Fighting Anti-Israeli Bias

Countering
Item 7

THE UNHRC'S STANDING AGENDA ITEM
TARGETING ISRAEL

Claims

Claim 30: Israel committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in May 2021

examples

Kuwait, 48th Session

“In this context, we must point out the seriousness and gravity of the repeated violations committed by Israel against the Palestinian people, some of which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Syria, 47th Session

“We reject double standards in the positions of states that preach others on human rights while they continue to supply the Israeli occupation entity with weapons used to carry out its crimes against the Palestinian people…”

Turkey, 30th Special Session

“The Israeli attacks on civilians are crimes against humanity.”

Syria, 30th Special Session

“The barbaric Israeli aggression in the Gaza strip constitute crimes against humanity.”

Iran, 30th Special Session

“accountability and justice for crimes against humanity.”

Venezuela, 48th Session

“The inhumane bombings against the civilian population constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

Our Response

UN Watch

These accusations turn the truth on its head. In reality, it is the Hamas terror organization, not Israel, that commits war crimes and crimes against humanity.[1]

Hamas crimes against humanity

Hamas is a genocidal terror organization whose openly stated goal is to wage a holy war to replace Israel with an Islamic caliphate and murder Jews worldwide. This contravenes the 1948 Genocide Convention which classifies the “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…” as an international crime.[2]

Specifically, The 1988 Hamas charter states: Hamas “strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine” (Article 6); Hamas “believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day” (Article 11); “There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad” (Article 13).[3] It also talks of a general “struggle against the Jews” which “should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world.”

Hamas leaders openly call for the destruction of Israel and the murder of Jews and Israelis. For example:

  • Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Al-Zahar (May 24, 2021): Responding to a journalist who asked whether Israel has a right to exist: “No. Why? Why? You are coming from America, and you take my house. You came from Britain, and you took my brother’s house. This is a settlement. You are not a citizen. We are the owners of this. This is an Arabic area. This is well-known as an Islamic area, well-known.”[4]
  • Deputy Chairman of the Hamas politburo Musa Abu Marzouk (May 17, 2021): “This [May 2021 conflict] is not the final war. It’s not like it was in Vietnam and elsewhere, where things ended up with negotiations. This is just one of a [series] of wars, and a war will come when we negotiate with them about the end of their occupation, and their leaving of Palestine. Israel will come to an end just like it began, and our Palestinian people will return to their homes, because injustice cannot last, and people must get what is rightly theirs.”[5]
  • Hamas politburo member Fathi Hamad (May 7, 2021): Urging the people of Jerusalem to purchase five-shekel knives and “cut off the heads of the Jews.”[6]
  • Fathi Hamad (July 2019): “Seven million Palestinians outside, enough warming up, you have Jews with you in every place. You should attack every Jew possible in all the world and kill them.”[7]
  • Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (April 9, 2018): “Palestine and Jerusalem belong to us…We will break the walls of the blockade, remove the occupation entity and return to all of Palestine.”[8]
  • Hamas Gaza leader Yehya Sinwar (April 6, 2018): “We will tear down the border and we will tear out their hearts from their bodies.”[9]

Hamas war crimes

In addition, Hamas brazenly committed numerous war crimes during the May 2021 Israel/Hamas conflict. Given the Hamas goal of killing Jews and eliminating Israel, these also constitute crimes against humanity.

Hamas intentionally and systematically targeted Israeli civilians. Indeed, Hamas co-founder Mahmoud Al-Zahar openly admitted that the Hamas rocket strategy was to target Israeli civilians: “to attack the Israeli targets at very important points, including most of the overcrowded area in the civilian society…”[10]

Hamas’ indiscriminate rocket-fire killed 13 Israelis, injured hundreds, terrorized millions and caused millions of dollars in property damage.[11] Hamas rockets that fell short in Gaza also killed at least 21 Gaza civilians, including nine children.[12] In addition to targeting residences, Hamas rockets targeted a hospital, meters from its emergency room,[13] schools,[14] and aid convoys. On May 18 and 19, Hamas mortars attacked two separate humanitarian aid convoys entering Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, injuring an Israeli soldier and disrupting delivery.[15]

Hamas also turned its own civilians into human shields, operating from densely populated urban areas—within or near residences, schools, hospitals and mosques, putting Gazan lives at risk.[16] Indeed, the Hamas network of terror tunnels ran under a school and adjacent to a kindergarten, a mosque, and a hospital.[17]

By targeting Israeli civilians and using its own civilians as human shields, Hamas rocket fire constitutes a double war crime. In the words of military law experts Prof. Geoffrey Corn and Rachel Vanlandingham: “Hamas, not only deliberately attacks Israeli civilians, but intentionally exposes its own civilians to the deadly consequences of the hostilities it provokes itself. In truth, it is Hamas—and only Hamas—that is illegally attacking civilians.”[18] Human rights groups have condemned Hamas rockets as double war crimes.[19]

