Ahead of UN Report on 2014 Gaza War, Multinational Mission of Generals Find: "Israel not only met but significantly exceeded international legal standards"

The report of the UN's controversial Schabas-Davis commission of inquiry on Gaza is to be released imminently, and will be debated on Monday, June 29th, before the Human Rights Council. 

UN Watch has obtained a copy of a key submission made to the probe: the preliminary findings of the High Level International Military Group that visited Israel in May 2015 for a fact-finding mission on the 2014 Gaza conflict, whose main points we publish below:

• The mission was led by General Klaus Naumann, former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the most senior officer in the Alliance, along with 10 other former chiefs of staff, generals, senior officers, political leaders and officials from the United States, the United Kingdom, Holland, Spain, Italy, Australia and Colombia.

• The mission was the first multi-national group of senior officers to visit Israel in the context of the 2014 conflict, and were granted an unprecedented level of access.

• “We examined the circumstances that led to the tragic conflict last summer and are in no doubt that this was not a war that Israel wanted. Israel sought to avoid the conflict and exercised great restraint over a period of months before the war when its citizens were targeted by sporadic rocket attacks from Gaza.”

• “Once the war had begun, Israel made repeated efforts to terminate the fighting. The war that Israel was eventually compelled to fight against Hamas and other Gaza extremists was a legitimate war, necessary to defend its citizens and its territory against sustained attack from beyond its borders.” 

•  “Hamas rocket attacks deliberately and indiscriminately targeted Israeli civilian population centres in the south of the country. We visited one, the kibbutz Nahal Oz, at which more than 150 Hamas rockets had been directed last summer, causing loss of life and large-scale destruction. Many attacks were also launched against major cities further north including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Hamas deliberately fired missiles at Ben Gurion International Airport, disrupting and threatening international civil air traffic. There is no doubt that all of these attacks constitute war crimes.”

•  “Hamas also constructed an array of tunnels, using materials diverted from humanitarian supplies, which penetrated the border between Gaza and Israel, in many cases emerging close to civilian communities. We entered one such tunnel, which extended over two kilometres, terminating only a few hundred yards from a kibbutz and likely intended to eventually bore into the kibbutz itself. We can only conclude that these tunnels were designed, at least in part, to attack, kill and abduct Israeli civilians. This again constitutes a war crime.”

•  “Hamas launched attacks against Israel from the heart of its own civilian communities in Gaza and positioned its munitions and military forces there also, including in schools, hospitals and mosques. As well as carefully documented IDF evidence of this, we have viewed international media footage confirming several cases and are aware of senior Hamas officials' own claims to have used human shields. A recent report by the UN Secretary General confirmed that in some cases Hamas even used UN facilities for storing munitions and launching attacks.”

• “Each of our own armies is of course committed to protecting civilian life during combat. But none of us is aware of any army that takes such extensive measures as did the IDF last summer to protect the lives of the civilian population in such circumstances.” 

• “We agree with the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, who following the Pentagon’s fact-finding mission to Israel, went on record last November as saying that in the 2014 Gaza conflict, ‘Israel went to extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties’.”

• “Our overall findings are that during Operation Protective Edge last summer, in the air, on the ground and at sea, Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard.”

• “We saw clear evidence of this from the upper to the lower levels of command. A measure of the seriousness with which Israel took its moral duties and its responsibilities under the laws of armed conflict is that in some cases Israel's scrupulous adherence to the laws of war cost Israeli soldiers' and civilians' lives.” 

For full report, click here.

Signed on 31 May 2015 by the members of the High Level International Military Group that visited Israel 18-22 May 2015

Giulio Terzi, former Foreign Minister of Italy
General Klaus Naumann, former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee
General Vincenzo Camporini, former Chief of the Defence Staff of Italy
Admiral Jose Maria Teran, former Chief of Joint Staff of Spain
Ambassador Pierre-Richard Prosper, former US State Department Ambassador at Large for war crimes issues.
Rafael Bardaji, former National Security Advisor for the Spanish government
Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, former Standing Joint Force Air Component Commander, United States Pacific Command.
Major General Jim Molan, former Chief of Operations, Headquarters Multi National Force, Iraq and Commander of the Australian Defence College
Colonel Eduardo Ramirez, Member of Colombian Congress and former Chief of Security, Colombia
Colonel Vincent Alcazar, former senior United States Air Force officer in Iraq and Afghanistan
Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan

The project was sponsored by the Friends of Israel Initiative