From an ethical perspective, there is good reason to criticize the UN Human Rights Council’s appointment of a committee to investigate possible war crimes in Gaza. But in deciding whether to cooperate with Prof. William Schabas' panel, Israel must make a cold cost-benefit calculation, and I think the obvious conclusion is that Israel should cooperate.
- Schabas, in 2010: Netanyahu Greatest Threat to Israel
- A New Demon for the PM
- Israel Slams UN Panel Probing Gaza War
- IDF Gaza Probe Aimed to Head Off War Crimes Claims
- A Counterproductive Operation
- EU States Seek UN Resolution to End Gaza War
- How Many Civilians Is a Single Militant Worth?
- Israel Shuns UN Probe Into Gaza War
- Israeli Delegation Testifies Before Schabas Committee
- Head of UN Inquiry Into Gaza War Resigns
- Israel PM Calls on UN to Shelve Gaza War Report
This conclusion stems from the lesson of the Goldstone mission after Operation Cast Lead in 2009, when Israel’s refusal to cooperate caused damage that could have been prevented, as least in part.
Cooperating with the Schabas committee would let Israel justify its actions in the war in front of the whole world, while making Hamas responsible for the harm to civilians. Israel would also be able to express regret.
There is also room to admit mistakes, such as the use of Israel’s Hannibal Directive — including a massive bombardment to prevent the capture of a soldier — in a densely populated area. Israel would be able to explain the reasons for its mistakes and show the measures being taken to prevent them in the future.
There is also room for innovative revisions of the rules of war, when one side is a fanatical group using terrorist methods; a group that hides behind civilians and buildings serving a humanitarian purpose. Of course, one can rely, as necessary, on the legal principle of dire necessity, which some countries invoke when extraordinary circumstances force them to deviate from legal norms.
We may assume that the committee chairman will be cautious in showing a clear anti-Israel stance. If he is not, he may be credibly condemned thanks to Israel’s cooperation.
Also, Israel should coordinate its decision with the United States and the European countries. This would do much to improve relations and pave the way for efforts to prevent the committee from reaching false, one-sided conclusions. If such conclusions are reached, a joint condemnation could be crafted.
I think the idea of establishing an Israeli investigative committee as a preventive measure is useless. Even if such a committee contained renowned experts and operated in the best possible way, it would be seen as an Israeli trick.
The necessary conclusion, then, is to grit our teeth and cooperate with the UN investigative committee. Israel should state that it is doing so “out of respect for the United Nations despite the disgraceful makeup of the Human Rights Council.” And it should meticulously prepare before it makes claims and shows evidence in the best possible way.