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Israeli Report Finds 2014 Gaza War “Lawful” and “Legitimate” Ahead of Critical U.N. Investigation

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The Israeli government has released a report that concludes its military actions in the 2014 war in Gaza were “lawful” and “legitimate.” The findings come ahead of what is expected to be a critical United Nations investigation into the 50-day conflict that Israel has dismissed as biased and refused to cooperate with. More than 2,200 Palestinians died in what was called “Operation Protective Edge,” the vast majority civilians. On Israel’s side, 73 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. In its report, Israel says it made “substantial efforts” to avoid civilian deaths, insisting Hamas was to blame for the high number of civilian casualties and accusing Hamas militants of disguising themselves as civilians and of converting civilian buildings into military centers. We are joined by Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the former executive director of The Jerusalem Fund. We also go to Tel Aviv to speak with Gideon Levy, Haaretz columnist, whose latest piece is “Israel washed itself clean of Gaza’s dead beach children.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The Israeli government has concluded its military actions in the 2014 war with Gaza were, quote, “lawful” and “legitimate.” The report was released Sunday, just ahead of an imminent U.N. investigation into the 50-day conflict. Israel has refused to cooperate with the United Nations Human Rights Council’s inquiry, which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed as biased.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] Whoever wants to know the truth, let them read this report. Let them also read the report by the senior generals. Whoever wants to continue with baseless, automatic blaming of the state of Israel, let them waste time reading the report by the U.N. commission.

AMY GOODMAN: More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the 2014 assault, the vast majority civilians. On Israel’s side, 73 people were killed, all but six of them soldiers. During the 50-day operation, more than 20,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of people are still displaced. In the report, Israel says it made substantial efforts to avoid civilian deaths, saying Hamas was to blame for the high number of civilian casualties. The report accuses Hamas militants of disguising themselves as civilians and of converting civilian buildings into military centers. In Gaza, Hamas dismissed the Israeli report. This is spokesperson Sami Abu Zuhri.

SAMI ABU ZUHRI: [translated] The Israeli report, by which the occupation tries to clear itself of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip, is an attempt to control the international public opinion and to preempt the report of the International Council of Human Rights regarding the committing of war crimes in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli report has no value, because the Israeli war crimes are obvious and committed in front of a live and direct broadcast.

AMY GOODMAN: To talk more about the significance of the Israeli government report, we talk to two guests. On the phone from Tel Aviv, we’re joined by Gideon Levy, a Haaretz columnist, member of the newspaper’s editorial board. His latest article is headlined “Israel washed itself clean of Gaza’s dead beach children.” He’s also the author of The Punishment of Gaza. And in Washington, D.C., Yousef Munayyer is with us, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. He’s the former executive director of The Jerusalem Fund.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Yousef Munayyer, let’s begin with you. Your reaction to this report? And let’s place it in context. Israel has investigated itself with this report. It’s just about to—it’s expected that the U.N. is about to release a report. Yousef?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, you’re right in that Israel has investigated itself, and this fits into a very familiar pattern that we’ve seen time and time again, really going back to the early days of the Israeli state. After various massacres, there are investigations, which almost always result in Israel declaring itself completely innocent or finding some minuscule charge to put on people that are, you know, then prosecuted and further have those charges mitigated even after that, to the point where there is nobody held accountable for anything at all. This is a PR stunt, is what it is.

And I think it speaks volumes that that’s the approach that the Israelis are taking, precisely because they know there is no way that they can convince the world that what took place in Gaza last year—you know, wiping out 89 entire families, killing 504 children—that that’s justifiable. They can’t, certainly not, you know, given the fact that this was done through massive weapons of war against a stateless population. That can’t be done. The best that they can hope to do is to obfuscate and to confuse and to cloud people’s perception of the issue by trying to issue a report that attempts to balance out or counteract a report that’s done by an independent entity. If the Israelis believe that the only way that they can get a report that supports the conclusions that they want and finds them innocent of all war crimes is to orchestrate that report by themself or have it put together by their friends, I think that tells you everything you need to know about Israel’s conduct in the Gaza Strip last summer.

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy, your latest piece in Haaretz is headlined “Israel washed itself clean of Gaza’s dead beach children.” Talk about what happened on that beach in Gaza and what this report has to do with that.

GIDEON LEVY: I think it’s a nice indication to the way that Israel is so-called investigating itself. Four children are being shelled on the beach of Gaza in front of the eyes of international journalists, who were screaming and screaming, “Those are children!” No way that the Israeli army, with more sophisticated devices, couldn’t see that those were children. And then, one year later, Israel just closes the file, in a case which could really serve the Israeli propaganda, in a case in which Israel could really prove the world that, at least in one case, Israel is investigating itself. But no, even the blood of those four fishermen children, those beach boys of Gaza, even their blood is not a reason for Israel to apologize, to bring someone—to take someone accountable for this. Their killing was, you know, force majeure. Nobody pushed the button. Nobody shelled them one bomb after the other. It’s not only one bomb; it were at least two bombs on them. And this, in a nutshell, the whole story, the report of the foreign Israeli—of the Israeli Foreign Ministry is, above all, pathetic and embarrassing. I mean, if they think that anyone in the world will take this piece of propaganda seriously, they underestimate the intelligence and the morality of the world. It’s really almost shameful to suggest this kind of report, when, as my friend said just now, when the facts on the ground are streaming, are crystal clear, more than 500 children being killed. You can blame all the killing on the Hamas. Can you really believe that anyone will take you seriously? Really, I mean, it’s every time, again and again—

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy, you are—

GIDEON LEVY: —I think that—yes?

