GENEVA — Senior Israeli officials on Wednesday delivered a detailed critique of a UN probe that accused its soldiers of possible war crimes in Gaza, claiming that investigators “ignored key evidence”, notably over the role of Hamas.
Last month, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory said Israeli forces intentionally shot children, journalists, health workers and other civilians while responding to unrest in the Gaza strip between March 30 and December 31 last year.
Israel immediately denounced the report as biased and rejected its findings.
But a senior Israeli delegation that travelled to Geneva days before the probe is set to be adopted by the UN Human Rights Council offered more criticism on Wednesday.
In a briefing with journalists, the delegation accused UN investigators of downplaying both the alleged violence in the protests and Israel’s claim that the unrest was orchestrated by Hamas. The Islamist group that controls Gaza is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States, the European Union and others.
The UN commission said the protests were not instigated by Hamas and were generally peaceful in nature, arguing that Hamas was therefore under no obligation to intervene.
“For the commission, Hamas is completely absent from this report. They see no Hamas, they hear no Hamas,” said one Israeli official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the record.
The Israeli delegation provided evidence that it said proved Hamas’ involvement throughout the protests, including in allegedly coordinating serious acts of violence targeting Israeli forces.
“Hamas has complete control of these events,” the official said.
The commission also provided a list of victims it described as civilians, including Naji Abu Hojayeer, identified as a 24-year-old mechanic shot in the abdomen by Israeli forces.
The Israeli delegation said that after checking the commission’s list it easily established that some of the victims, including Hojayeer, were “militants”.
“We thought that the report was definitely unprofessional,” the Israeli official said, adding that the UN team lacked military knowledge and did not “understand international humanitarian law”.
Among the most strident accusations by the UN team was that Israeli forces deliberately shot and killed people that were clearly identifiable as children, journalists, health workers or disabled.
The Israeli official denounced that finding, insisting that forces were only allowed to use live rounds against those who posed “a real and imminent threat”.
“Civilians who were amid the unrest may have gotten hit if a sniper missed or by a bullet that passed through its target,” the official said.
But, the official added, Israel probes every fatal act involving its forces and has opened 11 criminal investigations connected to the Gaza unrest.
“We have been trying to deal with these events in the best non-lethal way possible,” the official said.
More than 250 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since March 2018, the majority shot during weekly border protests and others hit by tank fire or air strikes in response to violence from Gaza.
Two Israeli forces members have been killed over the same period.