Published February 18, 2013
An international human rights organization that accused Israel of “violations of the laws of war” during the November Gaza offensive adopted much of terror group Hamas' version of events in its recently published report without waiting for the Jewish state’s response.
The eight-day operation, dubbed "Pillar of Defense," saw Israel fire some 1,500 missiles into the densely populated Palestinian territory in retaliation for daily rocket attacks. As exclusively reported by FoxNews.com Dec. 29, in an interview with their senior drone training officer, the overwhelming majority of the missiles were delivered with pinpoint accuracy in a bid to limit collateral damage.
Yet, New York-based Human Rights Watch, noting that 43 civilians, including 12 children, were among the Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks, has published a strong report accusing the Israel Defense Force of “violations of the laws of war,” without waiting for the Israeli military’s official response to their allegations.
“Israeli forces too often conducted airstrikes that killed Palestinian civilians and destroyed homes in Gaza without apparent legal justification,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
A total of 14 missile strikes, some seemingly delivered by drones and, including four, according to HRW, that “appeared to involve fixed-wing aircraft dropping aerial bombs,” have been highlighted in the investigation as being of concern. But looking at Israel’s operation as a whole, the questions still remaining over the 14 strikes -- into one of the most crowded civilian zones on the planet -- suggest that in not less than 1,486 cases Israel did seek to ensure that the overwhelming majority of targets – equating, according to HRW’s own figures, to more than 99 percent -- were indeed carefully selected. They suggest, too, that the selection of targets was to ensure there was a minimal loss of Palestinian civilian casualties.
According to Hamas’ own figures, around 160 Palestinians died during the Israeli operation – HRW’s figures indicate not less than 117 of those were active combatants -- that came in response to thousands of indiscriminate cross-border rockets fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad into southern Israel following Israel’s unilateral exit from Gaza in 2006.
Israel Defense Force (IDF) officials say they went to unprecedented lengths to limit the number of civilian casualties, despite strong evidence that Hamas often used willing and unwilling civilians as human shields.
“We regret that the HRW chose to publish the report without us having our say," an IDF source told FoxNews.com. "A board of inquiry was set up after the operation to look into a number of incidents and they are investigating thoroughly. This takes time.”
The HRW report did, however, also point the finger at Palestinian militants.
“Palestinian armed groups launched hundreds of inherently indiscriminate rockets against Israeli population centers in violation of the laws of war,” the report said.
But the IDF's beef is that it was not allowed to explain the great pains it took to minimize the deaths of non-combatants. A statement on HRW’s own website suggests that, despite the IDF making it clear they would report back by late-February, the monitor organization decided not to wait for the Israeli conclusions.
“Because previous Israeli 'operational debriefings' involving attacks were not conducted by trained military police investigators or dedicated to investigating alleged laws-of-war violations, Human Rights Watch has decided to publish its findings rather than wait for their results,” the statement reads.
Prof. Hillel Frisch, an expert on Palestinian and Islamic Politics, said HRW’s report has some merit even if its omission of an Israeli response was a cause for concern.
“Even terrorist organizations like Hamas now feel they have to defend their human rights position, something that was unheard of 10 or 15 years ago," Frisch said. "Terror organizations now take these reports seriously and therefore see themselves constrained by these reports, less so than the Israelis, but constrained nonetheless.”.
Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist who blogs at www.paulalster.com and can be followed on Twitter @paulalster