Dear readers, assuming any are left,
You probably noticed that this blog, which was a tad more vibrant and alive when we started it, is now somewhat of a wilderness. scattered posts, most of which are cross posts, updated monthly or even less. We’ve noticed too. To me personally, IsraLeft started out as something which was constantly on my mind. When interesting things happened – and in my neck of the woods, interesting things happen all the time – I kept processing them in my head to IsraLeft blog posts. When the horrible shooting at the GLBT youth club took place, no place else covered it so extensively in English, from within, and I had a feeling we were finding our spot.
Since then – well, I wish I could say a lot has happened. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite. We just couldn’t do it. We all had lives and things going on, and so we missed out on one occasion, and then another, and then another. And IsraLeft remained more or less silent. Vacancies don’t stick around for you – they were filled quickly by some of the best writers I know. Didi Remez, Yossi Gurvitz and our very own Dubi Kanengisser, to name a few, have English blogs giving an insider’s leftist perspective on current affairs. We became irrelevant by simply not doing anything, which is surely the fastest way to become irrelevant.
So, it’s time to acknowledge that this place is no longer really operational. It was a good attempt, and I’m glad we made it, but it’s time to unplug the machine.
The blog will be up until the end of September. Then, it will be taken offline, permanently. Dubi has kindly offered to re-post at his blog any post from here the author would wish to re-publish, and his own posts. Other than that, everything here will be gone. If you wrote any comments you want to keep, I suggest you copy-paste them to safety before the blog goes offline.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some people: First and foremost, my friends and compatriots here at israLeft who made it, even if for a short time, possible. IsraLeft started with a tweet. One, simple tweet, in which I asked who will be interested to join in as collaborator in an English leftist Israeli blog. I got the response of some of the best people I know, and IsraLeft was born. When I think about it this way, IsraLeft was a miracle, albeit a short termed one.
Secondly, I’d like to thank our readers, commenters and sharers. I’m sorry if we – if I – disappointed you. You made our short lived success happen, and kept us going for as long as we could, perhaps longer.
I’ll be available at the usual places for all questions you may have.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is an on-going campaign by some Palestinian and pro-Palestinian groups, calling for – well – boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel to nudge it towards the end of occupation and discrimination of Palestinians both within and beyond the green line. It has garnered some support internationally, and even among Israeli Jews there are those who promote it within the radical left. I, however, oppose it. There are two routes by which I arrived at opposing it. One has to do with my own identity as an Israeli, and thus doesn’t strictly reject the notion of BDS, but only the support of BDS by Israelis. The other, however, rejects it in-toto, not so much because it is inherently wrong, but because it is advocated for wrong reasons and all to often displays the makings of a nationalist argument flimsily disguised by liberal rhetoric.
But we’ll start with the first route, which is much simpler. BDS argues, quite plainly, that Israel is an apartheid state, and therefore the best way to get it to change is repeat what was so successful with the more iconic apartheid state – South Africa. BDS, then, is simply the outsider’s best means for influencing what they thing is a problem situation. In a democracy, one influences politics by voting and other acts of citizenship. But foreigners don’t get to participate, so they have to resort to the power of the market – it would be highly undemocratic of them to exercise voice where they don’t legitimately have one, but exit – i.e., not buying stuff – is certainly within their rights. But one cannot exercise both at the same time. One cannot legitimately exercise their right to voice internally, while attempting to amplify their voice by generating external pressure via exit. In other words, if you’re going to support boycott of Israel, you have to exit it yourself first. You can’t support it from within. Similarly, I think it is intellectually dishonest for a professor to work in an Israeli university and, at the same time, call for its boycott by others. Certainly, it is most dishonest when those doing the calling hope that this will somehow save them from the boycott1, but even when they are willing to bear the burden of possible results, as long as they stay within the comfy confines of their tenured position, they cannot honestly call for boycott of that same institution.
This route, again, still leaves it legitimate for foreigners (and Palestinian Israelis) to support BDS. But I argue the movement, as it currently stands, is still intellectually tainted, and should not be supported unless it seriously revises its stated goals and its rhetoric.
