Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Good riddance, Schabas (but will this change anything?)

Smoke and flames are seen following Israeli air strikes in the east of Gaza City on July 29. Photo by Ahmed Zakot/Reuters
William Schabas, head of a United Nations Human Rights Commission inquiry into last summer's conflict in Gaza, was a poor choice for a wretched job. He now resigned, "following Israeli allegations of bias due to consultancy work he did for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)". But his resignation is not going to stop the commission from writing and publishing its report – a report that only a naïve or a biased hack could expect to be fair or balanced. The mandate of the commission was to indict Israel for its conduct of war, and the reason for its establishment was the desire of its initiators to indict Israel for its conduct of war.  
Israel, like most other countries –  in fact, all other countries – is not immune to criticism and not immune to error as it engages in war. It is also not immune to misconduct of officers or soldiers in battle. It needs to make sure to have proper guidelines that the IDF follows as it uses force – and it has them. It needs to investigate the cases in which these guidelines were breached, and it needs, at times, to punish those breaching these guidelines.
Israel does not always properly investigate breaches of the code of conduct. Most countries do not. Israel does not always want to punish an officer or a soldier when a war is over. Most countries do not. Israel can do more to enforce its code of conduct on its soldiers. Most countries can. Israel ought to do better in handling all these things – and it does, in fact, strive to do better. International kangaroo courts do not make it easier. In fact, they make it more difficult. They make Israelis identify the investigation of misconduct with the attempt to discredit and weaken Israel.
Israel should make sure that a code of conduct does not become a code for losing a battle against a fierce enemy with no code and no respect for proper conduct. There is a strong case to be made that Israel in recent years has been too considerate of supposed codes of conduct – rather than too aggressive in battle. General Giora Eiland,  former head of Israel's National Security Council, made such an argument in several articles referring to both Lebanon and Gaza.
There is one way to prevent the Third Lebanon War and win it if it does break out (and thereby prevent the Fourth Lebanon War): to make it clear to Lebanon’s allies and through them to the Lebanese government and people that the next war will be between Israel and Lebanon and not between Israel and Hezbollah. Such a war will lead to the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure, and intense suffering among the population. There will be no recurrence of the situation where Beirut residents (not including the Dahiya quarter) go to the beach and cafes while Haifa residents sit in bomb shelters.
Eiland's proposed policy seems harsh, but note that his aim is to prevent war, or shorten it in case it erupts. At the heart of his – and others' – argument is the understanding that, even in the age of investigations, Israel's priorities ought to be clear. The Israeli leadership and public do worry about international indictment and investigations, but they worry more about making sure that the threat of investigation does not make Israel's officers and soldiers hesitant when decisions need to be made. That it does not make officers distrustful of a military system that needs their trust because of the fear of lawyerly second-guessing.
In other words: Israel is rightly adamant to reject the attempt made by international organizations – organizations that are no more than a tool in the arsenal of Israel's enemies – to prevent it from winning.
There is nothing more puzzling for Israelis than the appointment of the likes of Schabas – a person with a record of bias against Israel – to investigate them. There is nothing that better demonstrates and explains the great sense of isolation that Israelis feel than the appointment of the likes of Schabas to investigate them. Israelis treat investigations by the likes of Schabas as something that descends from a parallel universe in which black is white, and in which gray – the color of Middle East conflicts of recent decades – is nonexistent. 
Of course, the resignation of Schabas is not going to stop these nonsensical malicious investigations against Israel. Not until it is proven that this relatively new tactic of waging battle against Israel does not work. Yet the resignation is still good news. For one, because even in great wars there are small battles, and discrediting Schabas was one such battle that Israel just won. Also because the resignation shows that Israel can still embarrass an international forum to the extent that it has to take action – namely, that within a faulty system there are still islands of sanity. Also because the resignation is going to be an important piece of evidence against the report when it comes out – a report written by a person that was forced to resign cannot have the validity of a report written by a person that was able to reject allegations of misconduct.