The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted Friday to endorse the Goldstone Report that accused Israel of committing war crimes in Gaza -- but at least one British army commander fought hard to set the record straight.
Commander (ret.) Richard Kemp told the UNHRC that the IDF made a strong effort last winter to safeguard the lives of Gaza's civilians during its counterterrorist operation.
"During Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare," testified Colonel Kemp. "Israel did so while facing an enemy that deliberately positioned its military capability behind the human shield of the civilian population."
The former commander of the British forces serving in Afghanistan listed his military credentials at the start of his testimony before the UNHRC vote endorsing the Goldstone Report.
The findings of the UN investigation into Israel's war against the constant Hamas rocket fire aimed at Negev residents may soon be used as evidence against Israel at the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
The UN committee, led by retired South African jurist Richard Goldstone, concluded that Israel was guilty of committing war crimes, and possibly crimes against humanity, during Operation Cast Lead. The report also said the Hamas terrorists who control Gaza "may have" been guilty of war crimes as well.
But Commander Kemp had no doubt, testifying before the UN commission that voted Friday to endorse the report, that Israel had done its best to avoid harming any civilians. He told the commission that Palestinian Authority Arabs in Gaza who had spoken with the Goldstone commission may not have told the whole story -- or the true story at all.
"Hamas, like Hizbullah, are expert at driving the media agenda," he said. "Both will always have people ready to give interviews condemning Israeli forces for war crimes. They are adept at staging and distoring incidents."
Commander Kemp noted that the international media and international human rights groups tend to have the "automatic, Pavlovian presumption... that the IDF are in the wrong, that they are abusing human rights" -- a challenge, he said, that the British do not face.
"The truth is that the IDF took extraordinary measures to give Gaza civilians notice of targeted areas, dropping over two 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," he said.
"During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza," Kemp reminded the commission. "To deliver aid virtually into your enemy's hands is, to the military tactician, normally quite unthinkable. But the IDF took on those risks."
Commander Kemp acknowledged that civilians had been killed, but pointed out that "war is chaos and full of mistakes." He added that Israel was not the only country to face such a situation: "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."