OpinionIsrael at War

52 UN ‘experts’ and seven major lies

If they wish to be considered credible, organizations such as the ICC cannot rely uncritically on the statements of U.N. “experts.”

Gilad Erdan, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, addresses the U.N. Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, April 17, 2024. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
Gilad Erdan, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, addresses the U.N. Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East, April 17, 2024. Credit: Evan Schneider/U.N. Photo.
David M. Litman
David M. Litman
David M. Litman is a media and education research analyst at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).  

After several dozen Palestinians were tragically killed in Tel as-Sultan in southern Gaza over the weekend, misinformation ran rampant on social media and even among journalists. Unfortunately, they weren’t alone. Over 50 United Nations “experts”—individuals ostensibly tasked with informing and advising the nations of the world—followed suit by giving their own error-laden statement about the incident.

Though it should be of no surprise given the U.N.’s track record, this is still deeply concerning. After all, not only do news networks repeatedly rely on these U.N. actors for “expert” commentary, but institutions such the International Court of Justice—currently embroiled in a cynical legal exercise launched by South Africa against Israel—and the International Criminal Court often uncritically rely on their statements in deciding cases.

The statement put out by the U.N. experts, however, is riddled with serious factual errors. Below are seven of them, as well as an examination of the disturbing, hyper-partisan language used to attack Israel on the basis of those seven major lies.

Error #1: “Israeli air strikes on a camp sheltering displaced civilians…”

The Facts: In just the first nine words of the statement, the “experts” got two major facts objectively wrong.

First, there was one strike, not strikes plural, though according to the Israeli military the strike did involve two weapons.

Second, the strike was not “on a camp sheltering displaced civilians.” The munitions hit a Hamas target 180 meters away from the nearest shelters. The weapons used were very small, containing 17 kilograms (~37.5 lbs.) of explosives each, making it extremely unlikely, bordering on impossible, that they could have directly caused any harm to the shelters. Furthermore, the strike was not located inside of the designated humanitarian zone, contrary to the false claims of the usual bad actors. Rather, the site of the strike was 1.7 kilometers (1 mile) away from the humanitarian zone.

An aerial view of the location of the shelters and the location of the IDF strike. Photo courtesy of the IDF.

The tragic deaths at Tel as-Sultan—180 meters away from the location of the strike—appear to have occurred due to unforeseen circumstances.

As the investigations continue, the most likely explanation emerging is that the strike ignited a nearby, unknown weapons cache, which set alight some of the shelters. The IDF has since shown aerial footage showing a rocket launcher located between the building struck and the shelters. Footage purportedly from the scene also supports this theory, showing what appear to be secondary explosions after the strike.

Error #2: “Reports emerging from the ground indicate that the strikes were indiscriminate and disproportionate…”

The Facts: Far from being indiscriminate, the strikes successfully targeted two senior Hamas terrorists, Yassin Rabia and Khaled Nagar. Far from being indiscriminate, “The strike was based on precise intelligence that indicated that these terrorists, who were responsible for orchestrating and executing terror attacks against Israelis, [and who] were meeting inside the specific structure” targeted. Furthermore, the precision munitions used were literally the “smallest the military’s jets can use” according to the IDF.

The claim about the strike being “disproportionate” is likewise contradicted by the evidence. Prior to the strike, the IDF surveilled the building and its surroundings and determined there was no significant civilian presence in the anticipated area of effect. The “experts” instead appear to be using an erroneous interpretation of the legal concept they claim to be experts on.

Proportionality is not a rule focused on the results of a strike, but rather on the decision-making before the strike is launched. The question is whether the anticipated civilian harm is disproportionate to the concrete military advantage to be gained. As explained by Lt. Col. Geoffrey Corn (ret.):

“In the context of hostilities, this is often translated into the ‘reasonable commander’ test: was the attack decision one that another reasonable commander, facing the same situation and with the same information available, would have also made? If so, the attack was lawful, even if the result turned out to contradict the expectation at the time it was launched. If not, the attack was unlawful. This is why the instinct to rely on ‘effects-based’ condemnations—to condemn an attack as a war crime based only on the civilian harm inflicted by the attack—is legally invalid.”

Error #3: “These barbaric attacks are a flagrant violation of international law.”

The Facts: See Errors 1 and 2. The authors are declaring a “violation of international law” based on inaccurate factual claims and erroneous interpretations of the law. It is worth pointing out, too, that these U.N. actors declared there was a violation based only on “reports,” without having engaged in any actual investigation or legal analysis. Worse, the authors omit entirely the legal responsibility of Hamas, which had embedded military targets in a civilian area near the shelters.

Error #4: “On Tuesday, another attack in al-Mawasi in Western Rafah…”

The Facts: The “experts” are here peddling a completely unsupported rumor in order to attack Israel. There is simply no actual evidence such an attack in al-Mawasi occurred. As even the far-left outlet Haaretz wrote, “That allegation disappeared from the media within a few hours, without proof being provided that an additional event had occurred or that Israel was to blame for such an event.” The IDF has also flatly denied carrying out any such strike.

Error #5: “Recklessly targeting sites known to shelter displaced Palestinians…”

The Facts: See Errors 1 and 2. Note also the contradictory language. On the one hand, the authors claimed the strike was “indiscriminate,” before later claiming it was “targeted.”

Error #6: “Even if Israeli leaders claim now that the strikes were a ‘mistake’…”

The Facts: No Israeli leader called the strike a “mistake.” Once again, the “experts” are peddling a demonstrably false claim, based on an inaccurate translation of a speech given by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Knesset on May 27 (video available here). The Hebrew word “takala” does not mean “mistake,” but rather “mishap,” “malfunction” or “breakdown.” It was not an admission of a guilt or responsibility.

Error #7: “A landmark ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which ordered Israel to immediately halt the military offensive…”

The Facts: The ICJ did not order Israel to halt its military offensive in Rafah city. What the court actually said was, “The State of Israel shall…[i]mmediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

The language about halting the offensive is conditional upon the italicized language, as noted in the separate declarations and dissenting opinions of justices Nolte, Aurescu, Sebutinde and Barak. As expertly pointed out by U.K. Lawyers for Israel, one need only contrast the language used in the May 24 ICJ order with the language used in the Ukraine/Russia case, in which the court wrote: “The Russian Federation shall immediately suspend the military operations that it commenced on 24 February 2022 in the territory of Ukraine.” No qualification.

Malicious language on top of false claims

The sheer number of basic factual errors exposes, at the very least, a deeply concerning lack of actual expertise and professionalism among these U.N. actors. The demonizing language on top of these factual errors brings the statement into the territory of malice.

Not content with simply lying about Israel, the U.N. actors work to depict the Jewish state as an enemy of mankind. Israel, we’re told, engages in “barbaric attacks…on human decency and our collective humanity.” That is, the Jewish state stands outside of “human decency” and “humanity.”

They then go on to call for punishment of the Jewish state for the sins they allege, which again lack any real basis in factual or legal reality. Israel “must be held to account” for “these atrocities,” and the world must “sanction” and “pressure” Israel to give up its right to self-defense against the terrorist organization Hamas.

Taken together, the statement shows why the media and the ICJ cannot—if they wish to be considered credible organizations—rely uncritically on the statements of U.N. “experts.” After all, this wasn’t just a statement put out by just one or two of them; it was signed by over 50 U.N. “experts.” Put another way, 52 U.N. experts either didn’t bother to fact check their own statement or had no qualms about spreading lies about the Jewish state.

Journalists must now be put on notice: if they seek credible expertise, the United Nations is not the place to look.

Originally published by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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