The following is Maya Haber’s translation of Meretz party chair Zehava Gal-on’s response to the UN’s report on last summer’s Gaza war, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge. (You can find the Hebrew original here.) The UN report, which criticizes both sides, can be found online here.
The least important thing about the United Nations report on Operation Protective Edge is the constitution of the commission of inquiry and how much its members hate Israel. It does not matter because we know the facts very well. What matters is the manner in which Israel’s Government conducted the war: the horrific scope of death and destruction, the open-fire regulations that mocked the IDF’s ethical code. These are not issues of international law, they are our problems as citizens of Israel, who desire security policies which do not embarrass us, which are consistent with the values of the “Purity of Arms” [doctrine] and self-defense, and which do not give a fatal blow to the moral principles on which Israel should rely.
Hamas is a terrorist organization. We should not live with Hamas continuing to fire rockets at civilians. This is a war crime. But dealing with Hamas cannot bring us to open-fire regulations which do not distinguish between combatants and civilians. If we want to be better than they, we should look in the mirror and correct our mistakes. Those who are unwilling to engage in soul-searching and self-criticism from within, find themselves quickly in a hopeless battle against international organizations with completely different interests.
Last summer there was a war here. Its toll included 73 Israeli soldiers, officers and civilians who were killed, tens of thousands of people living in fear in the Gaza envelope, Ashkelon and Beersheba. In Gaza thousands [over 2100] were killed, many of them innocent civilians, families and children. Unfortunately, since the war we see the Government’s repeated attempts to whitewash criticism over its actions that brought us to war, whitewashing the investigation of that war, including operational and policy questions which arose in its wake.
Notice what has happened here since the end of Operation Protective Edge: Prime Minister Netanyahu rejected our demand to form an external and independent commission of inquiry to examine the conduct of the political leadership before, during, and after the war. Netanyahu decided instead to leave the investigation to the subcommittees of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which have not yet published their conclusions and we are unsure whether they will ever publish them.
When the IDF requested to conduct an independent investigation, the defense minister publicly criticized the chief military prosecutor for raising questions about the IDF’s conduct during Black Friday in Rafah. [Translator’s note: On 1 August 2014 the IDF implemented the “Hannibal procedure” – an army protocol that calls for the massive use of force in an effort to take back a captured soldier, even at risk to his life. For more on Black Friday read here.] The IDF’s own investigation resulted in several indictments for looting in which all the responsibility has been ascribed to soldiers on the ground. There has not been a single word of criticism of the political leadership and commanders’ policies.
When civil society organizations publish testimonies of soldiers who participated in the war, the government hounds the soldiers in a degrading fashion and government spokespeople accuse them of treason and collaboration with Hamas. Any attempt to critically discuss the war is immediately silenced.
How under these conditions can the IDF look in the mirror and ask whether political power has been directing it to employ unacceptable practices which contradict its spirit?
Ultimately, beyond the difficult moral questions which the months of fighting last summer raised, Israel’s prime minister owes us answers to questions like: how did we get into that Gaza operation? Is he negotiating a ceasefire with Hamas in exchange for easing the siege and [allowing a] seaport? Was it possible to reach a similar agreement without the death toll of thousands last summer? And most importantly, is he going to do something to prevent the next round of fighting, bloodshed, killings, hatred, violence and additional international reports?