Thus, Hamas violated numerous International Humanitarian Law (IHL) rules, as codified in Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions,[20] including:

  1. Article 48: Parties must “distinguish between the civilian population and combatants…”
  2. Article 51(2): Prohibiting acts intended to “spread terror among the civilian population.”
  3. Article 51(4): Prohibiting indiscriminate attacks such as where the “method or means of combat cannot be directed at a specific military objective.”
  4. Article 51(7): Civilians should not be used “to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular attempts to shield military objectives…”[21]
  5. Article 52: “Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives.”
  6. Article 57: Duty to minimize “incidental loss to civilian life.”
  7. Article 58: Parties should “avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.”

Israeli compliance with IHL

In contrast to Hamas’s cynical exploitation of civilians, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) takes great care—even beyond what is required by law—to avoid civilian casualties. IDF air operations are controlled by “a cadre of very senior decision-makers with extensive experience, training, and robust support from intelligence analysts, weaponeering experts and legal advisors.”[22] The IDF’s International Law Department directly supervises all aerial attacks, from choice of target to closely advising planners and commanders as the strike is executed.[23]

The IDF launched hundreds of surgical strikes against 1,500 Hamas military targets, including rocket stores, rocket launchers, underground terror tunnels, militants, and operational facilities.[24] In many of these strikes there were no Palestinian casualties.[25] The Hamas-run health ministry put the Gaza death toll at 256. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad acknowledged the deaths of 90 of their operatives, though Israel says the death toll included 200 militants.[26] According to Col. Richard Kemp, these numbers indicate that the IDF was “even more successful in minimizing civilian casualties during this campaign than in previous engagements in Gaza.”[27]

Many have questioned the efficacy and even legality of some of Israel’s targets in the Gaza conflicts, including the Al Jalaa media tower, which housed Associated Press and Al Jazeera offices. However, even an office building loses its protected status if used for military purposes.[28] Israel defended its strikes on these grounds and, in the case of the Al Jalaa building, Israel has accused Hamas of using the building for cyber warfare, including to develop a system to jam Israel’s iron dome.[29] According to an Obama-era official, Hamas operations in the building were known to other tenants.[30] In any event, Israel shared data on Hamas operations in that building with the US.[31] Furthermore, as noted above, all targets chosen by the IDF must be authorized in advance as lawful military targets by IDF lawyers.

During this conflict, Israel took many concrete steps to minimize civilian harm, including (1) choosing an aerial campaign rather than a ground invasion, and using extremely precise missiles capable of taking out a military target in the middle of a civilian area with minimal collateral damage; (2) providing advanced warnings (phone calls, text messages, roof-knocking,[32] etc.) to civilians in or near the target giving them sufficient time to evacuate—a tactic documented by, among others, then-UNRWA Gaza head Mathias Schmale[33] and the Al Jalaa media building owner;[34] and (3) aborting strikes when civilians were detected in the vicinity, as reflected in a voice recording of IDF command control calling off a strikes at the last minute when children were detected nearby.[35]

[1] https://jcpa.org/article/the-legal-war-hamas-war-crimes-and-israels-right-to-self-defense/.

[2] Convention on the Prevention of the Crime of Genocide (December 9, 1948), https://www.un.org/en/genocideprevention/documents/atrocity-crimes/Doc.1_Convention%20on%20the%20Prevention%20and%20Punishment%20of%20the%20Crime%20of%20Genocide.pdf.

[3] Hamas Covenant 1988, Yale Avalon Project (Last visited May 20, 2021), https://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp.

[4] Hamas co-founder to UK TV: Israel has no right to exist, Times of Israel (May 24, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-co-founder-to-uk-tv-israel-has-no-right-to-exist/.

[5] Deputy Chairman of Hamas Political Bureau Musa Abu Marzouk: Israel Will Go The Way Of The USSR And Berlin Wall, MEMRI (May 17, 2021), https://www.memri.org/tv/musa-abu-marzouk-dpe-chairman-hamas-politburo-israel-go-ussr-berlin-wall-negotiate-end-occupation.

[6] Senior Hamas Official Fathi Hammad To Palestinians In Jerusalem: Buy 5-Shekel Knives And Cut Off The Heads Of The Jews, MEMRI (May 7, 2021), https://www.memri.org/tv/snr-hamas-official-fathi-hammad-urges-people-jerusalem-cut-off-heads-jews-knives-day-reckoning-moment-destruction.

[7] Hamas official condemned after calling on Palestinians to kill Jews, Al Arabiya (July 15, 2019), https://english.alarabiya.net/News/middle-east/2019/07/15/Hamas-official-condemned-after-calling-on-Palestinians-to-kill-Jews.

