Comparing Arab Crimes against Humanity: Hamas and ISIS

In his heart-wrenching book Survival in Auschwitz, the Italian writer Primo Levi recounts a dramatic anecdote of sheer evil.  The Nazi guard snatched away the icicle with which Levi was trying to quench his four-day thirst.  When asked why, the guard replied, “Hier ist kein warum” (There is no why here).

Evil has never been absent in the world, but sheer evil has reappeared in the actions – "no why here" – in recent months of two Islamist extremist groups: Hamas in Gaza, and ISIS or ISIL in Iraq and Syria.  The extent of the evil of the two groups differs in the number of overt actions, but the intent to fulfill their objectives is similar.  Hamas has openly declared its main objective: to kill Jews and eliminate the State of Israel.  ISIS has established a brutal Islamic caliphate in the areas it has conquered and is engaged in pursuing a war of jihad.

What is a cause of surprise, indeed amazement, is the different response of the U.N. Human Rights Council to these two evils.  The remarkable report of the UNHRC Independent Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued on August 27, 2014 chronicles the enormous human cost of the conflict in Syria.  Both the Assad regime and the anti-regime forces, above all ISIS, are found guilty of mass atrocities, causing enormous suffering to civilians, and disregard of the basic rights of women and children.  Hundreds of civilians die as the fighting continues.  The members of ISIS have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including torture, murder, enforced disappearance, and forcible displacement.  ISIS has been responsible for executions, amputations, and lashings in public squares, and for training children as young as ten in military camps.

The truth about the horrors of ISIS is clear to all.  The truth about Hamas has not been universally accepted.  Yet Hamas's relentless aggression against Israeli civilians was publicly revealed on July 9, 2014 by Ibrahim Khraishi, the Palestinian representative to the UNHRC.  “The rockets fired from Gaza toward Israel are each and every one a crime against humanity whether they hit or miss, because they are directed at civilian targets.  That is why Israel resorted to an attack against Gaza.”

The Hamas attacks, more than 4,000 rockets, and missiles were aimed at Israeli towns and villages, including Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa.  Though Hamas and its defenders pretend otherwise, all objective journalistic reporting – certainly that from outlets in France, Finland, Italy, and Japan, if not from the New York Times – attests to the fact that Hamas fired much of its weaponry from areas in or close to schools, hospitals, mosques, and even centers for disabled people.  It is abundantly clear that women and children were used as human shields to prevent Israeli retaliation.  All students of international law would regard the Hamas actions as war crimes or crimes against humanity.

The leaders of Hamas make no apology for these crimes.  The former Gaza prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, who bravely sat out the Gaza hostilities in a bunker for 50 days, declared, “We started the war by firing at Haifa, and we finished it by firing on the last day [sic – actually after the ceasefire had been declared] at Haifa.”  Not to be outdone, the equally brave Khaled Masaal, head of the Hamas political bureau, who was safe in his residence in Doha, Qatar, boasted on August 28, 2014 of Hamas victory because five million Israelis were forced to go into bomb shelters to avoid Hamas rockets and missiles.  In a defiant mood, he observed that “[t]he Zionist enemy committed a second Holocaust in Gaza” and argued that the next operation should use all of the Palestinian capabilities, not just part of them.  His conclusion is similar to the mission of ISIS: “the resistance is holy, and weapons are holy.”

Why then did the UNHRC set up a committee to inquire into the actions not of Hamas, but of Israel?  There is no why.  The UNHRC is systematically biased against Israel.  In its Resolution 21/1 of July 23, 2014, passed by a vote of 29 to 1, the UNHRC strongly condemned the failure of Israel as “[t]he occupying power, to end its prolonged occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including East Jerusalem.”  It also condemned in the strongest terms the “widespread, systematic and gross violations of international human rights and fundamental freedoms arising from Israeli military operations carried out in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) since June 13, 2014.”

The UNHRC therefore set up an independent, international commission of inquiry to investigate the violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law in the OPT, including East Jerusalem.”  The commission may not be concerned with this particular issue, but it would be difficult to ascertain exactly what “fundamental freedoms” existed under the brutal Hamas regime.  The mandate of the commission, however, is inquiry into “Israeli war crimes.”

Even the biased UNHRC should pretend to be concerned with impartial inquiry, but the choice of at least one of the three members of the commission leads to some doubt.  The chair is William Schabas, a Canadian regarded as an expert in international law, who has had a distinguished academic and professional career.  The immediate problem is one of impartiality.  In the past, Schabas has been publicly critical of Israeli political policies and its leaders, including Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres.  In 2012, when referring to potential trials of people, he remarked of the Israeli who was at the time in the opposition and not prime minister, “My favorite would be Netanyahu in the dock of the International Criminal Court.”

Regarding the earlier conflict in Gaza in 2008-2009, Schabas remarked that people were upset about the “atrocities” in Gaza – not so much because of Israeli bombardment of facilities there, but “because of our unhappiness about the general political situation there. It is because the people of Palestine are still being denied their right of self-determination.”

No one doubts the intellectual probity and personal integrity of Professor Schabas, nor can he be regarded as anti-Semitic, but in view of his political opinions and statements, can one expect impartial adjudication about the 2014 hostilities?  In an interview, he thought it was “inappropriate” to answer whether Hamas was a terrorist organization.  That question needed study in “as neutral and objective a manner as possible.”  However, he was more certain about the former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Most observers would have seen the Iranian as a fanatical anti-Semite, even questioning his sanity as a denier of the Holocaust, but Schabas saw him only as a “provocative politician.”

The other members of the three-person commission are Doudou Diene of Senegal, and Mary McGowan Davis of the United States.  Diene was concerned with the issue of human rights from 2011 to 2014 and generally with issues of racial discrimination and intolerance.  Davis was a federal prosecutor in New York City and a justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York.  She was also involved with the finding of the U.N. mission on the Gaza conflict between December 2008 and January 2009.

The three members of the commission may no doubt take on their task earnestly.  In view of the hostility of UNHRC to Israel, a rational assumption is, however, that its report would be critical of Israel.  But after the devastating report of the commission on Syria, the three members might well notice the similarity of the evil actions and intent of Hamas and ISIS.  Hope for impartiality and justice for Israel springs eternal.