Wednesday, March 10, 2010

British Commander: The IDF Tried to Safeguard Civilians

Middle East Quarterly
Winter 2010, pp. 75-6

Following a lengthy period during which Hamas bombarded southern Israel unopposed, Israel finally attacked Gaza in an attempt to cripple Hamas's fighting capabilities. The ensuing conflict in December 2008 and January 2009 led to a high casualty count on the Palestinian side. Even before the war ended, the U.N. Human Rights Council, a body thought biased against Israel, met at the behest of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in a special session to condemn the Israeli assault and to call for a mandate to carry out a fact-finding mission designed to investigate the conflict. The Goldstone report,[1] written by this mission, said little about Hamas but much about Israeli "war crimes." Many voices stood out against the report and its methodology. One of the most emphatic was that of a senior British soldier, Col. Richard Kemp MBE, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and a veteran of action in the 1990- 91 Kuwait war and elsewhere. On October 16, 2009, he appeared before an emergency session of the Human Rights Council. The complete transcript of his address appears below.[2]—The Editors
Testimony at the U.N.

I am the former commander of the British forces in Afghanistan. I served with NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] and the United Nations; commanded troops in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, and Macedonia; and participated in the Gulf war. I spent considerable time in Iraq since the 2003 invasion and worked on international terrorism for the U.K. Government's Joint Intelligence Committee.

Mr. President, based on my knowledge and experience, I can say this: During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defence Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population.

Hamas, like Hizballah, are expert at driving the media agenda. Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distorting incidents.

The IDF faces a challenge that we British do not have to face to the same extent. It is the automatic, Pavlovian presumption by many in the international media and international human rights groups that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights.

The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over 2 million leaflets and making over 100,000 phone calls. Many missions that could have taken out Hamas military capability were aborted to prevent civilian casualties. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza. To deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks.

Despite all of this, of course, innocent civilian lives were lost. War is chaos and full of mistakes. There have been mistakes by the British, American, and other forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, many of which can be put down to human error. But mistakes are not war crimes.

More than anything, the civilian casualties were a consequence of Hamas's way of fighting. Hamas deliberately tried to sacrifice its own civilians.

Mr. President, Israel had no choice apart from defending its people to stop Hamas from attacking them with rockets.

And I say this again: The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.

[1] "Human Rights in Palestine and Other Occupied Arab Territories: Report of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict," U.N. Human Rights Council, New York, Sept. 15, 2009
[2] "UK Commander Challenges Goldstone Report," UN Watch, Geneva, accessed Oct. 29, 2009.

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