[8] Khaled Abu Toameh, Hamas vows Gaza protests to last until Palestinians ‘return to all of Palestine,’ Times of Israel (April 9, 2018), https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-vows-gaza-protests-to-continue-until-they-return-to-all-of-palestine/.

[9] @Ostrov_A, Twitter (May 15, 2018, 11:09 AM), https://twitter.com/Ostrov_A/status/996301534718844928.

[10] Hamas co-founder to UK TV: Israel has no right to exist, Times of Israel (May 24, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/hamas-co-founder-to-uk-tv-israel-has-no-right-to-exist/.

[11] Property damage from rockets – double Protective Edge, Walla Money (May 23, 2021), https://finance.walla.co.il/item/3437214?utm_campaign=socialbutton&utm_content=__s&utm_medium=sharebutton&utm_source=__s&utm_term=social.

[12] An analysis of the names of Gazans killed during Operation Guardian of the Walls indicates that about half of them were terrorist operatives, Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (June 29, 2021), https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/an-analysis-of-the-names-of-gazans-killed-during-operation-guardian-of-the-walls-indicates-that-about-half-of-them-were-terrorist-operatives/.

Serious Escalation in Gaza Strip, PCHR (May 11, 2021), https://www.pchrgaza.org/en/serious-escalation-in-gaza-strip-26-palestinians-killed-including-9-children-and-woman-and-her-child-with-disability-and-75-others-injured-including-22-children-and-7-women/.

[13] Rossella Tercatin, ‘We are in a war zone,’ says head of Israeli hospital targeted by rockets, Jerusalem Post (May 20, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/we-are-in-a-war-zone-says-head-of-israeli-hospital-targeted-by-rockets-668673.

[14] Ilan Ben Zion and Laurie Kellman, Rockets from Gaza rain havoc on Israeli cities in latest war, AP (May 18, 2021), https://apnews.com/article/israel-middle-east-israel-palestinian-conflict-e57afb90dbc60ceda6c6cfa6888a4c5b.

[15] Gaza strikes shipments of humanitarian aid, Kerem Shalom crossing Closed, Jerusalem Post (May 19, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/gaza-strikes-shipments-of-humanitarian-aid-kerem-shalom-crossing-closed-668540.

[16] Shani Rozanes, Israeli official: Hamas ‘stealing the future of Palestinian children,’ Deutsche Welle (May 20, 2021), https://www.dw.com/en/israeli-official-hamas-stealing-the-future-of-palestinian-children/a-57601186; @IDF, Twitter (May 20, 2021, 12:25 AM), https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1395128582742192131; Hamas Turned a Civilian Structure in Gaza Into a Rocket Launch Site Ready to Fire Rockets at Israel, IDF (May 19, 2021), https://www.idf.il/en/minisites/operation-guardian-of-the-walls/hamas-turned-a-civilian-structure-in-gaza-into-a-rocket-launch-site/; Yoav Zitun, IDF attacks arms cache in home of Hamas’ justice minister, Ynet (May 19, 2021), https://www.ynetnews.com/article/SJqR1gXYO; IDF airstrike destroys Hamas rocket launch site ‘concealed in Gaza civilian structure,’ YouTube (May 19, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N-gL21TynZc; IDF attacks Gaza rocket launchers, houses of senior Hamas leaders, i24 News (May 15, 2021), https://www.i24news.tv/en/news/israel/diplomacy-defense/1621096808-idf-attacks-gaza-rocket-launchers-houses-of-senior-hamas-and-leaders; Michael N. Schmitt and John J. Merriam, The Tyranny of Context: Israeli Targeting Practices in Legal Perspective, U. Pa. J. Int’l L. (2015), pp. 119-123 (discussing Hamas tactics of embedding military assets among civilians), https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1905&context=jil.

[17] Orde Kittrie, Hold Hamas Accountable for Human-Shields Use During the May 2021 Gaza War, FDD (June 23, 2021), https://www.fdd.org/analysis/2021/06/23/hold-hamas-accountable-for-human-shields-use-during-the-may-2021-gaza-war/; Operation Guardian of the Walls, IDF (May 2021), https://www.idf.il/en/articles/defense-and-security/israel-under-fire/; @IsraelinGreece, Twitter (May 16, 2021, 5:14 PM), https://twitter.com/IsraelinGreece/status/1393932980201078786; @IDF, Twitter (May 13, 2021, 9:26 AM), https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1392727848721559552; Judah Ari Gross, UNRWA: Tunnel found under Gaza school hit by Israel in last month’s conflict, Times of Israel (June 7, 2021), https://www.timesofisrael.com/unrwa-tunnels-under-gaza-school-hit-by-israel-in-last-months-conflict/.

