A multi-national group of former senior military and political leaders on Friday released its findings that during Operation Protective Edge, "Israel not only met a reasonable international standard of observance of the laws of armed conflict, but in many cases significantly exceeded that standard."
The release of the findings comes not long before the UN Human Rights Council's release of its fown indings on Israel's actions during last summer's conflict.
Unlike the Human Rights Council's committee, which some suspect of one-sidedness and with which Israel is not cooperating, the commanders and statesmen who arrived as friends of the Friends of Israel organization – including former heads of state – have received full cooperation from Israel, on both a political and military level.
The group appointed 11 individuals from the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Australia, and Colombia. The visit to Israel occurred in late May.
Heading the delegation was General Klaus Naumann, former Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr and Chairman of the NATO Military Committee – the most senior officer in NATO.
"Our mission to Israel was unprecedented," said the group in the summary of its findings. "We were the first such multi-national group of senior officers to visit the country. We were granted a level of access to the Israeli government and Defense Force that has not been afforded to any other group, from the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya’alon, right down to the field commanders responsible for fighting the battle on the ground."
The group said it was aware of allegations that Israel committed war crimes during Operation Protective Edge. But it said it had reached the opposite conclusion. According to the group, it found instead that Israel had sought to avoid a conflict for months despite receiving rocket fire at civilians, and was ultimately forced into a defensive war. Furthermore, the group said that deliberate targeting of Israeli civilians by Hamas and the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields were clearly war crimes.
"We believe that in general Israeli forces acted proportionately as required by the laws of armed conflict and often went beyond the required legal principles of proportionality, necessity and discrimination," read the findings. "The measures taken were often far in excess of the requirements of the Geneva Conventions. They sometimes placed Israeli lives at risk. To an extent these steps also undermined the effectiveness of the IDF’s operations by pausing military action and thus allowing Hamas to re-group and replenish."
Regarding the number of Palestinian deaths during the operation, more than 2,000, the report emphasized that in a population of 1.8 million, many deaths that are unrelated to fighting will occur over the course of 50 days of war. Some, said the report, were killed when Hamas attacks against Israel failed. While the report accepted Israel's estimate that half of the 2,000 were terrorists, it acknowledged that many civilians were as a result of Israeli military action.
"We recognize that some of these deaths were caused by error and misjudgment…" the report continued. "But we also recognize that the majority of deaths were the tragic inevitability of defending against an enemy that deliberately carries out attacks from within the civilian population.
"We must therefore consider that Hamas and its terrorist associates, as the aggressors and the users of human shield, are responsible for the overwhelming majority of deaths in Gaza this summer."