On November 5, Amnesty International released a report that provides an inkling of what to expect from the Schabas commission. Its purpose was to “examine targeted Israeli attacks carried out on inhabited civilian homes in the light of Israel’s obligations under international humanitarian law, specifically the rules on the conduct of hostilities.” It concluded that “there was a failure” by Israel “to take necessary precautions to avoid excessive harm to civilians and civilian property.” Although Amnesty’s report admits that it lacked information about Israeli targeting decisions, it failed to recognize that lacking such facts invalidated its legal judgments.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs promptly responded: “the report ignores documented war crimes perpetrated by Hamas, including the use of human shields, as well as ammunition storage and firing at Israeli civilian population centers from within schools, hospitals, mosques and civilian neighborhoods in Gaza.” Yet Hamas’s reprehensible tactics are critically relevant to determining the level of force Israel was entitled to use in self-defense.
In this hostile international environment, knowledgeable Israelis are concerned about the March 2015 publication of the Schabas report. Either from lack of familiarity with the international laws of war or out of misplaced sympathy for the conventional view, some intellectuals here, including law professors, are tempted to conclude that Israel has few legal responses. They seem to believe that Israel should contritely accept the UNHRC’s factual findings, legal conclusions, and practical recommendations and concentrate on damage control.