[18] Geoffrey S. Corn and Rachel E. Vanlandingham, The Illegitimate Instinct to Delegitimize Israel, Newsweek (May 19, 2021), https://www.newsweek.com/illegitimate-instinct-delegitimize-israel-opinion-1592640.

[19] See, e.g., Gaza: Palestinian Rockets Unlawfully Targeted Israeli Civilians, HRW (December 24, 2012), https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/24/gaza-palestinian-rockets-unlawfully-targeted-israeli-civilians.

[20] Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/INTRO/470.

[21]For a detailed discussion on prohibition against human shields, see Geoffrey S. Corn, Beyond Human Shielding: Civilian Risk Exploitation and Indirect Civilian Targeting, 96 Int’L L. Stud. 118, (Stockton Center for Int’l Law 2020).

[22] Michael N. Schmitt and John J. Merriam, The Tyranny of Context: Israeli Targeting Practices in Legal Perspective, U. Pa. J. Int’l L. (2015), p. 81, https://scholarship.law.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1905&context=jil.

[23] Id. at 75-81.

[24] @IDF, Twitter (May 22, 2021, 9:27 PM), https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1396170789305659402; @IDF, Twitter (May 20, 2021, 9:44 PM), https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1395450267055923200; @IDF, Twitter, (May 17, 2021, 3:04 AM), https://twitter.com/IDF/status/1394081440615256071.

[25] Anna Aronheim, Operation Guardian of the Walls: Targeting Hamas terror, behind the scenes, Jerusalem Post (June 3, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/gaza-news/op-guardian-of-the-walls-behind-the-scenes-of-targeting-hamas-terror-669989; Richard Kemp, Trumpets and Tank Engines: A Turning Point in Gaza? Gatestone Institute (May 16, 2021), https://richard-kemp.com/trumpets-and-tank-engines-a-turning-point-in-gaza/.

[26] An analysis of the names of Gazans killed during Operation Guardian of the Walls indicates that about half of them were terrorist operatives, Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (June 29, 2021), https://www.terrorism-info.org.il/en/an-analysis-of-the-names-of-gazans-killed-during-operation-guardian-of-the-walls-indicates-that-about-half-of-them-were-terrorist-operatives/; Fares Akram, Hamas leader says 80 fighters killed in war with Israel, AP (May 26, 2021), https://apnews.com/article/hamas-middle-east-israel-israel-palestinian-conflict-health-0938cfdc6be430b9afe7cdbd43c7e7eb.

[27] Richard Kemp, Trumpets and Tank Engines: A Turning Point in Gaza? Gatestone Institute (May 16, 2021), https://richard-kemp.com/trumpets-and-tank-engines-a-turning-point-in-gaza/.

[28] Protocol I Article 52, https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl/WebART/470-750067; Michael N. Schmitt, Legal Protection of the Media in Armed Conflict: Gaza, Lieber Institute (May 18, 2021), https://lieber.westpoint.edu/legal-protection-media-armed-conflict-gaza/; Eli Bar-On, Israel’s Strike on the Gaza Media Building Complies with the Law of Armed Conflict, MirYam Institute (May 19, 2021), https://www.miryaminstitute.org/commentary-blog/israels-strike-on-the-gaza-media-building-complies-with-the-law-of-armed-conflict.

[29] Israel says Gaza tower that housed AP doubled as Hamas electronic warfare site, Reuters (June 8, 2021), https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/israel-says-gaza-tower-that-housed-ap-doubled-hamas-electronic-warfare-site-2021-06-08/.

[30] Lee Smith, Let’s Talk About Reporting in War Zones, Tablet (May 19, 2021), https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/associated-press-hamas-gaza-lee-smith.

[31] Lahav Harkov, Israel showed US ‘smoking gun’ on Hamas in AP office tower, officials say, Jerusalem Post (May 17, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/israel-showed-us-smoking-gun-on-hamas-in-ap-office-tower-officials-say-668303.

[32] Yaakov Katz, How the IDF invented ‘Roof Knocking’, the tactic that saves lives, Jerusalem Post (March 25, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/arab-israeli-conflict/the-story-of-idfs-innovative-tactic-to-avoid-civilian-casualties-in-gaza-663170.

[33] @matzschmale, Twitter (May 11, 2021, 8:02 PM), https://twitter.com/matzschmale/status/1392163323295240192.

[34] Frantic phone call with Israeli army moments before media tower bombed, YouTube (May 15, 2021), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QgtextTT0-I.

[35] Tobias Siegal, IDF pilot suspects children in vicinity, calls off airstrike – watch, Jerusalem Post (May 17, 2021), https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/idf-pilot-suspects-children-in-vicinity-calls-off-airstrike-watch-668343.

UN Watch