AMY GOODMAN: You are an Israeli Jewish reporter. You’re on the editorial board of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. How is the Israeli Jewish population taking this report?

GIDEON LEVY: Well, as you know very well, Amy, the Israeli public opinion is totally brainwashed in the recent years—no moral doubt, no discussion, no debate even. I mean, it is very clear to most of the Israelis, if not all of them, that the IDF is the most moral army in the world and that Israel should not be taken accountable for anything it has done in Gaza. This is hardly discussed even. It’s not even an issue in Israel.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the Israeli military announced it was closing its investigation into the killings of the four Palestinian children on the Gaza beach last year. The four boys were all cousins, aged nine to 11. They were killed while playing on the beach off a coastal road west of Gaza City during the war last summer. I want to turn to comments made by Mohamed Bakr, the father of one of the boys who was killed.

MOHAMED BAKR: [translated] Israel decides for itself what is true or not true. Our children are the same as other children around the world. Children of the Bakr family are the same as children around the world, like children in Britain, France, Germany and America. All the free nations are supporting us. We have the right, and we will achieve victory because we have the right. Our children were playing at the beach. What have they done to be killed in cold blood?

AMY GOODMAN: That is Mohamed Bakr, the father of one of the four children killed. Yousef Munayyer, is Israel participating in the—cooperating with the U.N. investigation that should come out at any moment? And also, is their report coming out—is that aimed at all at the International Criminal Court, with a body, a country, investigating itself? Are they hoping to head off any kind of ICC investigation?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Well, to answer your first question, no, they’re not participating in the U.N. inquiry. They’ve refused to participate in the U.N. inquiry. That’s been pretty much a standard of Israeli policy over the last number of years, where they’ve refused to even participate with United Nations inquiries because they simply believe that it’s not going to reflect the outcome that they would like to see, and so they just refuse to speak to them altogether. We saw that after the last major war on Gaza in 2008, 2009, and in other instances, as well.

And obviously, what we are seeing here is an effort to try to mitigate the isolation of Israel through a variety of different arenas, including the International Criminal Court, but also in other arenas in the international system and among civil society around the world, as well. The Israelis are increasingly growing isolated. They’re increasingly fearing being isolated. And I think that we are seeing, in the government today and in the discourse in Israel today, a reflection of that. I think they’re only going to move further to the right. It is going to be a more draconian government. We are seeing laws that are being initiated now to further silence dissent, even among Israeli NGOs that raise any bit of criticism against the government. But I think this is the kind of pressure that absolutely has to happen before there is any change in Israeli policy, but we have to realize that it is going to get worse before it gets better, because the people who are in power in Israel are not going to relinquish that power for a more equitable, more just solution easily. And they’re going to continue to lie and deceive not just the international community, but also their own people, into believing that they can sustain this system into the long term.

And, you know, with those boys on the beach, I think it’s a perfect example of how monstrous this war was, even by the Israeli military’s own statement on the issue. They concede that they were firing at figures that they did not even identify. They could not even see what they were shooting at, in a space where the vast majority of people are civilians, where 50 percent of the population is children. And lo and behold, this country, which brags in all corners of the world about its high-tech abilities, is unable to identify that these are children playing soccer on the beach, and knowingly fires at what it cannot even identify. And at the end of the day, four children are dead on the beach, along with 500 other kids at the end of that war. And the Israelis want us to believe that they did nothing wrong in this process. It’s just an argument that doesn’t hold water.

AMY GOODMAN: And your response to the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, leaving Israel off a list of countries which kill or injure children during conflicts, the decision defying the recommendation of a U.N. special envoy and following intense pressure from Israel and the United States? Gideon Levy, can you weigh in on that? Did that surprise you?

GIDEON LEVY: It doesn’t surprise me, because as long as the United States will continue to support automatically and blindly anything that Israel is doing, as long as this policy will continue, the U.N. and other international institutions will have to really lose their way. Ban Ki-moon was in Gaza. I know that he was quite shocked from what he saw. And he knows how many children were killed in Gaza. And still, when the order by the United States, or the threat by the United States, is “don’t include Israel in this next list,” then nothing helps. And as long as this pattern will continue, the international community will have to continue to swallow all those really shameful decisions by the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: Gideon Levy, I want to thank you for being with us, Haaretz columnist, member of the newspaper’s editorial board, latest piece, “Israel washed itself clean of Gaza’s dead beach children,” also author of The Punishment of Gaza. And thanks so much in Washington, D.C., to Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. He is the former executive director of The Jerusalem Fund.

This is Democracy Now!, When we come back, we go to Lincoln Castle in England, where the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta is underway. Stay with us.

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