One of the more disturbing aspects of the Israeli Defense Forces incursion and shelling of Gaza last winter was the fact that United Nations buildings and personnel were routinely hit. In fact, there were nine incidents in which UN staff or property came under attack.
Yesterday, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon forwarded a 27 page summary (h/t Innercity Press) of a UN report on the nine attacks during operation Cast Lead to the Security Council.
Reading the summary, a troubling pattern emerges in which 1) the UN gives GPS coordinates of its buildings to the IDF 2) civilians seeking shelter from IDF bombing gather at UN compounds or schools believing they would be safe 3) The IDF drops bombs on or near these UN compounds, killing or injuring the civilians therein 4) The IDF later says rockets were launched from the vicinity.
The report raises the serious question of whether or not the IDF deliberately targeted the UN during operation Cast Lead. Either way, it is clear that the IDF was not as vigilant as it could have been about avoiding UN targets — and avoiding civilian casualties more broadly. For example, the report finds that the IDF used an incendiary substance called White Phosphorous in an attack on a UN compound and a UN school where hundreds of civilians had taken shelter.
Now, Hamas is a terrorist organization so we would not expect it to discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. And, indeed, the report finds one incident in which a likely Hamas rocket fell short of its target and hit a World Food Program warehouse.
Still, I think it is fair to say we should hold Israel to a higher standard. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be much accountability in the offing. For one, Israel declined to cooperate with a UN Human Rights Council authorized investigation by the lauded jurist Richard Goldstone. Second, the IDF has dismissed claims by its own soldiers that its rules of engagement were lax. Third, the Secretary General, in forwarding the report to the Security Council, did not immediately endorse one of the recommendations that he appoint a commission of inquiry to investigate incidents beyond the nine attacks on UN facilities.