It is not especially surprising that Amnesty International (AI) has issued a report accusing Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza. In 2006, the organization issued a similar report about the Lebanese war, which was almost completely discredited.
The Gaza report affirms all the charges made against Israel and — like the 2006 report — accepts Arab testimony uncritically. For example, inflated figures for civilian casualties were obtained from “Palestinian human rights NGOs”. How could one possibly doubt their veracity?
Although the report itself is unsigned, the summary which accompanies it mentions “Donatella Rovera, who headed a field research mission to Gaza and southern Israel during and after the conflict.” Here is what I wrote about Rovera’s ‘investigative’ technique some time ago:
Rovera’s ‘research’ seems to follow the same pattern time and again (she’s frequently quoted in news reports accusing Israel of using white phosphorus shells against civilians, summary executions of Palestinian children, etc.): Palestinians tell her that thus-and-such happened, and she repeats it to reporters along with her judgment that whatever atrocity she is describing is a violation of international law.
Relying on exaggerated and sometimes invented premises — hearsay by interested parties — the report moves on to draw conclusions about Israeli motives:
Much of the destruction was wanton and deliberate, and was carried out in a manner and circumstances which indicated that it could not be justified on grounds of military necessity. Rather, it was often the result of reckless and indiscriminate attacks, which were seemingly tolerated or even directly sanctioned up the chain of command, and which at times appeared intended to collectively punish local residents for the actions of armed groups. [my emphasis]
I do not doubt that there was unnecessary damage, that civilians were unintentionally hurt or killed, or that some Israeli soldiers acted improperly — although allegations of deliberate murder of Palestinians, when investigated, have turned out to be false. But I very strongly doubt that actions were sanctioned “up the chain of command” to “collectively punish” Gazans.
Probably no Western army’s conduct has ever been so closely scrutinized than that of the IDF (US and Israeli combat veterans that I have spoken to are bemused by the phenomenon; they know that soldiers in war cannot be evaluated in the same way as candidates for university tenure).
In contrast, the cohorts of Hamas — with the exception of the impossible-to-ignore Qassam barrages, which even AI must admit to be war crimes — were portrayed as relatively clean fighters. AI does take Hamas to task not only for its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians, but also for endangering the Palestinians from whose midst they fire. But compare the way AI evaluates the intent of Hamas with how it treated Israel:
Hamas and other armed groups also endangered Palestinian civilians by failing to take all feasible precautions in the conduct of their military activities, notably by firing rockets from residential areas and storing weapons, explosives and ammunition in them. They also mixed with the civilian population, although this would be difficult to avoid in the small and overcrowded Gaza Strip, and there is no evidence that they did so with the intent of shielding themselves. [my emphasis]
No, of course, they must be careful to not make judgments when there is no evidence!
The AI report documents every offense committed or said to committed by Israeli troops, from alleged ‘murders’ to graffiti. However it does not even mention the following war crimes committed by Hamas:
- Using humanitarian symbols for attacks, such as by transporting terrorists in ambulances
- Direct and public incitement to genocide
- The recruitment of children into the conflict
- Firing at the enemy while wearing civilian clothes
- Wearing the uniforms of the enemy
- Shooting rockets with phosphorus payloads deliberately at civilians
- Not adhering to international standards on the treatment of prisoners of war
- Immediate execution of alleged “collaborators” without a trial
No, the report was not surprising or especially interesting. What is interesting is the reaction to it from Hamas, which claimed that it was biased against them:
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denounced the report, saying it “equated the victim and the executioner, and denied our people’s right to resist the occupation.“
Now this is an interesting argument. Pay attention:
Hamas says that anything they do, including launching attacks directly against the Israeli population, is justified because they are “resisting occupation”.
But there is no occupation, you say. The only Jew left in Gaza is kidnapped Israeli Gilad Schalit.
True, says Hamas, but what about the ‘blockade’ and other Israeli security measures? They are a form of occupation.
And if you look closely you’ll find that for Hamas, ‘occupation’ means ‘anything Israel does to try to prevent them from killing Jews’.
Therefore, if Israel tries to prevent Hamas from killing Jews, Hamas is justified in killing Jews. But if Israel does not try, then — what else? — Hamas will kill Jews.