Israel has nothing to hide
Israel's rejection of UN mission on Jenin
by Yuval Steinitz
The New York Times
May 4, 2002
AIFA, Israel What changed Israel's initial decision to accept a United Nations "fact-finding committee" on the Jenin refugee camp into a furious rejection?
From the beginning, Israel's acceptance of the committee was tinged with grave misgivings. The United Nations has long since lost any claim to impartiality with respect to Israel. The anti-Semitic conference on racism it sponsored in Durban last summer is but one example of ingrained bias against Israel. Nevertheless, Israelis were so confident that an honest fact finding would exonerate Israel of the wild charges being made by Palestinians and humanitarian organizations that they initially acquiesced to the proposal.
However, when the committee mandate and composition were finally revealed, they convinced Israelis across the political spectrum that Secretary General Kofi Annan had set a trap for Israel.
In order to render a fair and unbiased judgment on the conduct of any military operation, two basic conditions must be met. First, the operation must be placed in the context of the causes that gave rise to it. Without that context, no judgment on the proportionality of the response is possible. Second, the operation must be assessed in comparison to other such military actions.
Yet the United Nations committee was asked to examine the Israeli Defense Force's actions in Jenin and the suffering of Jenin's inhabitants without reference to the earlier terrorism coming out of the Jenin camp that had triggered the Israeli action. In short, the committee would evaluate Israel's war on terrorism without any reference to terrorism.
Imagine a team sent to investigate American military action in Afghanistan without reference to the attacks of Sept. 11 or Osama bin Laden's boasts that he would destroy America. And imagine asking that investigation to ignore the sanctuary the Taliban gave Mr. bin Laden and his Qaeda operatives despite previous American warnings.
Stripped of that context, the United States would inevitably be found guilty of having assaulted one of the poorest and most backward countries on the face of the earth and of inflicting unnecessary harm on the civilian population. A similar inquiry into the massive allied bombing of Germany in World War II would have resulted in charges of war crimes against Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.
But this kind of distorted result is exactly what the United Nations' noncontextual fact-hiding strategy would have arrived at. To examine the Israeli operations in Jenin and at similar sites with no reference to the nonstop Palestinian suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks dispatched from those sites these attacks killed more than 100 Israeli civilians in March alone, a number that translates for tiny Israel to the equivalent of twice the number of Americans killed on Sept. 11 — suggests an intent to find Israel guilty in advance.
The second major flaw was hidden in the committee composition: most of its members possessed no military background. Moreover, there was no indication that the military operation would be assessed in comparison to other military operations with similar missions; for example, by comparing civilian casualties in Jenin to civilian casualties inflicted by the Russian ground forces in Chechnya or by the American air forces in Afghanistan.
Israelis are confident that any fair comparative examination of the Israeli Defense Force actions in Jenin would show that the soldiers made extraordinary efforts to minimize civilian casualties in the nine-day battle there. Twenty-three Israeli infantrymen would be alive today had the army made a decision to use its airplanes and artillery to wipe out the armed opposition more quickly.
Israel has nothing to hide. Israel rejected the United Nations fact-finding committee not because of what the committee sought to explore, but because of what it was determined to ignore.
Yuval Steinitz is chairman of the subcommittee for defense planning and policy of the Israeli Knesset.
receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free jewish media resources mailing list