The UN released its official report on last summer’s siege of Gaza Sunday. The report brought to light damning evidence of Israel’s use of human shields, relative disregard for civilian populations in Gaza, and the impunity with which violators of international law were treated. As for Palestinian militant groups in Gaza, the report found Hamas’s execution of Palestinian “collaborators” and its use of indiscriminate rocket fire to be in violation of international law.
Despite the hurrah usually given the release of UN reports like this, the document will undoubtedly fall on deaf ears where it counts. Netanyahu, of course, has already dismissed the report as biased (which he also did before the report ever came out, calling it “a waste of time” prior to its release). The IDF produced their own report on the “war,” which found all Israeli military operations to be within the bounds of international law and all the blame for any civilian deaths to rest squarely on the shoulders of Palestinian action. Naturally.
The report does, however, contain some interesting information that undoes a number of fearmongering tropes about Hamas. In one portion of the report, for instance, the UN found that Hamas’s use of “terror tunnels” targeted only IDF posts within the green line (on Palestinian territory), thus making them “legitimate military targets.” Similarly, the report also finds that Israel used Palestinians as human shields. One chilling section goes into detail:
“They ordered the people in the house to return to the place where they had previously sheltered, where the women stayed on the first floor. The owner of the house was taken to the second floor. From the window there, Ramadan Qdeih saw the men who had been held at his brother’s house with Israeli soldiers standing behind them. The witness said that the men were naked with black plastic bags over their heads, handcuffed and positioned in front of the windows facing outwards. The soldiers then started shooting from behind the naked men, using them as human shields. This went on from about 1.30 to 6 pm. The men were later told by the soldiers that they were placed by the window in order to deter Hamas fighters from returning fire.”
In the same section on Human Shields, a Palestinian father recounts how soldiers forced his son to “undertake ‘risky tasks such as opening doors, inspecting rooms, switching the lights on and off to test whether secret explosives were being connected to the light switches, open fridges and other devices that may have detonated explosions.’”
There are also multiple reports of the IDF intentionally utilizing “imprecise” ammunitions in attacking dense civilian areas like Shuja’iya. Similarly, the report states that Israeli soldiers often approached anyone and everyone remaining in areas that were to be shelled as a combatant, resulting in the systematic mistreatment of civilians. The UN also dismisses the idea that the notion that Israel “warned” civilians of future shelling absolves Israel of culpability for civilian deaths. Considering that many Gazans were not sure in which direction they should have fled, that many felt that there was nowhere safe from Israeli airstrikes, and that the timeframes presented to Gazans were often “obscure,” Gazans cannot be punished for choosing to stay in their homes. This notion that Gazans have to have legitimate reason to stay home is inherently flawed to begin with; why should indigenous people ever capitulate to removing themselves from their home at the express will of an occupying entity?
As for Palestinian crimes highlighted by the report, the foremost are Hamas’s execution of Palestinian colluders with Israel and the indiscriminate nature of resistance rocket fire from Gaza into Israel. Concerning the former, Hamas has denied that they were the ones who executed “traitors” in Gaza, but this fact is disputed by Palestinians who claim that Hamas used the execution of traitors to maintain a sort of vigilance and fear in the Strip.
Concerning the latter, neither Hamas, nor its armed wing, nor any other armed resistance group in the Gaza Strip denies that Palestinian rocket fire is indiscriminate and imprecise. However, this reality can be chalked up to the simple fact that Gaza lacks the advanced military equipment of Israel, and thus is forced to make due with unsophisticated weaponry if it is to fight at all. Israel, on the other hand, has access to the most sophisticated, precise military equipment in the world—yet it kills civilians at rates much higher than that of Hamas’s Qassam Brigades or even Salafi groups in Gaza like the Omar Brigades. The ultimatum, to borrow from Youssef Munayyer, seems to be that “if all you have are inaccurate weapons, your choices are don’t fight or violate international law.” Hamas and Gaza choose to fight. Israel does too, though it does so ignoring its clear technological capability to maintain international law.
Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the Human Rights Council on the investigation resulted in the exclusion of a few facets of the report. Perhaps most significantly, the report was not able to report on the exact location and magnitude of rocket strikes from the Gaza strip, as it was not given access to that information. Paradoxically, if Hamas is as indiscriminate and dangerous as Israel claims it to be, this information would have done nothing but further Israeli claims.