Iraq experienced in the practical application of the laws of armed conflict on a similar battlefield.
Now having spent a week in Israel with a group of senior military, police and lawyers researching Israel’s moral approach to warfighting, the results exceeded my expectation. I do not take a position on Israel’s legitimacy, the two-state solution, settlements or the occupation. With a moral and professional eye, I focused on this one conflict.
As a result, I am much more comfortable now that I can make the case I expected to make, although our assessment process still has some time to go.
I can say that Israel’s prosecution of Operation Protective Edge not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, it exceeded them significantly, often at cost to Israeli soldiers and citizens. It did this to preserve the life and property of those trying to kill Israeli citizens. Where there were individual failures, Israel is taking transparent legal action.
In war any military can exceed the “reasonable” standard. According to the strict internal review methods that were applied to my conduct of military operations back in Iraq, my actions were always legal, and where I could, I exceeded them. The IDF did this and more.
Many will still question how Israel can have acted legally given its losses were markedly less in soldiers and civilians. Israel is so strong and Hamas so weak. We all saw the grainy videos of houses being demolished by bombs.
Those who hate Israel will continue to make the case that everything Israel does is bad and that Hamas was struggling nobly for Palestinian freedom. I do not ask anyone to necessarily believe what I say, but at least there is an obligation to be equally sceptical of what Hamas says.
Given our examination of the cause of Operation Protective Edge, it would be indefensible to argue that Israel wanted it, initiated it or sustained it, or that Israel acted in anything other than defence of its citizens. On this basis alone, Israel’s war was just. It will be interesting to see if the imminent UNHRC report and the ICC inquiry can deliver fairness. Many do not understand it is not illegal to kill civilians in war as long as that is not the purpose of your actions, hence the appalling term “collateral damage”. Unlike our fight in Iraq or Afghanistan, Israel fights repeatedly in the same neighbourhood, and so its understanding and its intelligence is far superior to anything that I have enjoyed in similar targeting decisions that I have made.
While acknowledging the tragedy of death in war and given the immense capability of the IDF, it stands to Israel’s everlasting credit that far more did not die. But from the very top of the command chain down to the infantry and pilots, the personal moral position that individuals took was mirrored in the targeting processes, decisions on the ground and in the real care taken.
War can brutalise, but the Israelis scrupulously “cared” for the Palestinians. By contrast, Hamas was an enemy whose central strategy was to directly target the Israeli population and who repeatedly used their own population as human shields, both of which in any fair system would constitute major war crimes.
The women of the kibbutz were proud of their sons, but they would also be proud of what one senior Israeli commander whose soldier son was about to deploy to Gaza, recounted.
“Come back alive,” he said in farewell, “but come back human.” I wonder what the Hamas version of this farewell would be.
Jim Molan is a retired major-general in the Australian Army.