The “Call for BDS” asks the international community to boycott Israel until Israel meets its demands of
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
The first hurdle appears in the first demand. “Ending occupation and colonization of all Arab lands”. I asked Ali Abunimah how can I read that other than “Jews go home”. He answered by sending me to two texts, one by Omar Barghouti, the other by himself. I’m not quite sure how the latter answers my question, so I’ll focus on the first. It offers a wonderful notion of “ethical de-colonization”, which I gladly subscribe to. It should be noted, however, that the call doesn’t ask for “ethical de-colonization” but to the end of “colonization”, without qualifications. The very fact the Barghouti needed a qualifier in his term shows that the unqualified term means something else. Abunimah himself said that this refers to the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan heights. Again, I can’t see how this can be clearly read from the document, which speaks of “Arab lands”. I know of no reasonable interpretation that sees just the occupied territories as “Arab lands”. Either the whole of Palestine is, or none of it is. Isn’t this the argument made by two-state proponents that object to compromises? That the compromise is that 80% of the territory is given to the Jews, so there’s no sense it demanding even more is “compromised”?
Of course, Barghouti’s article doesn’t end in that beautiful vision. It dives from there into a diatribe thinly veiled by legalistic language that in essence argues that the Jews gave no right to self-determination, and that the most Israeli Jews can hope for is that they be allowed to live their lives as equal citizens within an essentially Palestinian state, with full individual rights but not collective or national rights — as opposed to the Palestinians, who do have a right to self-determination. Basically, Barghouti is offering to the Jews2 – most magnanimously, as he notes himself – the same life that right-wing liberals in Israel are willing to afford Palestinians: individual rights without national rights, and living within a state that defines itself nationally as the state of another people.
This is depressing, because this is exactly what opponents of the binational vision say the binational state would be like (at best, with a goodly chance that this will quickly deteriorate into a non-democratic, possibly theocratic state – so, basically, where we are now, only upside down). This hardly gives me a good feeling about the whole endeavor. I say, if we give up national rights, we give them up for everybody. If we can’t, as I, unfortunately, suspect is the case, then both sides must have national rights in a binational state. No talk about how the Jews are settler-colonizers will change the fact that the Jews have no homeland to return to. They are not emissaries of foreign powers that have decided to stick around cause the like the weather. They are in Israel because they see it as their homeland, they have good reason to see it as their homeland, and they should have a right of self-determination just like any other people. Now, I’m not a huge fan of the so-called right of self-determination. I think this right was basically stillborn, never really amounted to much and never did a single good thing for anybody. The right for democratic rule seems much more relevant to me. But if you argue for the right of self-determination for one people, no amount of intellectual acrobatics will save you from granting the same right to every other people. That, after all, is exactly the downfall of this right.
But one man’s opinion hardly means I should object to the entire project, right? Of course. The opinions of the BDS movement as expressed in their FAQ section, however, do.
Is explaining why BDS should be supported even though some supporters of the Palestinian plight within Israel object to it, they explain:
Although the views of Israeli supporters regarding methods of struggle should be taken into consideration, Palestinians have the ultimate right to decide on the best method for attaining freedom from an illegal occupation and systematically oppressive regime. Supporters of the Palestinian struggle within the international community and within Israel itself have to stop attempting to dictate the terms of the struggle but support the Palestinian right to resist an illegal occupation.
This is what I mean when I talk of nationalist arguments poorly disguised in liberal rhetoric. Israelis “have to stop attempting to dictate the terms of struggle”. We are the victims, say the Palestinians. Therefore, we get to decide what is to be done. Notice, of course, that nobody is dictating anything to the BDS movement. Quite the contrary, in this brilliant example of passive-aggressive writing, it is exactly the Palestinians who are dictating to the rest of the world how they must act in order to support Palestinian freedom. If you don’t support us in exactly the way we say you should, well, then the terroristsZionists have already won. For another example of how this logic unfolds, see this criticism of a group that dares employ a different means to achieving this goal, and gets derided for it, as if because these organizations called for BDS, this is now The Law.
Finally, as has been noted on this blog before, the true liberal puts no right ahead of another. There is no prioritizing of rights, and rights must be given to everyone – even to those who wish to deny them to others – while at the same time the liberal acts to ensure that these wishes are not granted. It’s tough to be a liberal. But that’s why it’s easy to spot those who make false claims to the ideals that liberals uphold. Like the people who wrote this in response to the question “does academic boycott infringe on academic freedom?“
It may; but who’s Academic Freedom is being referred to within this context? That of Israeli academics. Are we to regard only the academic freedom of Israelis as worthy? Plus, the privileging of academic freedom as a super-value above all other freedoms is in principle antithetical to the very foundation of human rights. The fact that Palestinians are denied basic rights as well as academic freedom under Israel’s military occupation is ignored. The fact that, with the exception of a tiny yet crucial minority, Israeli academics are largely supportive of their state’s oppression or are acquiescently silent about it is ignored. The fact that Israeli academic institutions have been and continue to be entirely complicit in the continuing aggressions against Palestinian society is ignored. The fact that Israeli academic institutions are themselves directly engaged in violations of Palestinian human rights and international law is ignored.
