The first shots came June 12 with the public release of the preliminary findings of the High Level International Military Group — 11 American, German, British, Italian, Spanish, Australian and Colombian former military leaders — into the Israel Defense Forces’ conduct during the war last summer. The group, financed by the Friends of Israel Initiative, visited Israel from May 18 to 22 and had broad access to Israeli officials and records.
What the military experts concluded is what we would have expected from any objective review of the war:
- Hamas committed war crimes by targeting Israeli civilians, using civilian human shields, and launching rockets from and basing military forces in schools, hospitals and mosques.
- Israel met or even significantly exceeded its responsibility at all levels of command to observe the laws of armed conflict, even though that observance cost Israeli lives.
- Mistakes were made, and some individuals violated military law, as happens in every military in every conflict.
Palestinian officials, of course, dismissed the military group’s findings, emphasizing that the funding for the report came from a pro-Israel organization and that the military ex-officials visited only Israel and thus received only the Israeli perspective.
The official Israeli government assessment of the war came out June 14. Including some Palestinian sources as well as Israeli information, the report echoes the military leaders’ conclusions, asserts that Israel went beyond international standards to avoid civilian casualties, and places the blame for the conflict and civilian deaths on Hamas for starting the war, violating cease-fires and putting civilians in the line of fire.
“I apologize for the cliché, but Israel’s army is the most moral army in the world,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said, according to The Times of Israel.
Israel directly challenged claims that most of the Gazans killed in the 50-day war were civilians. A U.N. report in March said 1,563 of 2,256 Palestinians killed were civilians, but Israel found that 936 of 2,125 Palestinian deaths were combatants and 761 were civilians, with the remaining 428 dead uncertain.
Again, Palestinian officials and their supporters dismissed the report.
Israel issued its own report in part to counteract the anticipated criticism and anti-Israel bias in a report expected any day from a two-person U.N. Human Rights Council commission. Claiming that the resolution creating the investigative panel and the original leader of that panel, Canadian William Schabas, were biased, Israel refused to cooperate with the investigation.
Schabas, who has said he would be happy to see war-crimes charges against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, eventually resigned from the panel, but he emerged to criticize Israel’s war report as inadequate.
Israel’s justifiable decision not to help yet another U.N. organization paint Israel as evil and a pariah of course ensured that the assessment would be one-sided. As of this writing, the U.N. panel had not released its report, so we can’t comment on it except to say that we would be surprised if it didn’t present a laundry list of supposed Israeli crimes.
As happens in every Israeli-Palestinian conflict, this verbal fighting will resolve nothing, and existing beliefs will only harden on all sides. And so it goes.