Head of UNHR Gaza Inquiry: Israel Must Reexamine its Policy of Using Military Might

RAMALLAH, June 24, 2015 (WAFA) – 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 reexamine 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 neighborhoods is problematic and that the policy needs to change,” she emphasized in an exclsive 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 neighborhood.”

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 by both Israel and Palestinian armed groups.”

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 Benjamin 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 communities surrounding 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.’

“We could have met with Israeli victims and seen where rockets landed, talked with commanders, watched videos and visited Gaza. We talked to a lot of witnesses but of course an investigation needs to be as close to the scene as possible and it would have looked different.”

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 firsthand 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.”