“Who cares?!” would be a good summary of the above paragraph. They’re just Israelis! Most of them are Zionists! Their rights can be trampled upon in the name of fighting for our rights. Just like the rights of women can be put on hold in the name of The Fight – after all, they’re Jewish Israeli women, the oppressors. You can justify a whole lot with this type of argument, but it doesn’t bode well for those of us that will end up living in that country that the BDS movement envisions, a country that will most certainly continue to use this wildcard of the rights of the victims over their oppressors long after the oppressors are no longer that.
Barghouti talks of a long process of ethical de-colonization. I fully support the need for such a long process. But I don’t see a willingness on the side of the BDS movement for this sort of process. I don’t see a commitment to true equality. I see vindictiveness – not that we haven’t earned it, of course, but still, not something I would like to promote when I’m at the business end of the vengeance.
A true liberal will tell the BDS movement that they support the cause of ending occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, but not at the expense of the Jews. And while I appreciate Ali Abunimah’s writing in favour of the one-state solution, I cannot condone his constant hate-mongering against Israelis in general. The process of ethical de-colonization cannot start after we have reached a settlement. It must start now, and it starts by taking the hands of those who reach out, not by pointing fingers.
There was a proposal at the time that the Canadian Union will impose an academic boycott in Canadian universities which will require some sort of oath of disloyalty to Israel for an Israeli to be hired. I said in an email to my representative at the union that even as I criticize my country left and right, I will never disown it in such a manner, and will fight the union if such discrimination is used against me for my nationality. Luckily, the proposal never really got anywhere. [↩]
Nay, to “Israeli Jews” – the rest of the Jews can go suck it. [↩]
I’ve recently read Lene Hansen’s Security As Practice. The book offers a methodological framework for post-structuralist discourse analysis.1 I must admit the book got me quite excited, in as much as one may use terms like “excitement” when discussing methodology, and I’m now considering revising (slightly) the goals of my thesis so that I may base it on a variation on her method.
At any rate, for the methodology not to be completely disconnected from practicality, the second half of the book is an application of the research design she described to the case of Western discourse surrounding the war in Bosnia in the 90’s. In the concluding chapter, which also reviews the benefits and limitations of the methodology, there was one sentence that I copied down as of particular interest, not because it is relevant to my research, but because I felt it says something substantial about the current situation in Gaza, the flotilla, and the whole discourse and counterdiscourse surrounding the siege.
The Discourse of ‘humanitarian responsibility’ “constituted a ‘civilian victim’ to whom humanitarian responsibility was extended, but this subject was only ethically privileged insofar as it maintained a separation from the realm of political and military agency. ‘Innocence’ in turn was depoliticized and dehistoricized”.2
I think one may see a parallel between the situation described by Hansen and the situation in Gaza today, at least with regard to the rejection on the side of Israeli discourse to the idea of humanitarian aid to Gaza. For example, many argued against the flotilla that they don’t really want to bring humanitarian aid, but rather that this is a political act. Again, as in Bosnia, humanitarianism is perceived as relevant only if it is disconnected from politics, and the two cannot co-exist. There cannot be a political act of humanitarian aid, since these are polar opposites.
Similarly, when they addressed the question of the justification of providing humanitarian aid to Gaza’s residents, the objectors raised the argument that the Palestinians in Gaza voted for Hamas (and therefore lost their right for minimal living conditions, if this is what Israel decides is the most expedient way to preserve its interests). The very fact that Palestinians have become political agents denies them the right for basic living conditions. One might see here an almost Hobbesian view of the act of voting – by electing the Hamas, the people of Gaza not only gave their vote to this party in a geographically and temporally bounded elections, but the actually invested their very selves in the hands of Hamas so that every action by their government is for all practical purposes their own action. It is interesting to remember, of course, that Israelis, even those who support the government, don’t attribute such mystical characteristics to their own act of voting — one need only think, in this regard, of the responses to the cancellations of concerts by Elvis Costello, the Pixies and others recently, responses that may sometimes be read as a sort of farce on the criticism against the siege.
(An interesting example of this sort of thinking was recently published (Hebrew) in the right-wing Channel 7 radio station. A rabbi heading a pre-military academy, Rabbi Zeev Sharon, was interviewed saying that a soldier who killed a civilian during war time should not be put on trial, because the civilians of the enemy are themselves the enemy. A similar example was revealed by human rights organization Shovrim Shtika – see the discussion and video on one soldier’s account of getting orders to this effect here.)
