AMERICAN jurist Mary Davis, who headed the independent United Nations probe into the events of 2014 aggression on the Gaza Strip, said that Israel must re-examine its policy of using its military might, because it led to what she called ‘unprecedented destruction and to the killing of about 1,500 innocent civilians.’
‘We wanted to make a strong stand that the whole use of explosive weapons in densely populated neighbourhoods is problematic and that the policy needs to change,’ she emphasised in an exclusive phone interview from Geneva with the Israeli daily, Haaretz.
She said: ‘Because it is not OK to drop a one-ton bomb in the middle of a neighbourhood.’ The United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict shared a press statement on the UN Human Rights website, saying it has gathered ‘substantial information pointing to the possible commission of war crimes.’
While the commission is scheduled to formally present its report to the UN Human Rights Council on 29 June 2015 in Geneva, it reported: ‘The 2014 hostilities saw a huge increase in firepower used in Gaza, with more than 6,000 airstrikes by Israel and approximately 50,000 tank and artillery shells fired. In the 51 day operation, 1,462 Palestinian civilians were killed, a third of them children.’
Israeli officials attacks against the committee increased in recent weeks, said Haaretz. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said a few days before the report’s publication it would be a waste of time to read it, because the committee was biased against Israel. Israel further refused to cooperate with the committee by granting it access to Gaza or to the Israeli surrounding communities in the south. The eyewitnesses on both sides were interviewed either in Jordan or Geneva.
Davis responded to Israel’s lack of cooperation saying that Israel needs to determine its interests. She further pointed that the report would have looked different if Israel decided to collaborate with the committee. ”We didn’t get cooperation from Israel so we found other ways.’
Despite of Israel’s attempts to foil the investigation and the report, the committee relied on other means to gather testimonies and data, including the internet. ‘We used a lot of the material Israel posted online and the Israeli point of view was represented in the report,’ she explained. When asked if Israel’s refusal to cooperate with the inquiry committee has undermined the reliability of the report, she told Haaretz: ‘I don’t think so. We are very candid in the report about the limitations we worked under.’
Admitting that the report lacked first-hand evidence on many things, she said that the committee did the best it could do and gathered a large number of testimonies. I think the report gave a good picture to the world on what went on last summer in Gaza. We were not a judicial investigation and this is why we were not pointing fingers at anybody specific,’ Davis added.
Responding to claims that the report balances between the actions of Israel and Hamas, she said, ‘We were not in charge of conducting a moral investigation but to check if the international law was violated. We were not looking to balance in any sense other than looking at what both sides did. We didn’t compare between Israel and Hamas. We looked at what happened and applied the legal standards to it. The law puts them on the same level, and we follow the law.’
The committee earlier recommended the international community to support the International Criminal Court’s preliminary examination. Davis clarified: ‘I am not going to prejudge what the ICC does. I don’t want to make a prediction. That is for the prosecutor.’
Despite Israeli officials obvious disregard of the committee’s report, Davis expressed hope that ‘Israel will look at this report at the highest levels where the policy about the use of explosive weapons is determined.’
She called on Israel to adhere to conducting ‘credible, transparent and thorough investigations… to see if criminal accountability is needed.’ Davis further suggested that Israel should establish an independent commission of inquiry to answer the questions that remain and enable the Palestinians who were harmed to present their version of events.
According to Haaretz, one of Israel’s main complaints about the commission was that its mandate determined in advance that war crimes were committed in Gaza. However, Davis claimed that despite the wording of the mandate, the commission interpreted it differently. The proof, she said, is that ‘the final report did not determine that war crimes had been committed, but only pointed to the existence of apparent evidence of that.’
• Israeli forces summoned last Saturday morning a leading Christian cleric after he participated in a march protesting the Israeli settlers” takeover of al-Baraka church compound near al-‘Arrub refugee camp between Hebron and Bethlehem, said activists and a cleric. Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia Atallah (Theodosios) Hanna was summoned by Israeli forces while participating in the march against the illegal takeover of al-Braka church compound.
Hanna was handed a notice to appear before Israeli intelligence in al-Maskobiya interrogation and detention centre in Jerusalem. Other local media outlets reported that Hanna was in fact detained.
Local Coordinators for the Popular Committee against the Wall and Settlements, Hassan Briggah and Rateb Jabour said that the march was organised in protest of Israeli ‘Defence’ Minister Moshe Yaalon’s approval of the renovation of Beit al-Baraka church compound as a prelude to build a new settlement outpost in its place.
To be noted, a group of Palestinian Christian clerics and anti-settlement and wall activists took part in the march, including Atallah, and al-Baraka Presbyterian Church Pastors, Danny and George Awad. In anticipation of the march, Israeli forces cordoned off the area and physically attacked protesters, causing several to suffer from bruises and injuries.
Presbyterian Church pastor Georhe ‘Awad condemned the takeover and sale of the church compound by Israeli settlers and called upon relevant institutions and churches all over the world to support his church to restore the compound.
• Israeli forces on Saturday notified two Palestinians of their intention to demolish their residential tents in Hebron’s Masafer Yatta, an area that lies almost entirely in area C, under full Israeli control, according to a local activist. Coordinator of the popular committee against the wall and settlements in southern Hebron, Rateb al-Jabour, told WAFA that forces handed two brothers, who were identified as Ayed and Majed al-shwaheen, demolition notices for their residential tents, which, if implemented, would displace them and their families.
He said that this Israeli measure aims to empty the area from its lawful Palestinian owners as a prelude to take over the land for the benefit of settlement expansion. Issuance of construction permits for Palestinians living in Area C, under full Israeli administrative and military control, is strictly limited, forcing Palestinians residing in such areas to embark on construction without obtaining a permit.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), between December 30, 2014 and January 12, 2015, the Israeli authorities demolished 27 Palestinian structures in Area C of the West Bank and five in East Jerusalem.