Consider this scenario. In response to the atrocities of 9/11, the United States invades Afghanistan and battles non-uniformed Taliban terrorists who fight within densely populated areas. Though American forces do their utmost to avoid inflicting civilian casualties, many innocents are killed - not the least because the Taliban uses them as human shields. Nevertheless, the United States carefully investigates each civilian death and, in the case of misconduct, punishes those soldiers responsible.
But then an international organization notorious for its one-sided condemnations of America launches an investigation into US “war crimes.’’ The inquiry is held under Taliban auspices, and Taliban commanders - disguised as civilians - are interviewed. Inexorably, the organization finds America guilty of mounting a pre-meditated campaign to inflict the maximum amount of civilian deaths and of failing to try those responsible. The final report calls for punitive action against the United States for its “crimes against humanity.’’
If true, this scenario would mark an unparalleled victory for terror and deal a crippling blow to any democracy trying to defend itself. Yet, this is precisely the catastrophe created by a UN report on Israeli military actions against Hamas in Gaza last January.
The UN Human Rights Commission, which has condemned Israel more frequently than Libya, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea combined, undertook to investigate “all violations of international human rights law’’ in the Israeli operation - essentially presuming Israel’s guilt. The judges, one of whom had already denounced Israel in print, conducted their hearings in Hamas-controlled Gaza and interviewed witnesses, including several Hamas operatives posing as civilians, selected by the regime. They ignored Israel’s deeply-probing investigation into its own force’s conduct and found only the evidence that confirmed their preordained conclusion. Israel was found guilty of attacking “the people of Gaza as a whole,’’ of violating their “fundamental rights and freedoms,’’ and arbitrarily killing them.
Just as the United States entered Afghanistan in response to an unprovoked attack on American civilians in 2001, so, too, did Israel’s intervention, which followed more than 7,000 Hamas rocket and mortar strikes on Israeli towns and villages since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. Given the UN Human Rights Commission’s silence in the face of this aggression, and Hamas’s rejection of Israeli offers to renew a cease-fire, Israel exercised its unassailable right to defend its citizens.
Despite Hamas’s cynical use of civilians as human shields, the Israel Defense Forces repeatedly called off operations deemed too dangerous to civilian populations and endangered its own troops by warning Palestinian neighborhoods of impending attacks. Yet even the most moral army can make mistakes, especially in dense urban warfare; for every Serbian soldier killed by NATO in 1999, for example, four civilians died. By comparison, more than half of the Palestinian casualties in Gaza were military. Still, Israel launched investigations into some 100 cases of alleged misconduct by its soldiers, 23 of which continue. If found guilty, as one soldier already has been, the perpetrators will be brought to justice under Israel’s internationally respected legal system.
But the UN report is not about justice. Rather, it is the latest initiative designed to delegitimize Israel and deny its right to self-defense.
The UN report not only endangers Israel. It bestows virtual immunity on terrorists and ties the hands of any nation to protect itself.
Ironically, the greatest victim of the UN report is not Israel’s ability to wage a moral war but its willingness to make an historic peace. If asked to take immense risks for peace, Israelis must be convinced of their internationally recognized right to self-defense should that peace be broken. Deprived of that right, even after being subjected to years of murderous rocket attacks, an Israeli electorate will understandably recoil from such risks.
The UN report must therefore be rejected by all those who understand that democratic states must have the legitimate means to defend themselves from complex 21st-century threats. No less critically, the report must be rebuffed by all those who care about peace.