Israel's Protective Edge report: 44% of Palestinian casualties were terrorists
Government-sanctioned report is released as 'pre-emptive strike' ahead of international UN report due to come out this month; authors say report provides evidence to justify Israel's decision to launch war in Gaza based on international law.
At least 44 percent of the 2,125 Palestinians killed during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza last summer were identified by the IDF as armed fighters belonging to Hamas or other terror organizations in the Strip, according to an Israeli report released Sunday.
The Foreign Ministry's report presents Israel's diplomatic, military and legal positions on the events of Protective Edge, ahead of the release of a UN committee's report on Monday.
The international report will only be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 29, but the two warring sides, as well the members of the UN Security Council, will receive a copy of it this week.
The 277-page report, which cited Israel's internal probes and statements from Western leaders backing its right to self-defense, suggested the Netanyahu government hoped to defuse criticism from the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) inquiry in advance.
Deeming the HRC biased, Israel boycotted its investigators as it did those from the council who looked into its 2008-09 Gaza offensive. That HRC inquiry was harshly critical of both Israel and Hamas.
But this time around, the stakes are higher. The Palestinians have joined the International Criminal Court and are pursuing war crimes charges against Israel. The council's new report, expected as soon as this week, could play a key role in the case against Israel.
"Having on the record our view of this war is extremely important, and we have nothing to hide," Dore Gold, the new director of Israel's Foreign Ministry, told reporters at a special briefing held to unveil Israel's own investigation into the war.
Gold was accompanied by the country's Deputy Foreign Minister, Tzipi Hotovely, and governmental and military legal experts who worked on the report.
Palestinians have said that the IDF violated the rules of war, which include giving adequate warning to civilians, using proportionate force and distinguishing between civilians and combatants. They have pointed to the high civilian casualty count as evidence.
In Sunday's report, Israel defended itself with the same arguments it has been making since the fighting ended, albeit with a level of detail never shown before.
According to Israel, the actions of Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip that are detailed in the report constitute as war crimes, crimes against humanity, and a blatant violation of international law.
UN numbers of casualties in Gaza differ from Israel's, stating 2,256 Palestinians, including 1,563 civilians, were killed in the 50-day conflict.
The report disputes the UN figures, saying confirmed non-combatants made up 36 percent of the Palestinian dead and many militants were misidentified as civilians.
"Harm to the civilian population also occurred as the result of unfortunate - yet lawful - incidental effects of legitimate military action in the vicinity of civilians and their surroundings, and as a result of the inescapable constraint of commanders not being infallible, intelligence not being perfect and technological systems sometimes failing," the report says.
The Palestinians rejected the Israeli report. "The Israeli decision to deny targeting civilians in Gaza is the logical continuation of what Israel did in Gaza," Ehab Bseiso, spokesman of the Palestinian unity government told AFP. Therefore, the report published on Sunday "does not change our position to demand an international investigation," he said.
Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, meanwhile, called the Israeli report worthless, saying "Israeli war crimes are clear because they were committed in front of live cameras". Hamas has denied any wrongdoing, saying it acted to protect Palestinians.
Izzat Risheq, a senior Hamas official, called the report a "lie promoted by the occupation to cover up its crimes." He said "the hand of justice will reach the perpetrators."
Hamas' war crimes
The Israeli report presents a list of war crimes committed by Hamas and the other terror organizations in the Gaza Strip and includes testimony and seized Hamas documents which prove, according to Israel, that Hamas' strategy was to encourage its fighters to move in civilian areas, knowing that it would constrain Israel's ability to act and turn the civilian population there into a human shield.
The report includes what Israel says are seized Hamas documents encouraging its fighters to move in civilian areas, knowing that it would constrain Israel's ability to act.
"We were a bit struck and surprised with the amount of documentation that we managed to recover during the operation actually indicating that this is a strategy of Hamas," said Eran Shamir-Borer, a lawyer in the Israeli military's international law department.
It also lists the locations of military command centers operating from civilian structures, mosques used as firing posts for snipers, schools used to store weapons and rockets, explosives planted in civilian structures and tunnels dug from inside civilian structures and residential areas.
The report also includes examples of instances in which Hamas forced civilians to arrive in fighting zones and stay there, and instructed them to ignore IDF warnings given before attacks on targets in those areas.
The Israeli report further details several instances in which the Palestinian militants posed as civilians or as IDF soldiers.
Also detailed are the main events that led to the launch of Operation Protective Edge, Israel's main objectives, the terror targets the IDF acted against, the humanitarian aid Israel allowed into the Gaza Strip, the damage caused to the Israeli civilian population, Israel's inspection and investigation mechanisms, and more.
"From 2000, Hamas' terror activity has led to the death of at least 1,265 Israelis; Hamas fired over 15,200 rockets and mortars at Israeli citizens (4,500 of which during Protective Edge), covering some 70 percent of Israel's population; Hamas dug at least 32 tunnels which cross the border between Gaza and Israel, meant to commit terror attacks against Israeli population centers," the report states.
Therefore, "Israel's decision to launch a large-scale military operation against Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip as part of the ongoing armed conflict these organizations led was justified according to international law."
The report also details Israel's humanitarian efforts to send medical equipment, food and other supplies into the Gaza Strip during the fighting, despite the fact Hamas and the other terror groups were attacking the border crossings while supply was being let through.
With regards to the proposals for ceasefire, the report states that "had Hamas accepted the first Egyptian-mediated ceasefire, the one Israel accepted on July 15 that had the same conditions as the ones Hamas eventually accepted on August 26, 90 percent of casualties could have been prevented."
According to the report's authors, the information collected focused on facts, data and the legal aspects of the fighting against Hamas and the other terror factions in the summer of 2014.
Israel has been working on the report for several months and its authors says the report proves that Israel followed international law and made great efforts to avoid hurting innocent people, whether by using the "Knock on the Roof" procedure or by dropping leaflets, phone calls, radio broadcasts and warning strikes with unarmed shells ahead of live airstrikes.
Shamir-Borer showed reporters what he said was a declassified "target card" that laid out the calculations Israel took before striking a suspected arms cache hidden in the home of an Islamic Jihad leader in southern Gaza.
The "operational directives" listed on the card call for destroying the arms while avoiding civilian casualties. It calls for a single airstrike on the home, at night and only after warning people to leave, and "real-time surveillance" to be on the lookout for civilians.
Shamir-Borer said the home was hit, and there was a "secondary blast," indicating weapons were stored there. The report said the army was unaware of any casualties from the strike. Shamir-Borer said the army went through a similar process in all 5,000 preplanned airstrikes carried out during the fighting.
The report calls to examine the incidents in which civilians were hurt in Gaza must be against the backdrop of the war crimes committed by Hamas and its use of civilian population, alongside Israeli effort to prevent harming civilians and adhere to international law.
Israel, the report says, did not intentionally act to cause damage to the civilian Palestinian population and its surroundings during the confrontation, and deeply regrets this damage.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the Israeli report was meant to be a pre-emptive strike, noting that "this report is especially important because the State of Israel is under an unprecedented de-legitimization attack. This attack is not relevant, it's political. Its goal is to tarnish the State of Israel, and we intend to respond to this attack... We will act wherever we need to for as long as we need to in order to deal with false claims and anti-Israeli initiatives."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.