Israel and its advocates have a new target in sight: Head of UN inquiry William Schabas

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International law expert William Schabas. (Photo: Bangor University)

International law expert William Schabas. (Photo: Bangor University)

By Alex Kane and James North. Originally published at Mondoweiss.

[A] permanent cease fire with Palestinian fighters has yet to be signed, but Israel and its supporters have already begun to pivot to their next adversary: the United Nations Human Rights Council.

It’s Goldstone Redux and Israel’s supporters are coming out swinging. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has already issued the following ad going after William Schabas, a Canadian international law expert who is set to lead the investigation into Israel’s Operation Protective Edge:


This ad was printed in the New York Times today. Boteach calls Schabas a “friend” of Iran, but as the Jewish Daily Forward‘s Nathan Guttman reports, Schabas “investigated Iran and found the regime responsible for human rights violations.”

also reports on Schabas and how Israel is bracing for war crimes inquiries on Gaza. The Times quotes Schabas’ response to those claiming he is biased:

Professor Schabas said Thursday: “Everybody in the world has opinions about Israel and Palestine. I certainly do.”

He added: “I was recruited for my expertise. I leave my own personal views at the door, as a judge does.”

Rejecting assertions that he is “anti-Israeli,” he said he had lectured in Israel often and was on the board of the Israel Law Review. “I don’t think everyone in Israel agrees,” he said. “I would fit in well there.”

The Times also mentions that “Professor Schabas was filmed in New York almost two years ago saying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was his ‘favorite’ to be in the dock at the International Criminal Court.” The video in question is of Schabas’s talk to the Russell Tribunal on Palestine held in New York City in October 2012. The relevant quote starts around the 12:00 mark:

But overall, The Times printed a poor piece. Reporter Isabel Kershner has the story backwards. The charges against Schabas precede his explanation of who he is.

Schabas doesn’t get to tell his side of the story until the eighth paragraph. The story has 26 paragraphs. Only three of the paragraphs actually list potential Israeli war crimes, and what the charges are. The rest of them are either attacks on Schabas or special pleadings from Israeli officials justifying what they did and claiming that they already started their own investigation.

And two crucial pieces of context are missing in Kershner’s piece. The first is what is known as the “Dahiya doctrine,” which refers to an Israeli military policy that calls for overwhelming force to be directed at areas where rockets are fired from–with no distinction between civilian and combatant targets. In fact, the doctrine treats civilian targets in areas run by militant adversaries as legitimate targets, which is a clear violation of international law and leads to massive destruction and civilian deaths.

First used in 2006 in Lebanon (Dahiya refers to a southern Beirut neighborhood flattened by Israel), the 2009 UN Goldstone Report found that Israel had used it on Gaza that year. There’s no doubt Israel used it again on Gaza in July and August. Whole neighborhoods were flattened; homes where Hamas members lived were bombed; civilian infrastructure was severely damaged. But Kershner does not delve into the “Dahiya doctrine.”

The second crucial piece of context not in the Times piece is how Israel waged its war on Gaza. They used overwhelming firepower in the form of artillery shells, which are by definite indiscriminate. As Haaretz‘s Amos Harel reports:

In the massive artillery bombardment of the Gaza Strip in Operation Protective Edge, the Israel Defense Forces fired 30,000 shells, many of them into densely populated areas. That, according to figures issued by the army on July 29, after three weeks of fighting.

Artillery fire was used to extract combatants was used on several occasions. Military sources admit that since artillery fire is inaccurate, large numbers of Palestinian civilians may have been killed in these incidents.

Soldiers using artillery fire are required to keep a safe distance from other units in order to avoid hitting other IDF troops or enemy civilians. But these restrictions may be lifted when the mission is extract soldiers who are in trouble. This apparently happened on several occasions in the recent fighting.

That type of military action is what Schabas will investigate. The Times should have added in this crucial context to let readers make their own judgements about Israeli war crimes and the investigation Schabas is leading.

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