Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas) and experts in military affairs on Monday castigated a new United Nations report that suggests Israel committed war crimes while responding to violent Palestinian demonstrations at the Gaza Strip border last year.
The report, produced by the U.N. Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Protests in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, alleges that Israel killed 189 Palestinians during the riots.
"The Israeli security forces committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law," said Commissioner Kaari Betty Murungi of Kenya. "Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel."
The Israel-based Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center found that about 80 percent of those killed in the riots were affiliated with Hamas, which controls Gaza, and other terrorist organizations. Israel says that Hamas has used the demonstrations as cover to launch operations to breach Israel's border fence and attack Israelis.
Cruz said in a conference call that the U.N. report is a "dishonest" characterization of a more complicated situation in the Gaza Strip, citing reports that Hamas will often insert its fighters into crowds of protesters to incite violence and escape immediate detection from the Israeli military.
"It is a repeated and deliberate strategy of Hamas to use human shields," said Cruz, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. "The U.N. report ignores that reality."
Cruz also called out the U.N. Human Rights Council, which is reviewing the report, for its long-standing anti-Israel bias, and said that its actions should not deter the United States from supporting Israel.
"America stands with Israel for many reasons, but none more important than standing with Israel furthers our own national security interests," Cruz said.
Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston who served in the U.S. Army for 21 years, was also on the call and echoed Cruz's sentiments. Corn is a co-author of a new report by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, or JINSA, on "legal and operational challenges in Hamas-Israel clashes" during both last year and this year.
"Not everything the military is doing is going to be like a battle against a defined enemy," he said, in reference to the U.N. report's claim that Israeli soldiers killed civilians in Gaza.
Corn went on to criticize the report for framing the demonstrations as purely civilian protests when Hamas used them to try to attack Israel. During the border riots, some Palestinians tried to breach the security fence between Israel and Gaza and attacked Israeli soldiers with Molotov cocktails and other weapons. Some Gazans launched firebomb-bearing kites over the barrier to attack Israel.
"Framing the confrontation as just another civilian protest was unjustified," Corn said, adding that the U.N. report does not take into account the numerous threats that Israel faces in the Middle East every day.
Retired Navy Vice Adm. John Bird, who worked on the JINSA report, was also on the call Monday. He said that Israel's response to the riots was as non-lethal as it could have been, and may have even "saved lives" of innocent Palestinians.