Monday, August 4, 2014

Down the UN’s anti-Israel rabbit hole

Down the UN’s anti-Israel rabbit hole

Irwin Cotler 

No one should be surprised that the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to launch an inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes in “Occupied Palestinian Territory,” as close to 40% of all UN Special Sessions have ended with a condemnation of Israel. But much like the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, the UNHRC is taking a “sentence first — verdict afterwards” approach to dealing with Israel, because the resolution — which focuses primarily on purported Israeli criminality — establishes a commission of inquiry, while presupposing Israeli guilt.

If this inquiry is anything like the previous ones — such as the Goldstone Commission following the 2009 war between Hamas and Israel — it will marginalize, if not sanitize, any war crimes committed by Hamas. This is unfortunate, since the impunity enjoyed by Hamas in international forums has only encouraged it to continue its flagrant violations of international humanitarian and criminal law.

Hamas deliberately — and indiscriminately — bombards Israeli cities, towns and villages with rockets and missiles. As even the Palestinian representative to the UN put it, “each and every” rocket launched by Hamas at Israeli civilians is “a crime against humanity.” Israelis have largely been secured by the country’s Iron Dome defence system, but these assaults are nevertheless intended to terrorize an entire civilian population, and they have significant psychological consequences.

Moreover, Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields. The terrorist organization even boasts about such tactics, which are employed in an effort to immunize itself against an Israeli response, or worse, to deliberately incur civilian casualties.

Hamas also fires rockets, stores weapons and embeds combatants in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure — including building an underground city of terror tunnels that it uses to launch assaults on Israeli civilians. As a result, Israeli counter-strikes often result in large numbers of casualties. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon — who is not known for being pro-Israel — recently put it, “We condemn the use of civilian sites — schools, hospitals and other civilian facilities — for military purposes.”

Hamas has also been known to misappropriate international humanitarian symbols and religious institutions for terrorist purposes. It stores weapons in UN facilities, transports combatants in ambulances and fires rockets from mosques, schools and hospitals.

U.S. condemns deadly attack on UN school in its sharpest criticism of Israel since start of Gaza war
Explosions rock UN school in Gaza, killing at least 10 people who sought shelter from heavy fighting
Hamas also recruits children as combatants and terrorists, while indoctrinating youngsters to hate and kill Jews. Such actions are a cruel and dehumanizing violation of recognized children’s rights. In addition, the threatened abduction and illegal hostage-taking of Israeli youth — facilitated by the terror tunnels — is in standing violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Finally, Hamas engages in state-sanctioned incitement to hate and genocide by publicly calling for the destruction of Israel and the killing of Jews wherever they may be — calls anchored in the anti-Semitic Hamas charter, which blames Jews for all the evils of humankind.

Taken together, Hamas’ actions clearly constitute crimes against humanity — the ultimate in international criminality. These acts must be prosecuted and punished to the fullest extent of the law.

The recent UN resolution ignores the fundamental distinction between a terrorist organization that’s committed to maximizing civilian casualties, and a democratic government
None of this is intended to suggest that Israel is somehow above the law, or that it should not be held responsible for any violations of human rights or international humanitarian norms. The problem is that Israel is systematically denied equality before the law in the international arena. Human rights standards should be applied to Israel, but must be equally applied to all others, without the exculpatory immunity that major human rights violators, such as Hamas, currently enjoy.

Unacceptably, the recent UN resolution ignores the fundamental distinction between a terrorist organization, such as Hamas, that’s committed to maximizing civilian casualties, and a democratic government that seeks to minimize Palestinian casualties, while taking necessary measures to defend its own citizens, in accordance with international law.

Regrettably, this prejudicial and pernicious UN decision — let alone the prospective one-sided commission of inquiry — will only encourage Hamas criminality, with Israeli and Palestinian civilians themselves as the tragic victims.

National Post

Irwin Cotler is a Member of Parliament, and the former minister of justice and attorney-general of Canada.

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