New Delhi’s recent abstention from voting at the United Nations Human Rights Council motion on accepting and sending the Mary McGowan Davis Commission Report on the 2014 Israeli strikes in Gaza to the International Criminal Court is justified from the perspective of India’s interests.
The Davis report accuses Israel of actions amounting to war crimes. It says the Israeli military deliberately targeted civilian areas in Gaza, hitting residential buildings, “which are prima facie civilian objects immune from attack”. The Israeli conduct was “reflective of a broader policy, approved at least tacitly by decision-makers at the highest levels of the government of Israel”. The report has also criticised Hamas for violence committed against Israeli citizens. Based on this report, the HRC motion called on Israel and Hamas to “cooperate fully with International Criminal Court” and bring those responsible for human rights violations to justice.
The truth is, the Davis report follows the same old pattern of the HRC functioning, where the Council is selective in its concerns over rights violations. The UN General Assembly established this body in March 2006, replacing the UN Commission on Human Rights with a new mandate to promote and protect rights in general and freedom of association and assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of belief and religion, women’s rights, LGTB rights and the rights of racial and ethnic minorities in particular. But this noble mission has remained a far cry.
For years the Council has been overlooking rights violations in swathes of the world in general and the Middle East in particular. Under the influence of groups such as the Organization of Islamic Conference, the Council has been focusing mostly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with the sole aim of condemning Jerusalem. By 2014, it condemned Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, in 46 resolutions. The Council’s special reporters, such as Richard Falk has compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with the Nazi treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.
New Delhi should not let any friction creep into its relations with Jerusalem. Ever since India under the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narsimha Rao established full diplomatic ties with Israel, relations between the two democracies have been attaining new heights in areas such as defence, counter terrorism, intelligence, agriculture and science and technology. This momentum has to be maintained in the mutual interests of the two countries.
New Delhi does not have any obligation to comply with any reference to the International Criminal Court (ICC). It is the Rome Statute that created the ICC. India is not a signatory to it. More importantly, the HRC resolution amounted, in a way, to equating the state of Israel with the terrorist, non-state actor Hamas. This is not acceptable.
The Hamas has been a terrorist organisation throughout. It has had the support of certain reactionary establishments in the Middle East. For long it had the support of the “Axis of Resistance” (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Jihad). In the recent past the Emir of Qatar is said to have granted $400 million to the Hamas.
There has been little change in the Hamas’ doctrine or pattern of behaviour over the years. During the Gaza crisis of 2014, former Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Hamas announced that the third Intifada had begun in the West Bank. He praised the terrorism of the Hamas’ military wing and described the Israeli civilians killed in its terrorist operations as “settlers”. Senior members of Hamas, such as Khalid Mash’al, Fauzi Barhum, and Mushir al-Masri praised the abduction and later killing of three Jewish teenagers.
This put Jerusalem under pressure to use all means possible to protect its citizens by destroying the entire Hamas infrastructure. Jerusalem felt its previous offensives, including the “Operation Pillar of Defense” (November 2012) had failed to end Hamas’ operational control in Gaza Strip and it needed “Operation Protective Edge” to corner Hamas.
As for the civilian casualties that took place in Israel’s retaliatory strikes, it was because Hamas used the civilian population in Gaza as a human shield. They thus protected themselves and managed to portray the civilian casualties that followed as crimes against humanity.
The focal point in New Delhi’s calculus has to be the nature and character of Hamas. The Hamas charter preaches the politics of hatred and violence not only against Israel but against the entire civilised world. It does not spare even the liberals among the Palestinian population. India and the civilised world, the democracies in particular, must not impart any kind of political legitimacy to Hamas, as that will embolden them to proceed with their violent activities in the Middle East and beyond. New Delhi cannot afford to gloss over Hamas’ links with India-specific terrorists.
Some analysts seem to argue that by its abstention from voting on the resolution at HRC, New Delhi has offended the sentiments of the Muslim world and that this might even affect India-OIC economic relations. Such arguments are fallacious. Politics today is too factional and bilateral to govern economy substantially. Increasingly, economy is becoming global.
Pertinently, New Delhi must bear in mind that unlike the Jewish state of Israel, most of the Islamic states in the Middle East have hardly cared for India’s political sovereignty and territorial integrity. They have sided with Islamabad on the issue of Kashmir. Also, New Delhi’s abstention at the HRC vote is not antithetical to its policy of support to the Palestinian struggle. The OIC rulers have hardly been serious about the Palestinian cause they pretend to espouse daily. They have constantly denied the Palestinian refugees living in their nations the status and treatment they deserve.
Jagdish N. Singh is a senior journalist