My argument here, I should emphasize, is not similar to claims against collective punishment, or those that state the siege makes no distinction between Hamas supporters and their opposition (and one might add that it strengthens the former and weakens the latter) – although I do use such arguments myself often. In this current context, it should be clear that such arguments fall right within the boundaries of this “humanitarian aid” discourse Hansen identified: they deserve humanitarian aid, because they are not all political agents, because they are innocent victims, not part of the political, violent factor.
I have a feeling, which isn’t substantiated in any way in the book so I will leave it with this definition, that there is a link between this discourse of depoliticized humanitarian aid, and the notion of “terror”. The Geneva conventions dealt, primarily, with the question of how one should treat one’s enemy’s soldiers in a humanitarian way. The whole concept of humanitarianism arose from the crazy idea that even soldiers on the battle-field have a right to medical treatment, regardless of the proximity of their own side’s medics. The humanitarian discourse, then, did not start out with this distinction between humanitarianism and politics — who else but the soldier represents the state on the battle-field? But even he deserves medical attention and basic rights once the need arises. If we apply this to Gaza, Israel is fully within its rights to lay a siege on Gaza if it perceives all who are in it as enemy soldiers (and I will beg the question if this perception is justified or not), but it must then supply those “enemy soldiers” with all their basic needs.
The new humanitarian discourse that Hansen identified in Bosnia and I claim exists also in the case of Gaza, rejects the possibility of the two co-existing – a person who is a political agent cannot be eligible for humanitarian aid. I can hypothesize two non-exclusive tracks that led to this change. One, again, is terror. The shift to a-symmetrical war in recent decades has taken the sting from the Geneva conventions – and if one side is not committed to them, naturally the other side cannot be held to them either. If Hamas doesn’t see a need to provide the Red Cross with access to captured soldier Gilad Shalit, then Israel shouldn’t have to provide the Red Cross, or any other humanitarian organization – let alone political ones! – access to Gaza. Any agreement by Israel to transfer humanitarian aid into Gaza, then, is beyond the strict requirements of law, and therefore Israel may set whatever restrictions it damn well pleases on this aid without harming the humanitarian discourse in its new form.
The second track has to do with extending the humanitarian ideal far beyond aiding soldiers in the battle-field. Ironically, extending the humanitarian idea to larger and larger parts of the needy population (as opposed to developing other ideas of aid, for example, such as charity), eventually caused the exclusion of combatants from that very ideal. How, after all, can you include starving children in the same group with fighters armed to the teeth, and demand the same treatment for both?
What conclusions can we draw from this? One of the inherent limitations of Hansen’s framework, which she readily acknowledges (and actually argues that it is derived from the very view of post-structularism, which, as I noted, I have no idea what that is), is that one cannot derive practical conclusions from discourse analysis. It allows us to understand situations, but not to analyze causal chains. Therefore, we cannot develop policy based on such an analysis.
I see myself as less committed to Hansen’s view, and therefore think one can derive policy prescriptions from this analysis – about the best means for challenging this discourse, the best ways to oppose the policies derived from it, and the best alternative policy given the current conditions. I believe such conclusions can be drawn. I just don’t know what they are.
I’m not big on theory, and if you ask me what’s post-structuralism I probably won’t be able to answer. In fact, I wouldn’t have known her approach is post-structuralism had she not said so herself. The book itself avoids jargon most of the time and hardly ever refers to all sorts of French people like Derrida and Foucault and other people who wrote books I can’t read. Even when she does reference them, she explains exactly what she means, so even morons like me can understand. [↩]
Lene Hansen, Security as Practice: Discourse Analysis and the Bosnian War (New-York: Routledge, 2006), 212. [↩]
Israleft.org brings you excerpts from Rami Elhanan’s Speech at an alternative Memorial Day Ceremony held by Combatants for Peace, held on the Israeli Memorial Day, on Monday, April 19th. The excerpts were edited and translated from Hebrew by @normands, and handed over to us by @notIDFspokesman, who is a great source of information about Israeli current affairs.
Hello and good evening.
My name is Rami Elhanan. On the afternoon of Thursday, September 4th 1997 I lost my daughter, Smadari, in a suicide attack on Ben Yehuda st. in Jerusalem. My beautiful, sweet and happy 14 year-old child.
I don’t need a memorial day to remember Smadari. I remember her all the time - 365 days a year, 24 hours a day and 60 seconds per minute. Nonstop, without rest, for the last long, damned 13 years. Time does not heal the wound, and the unbearable lightness of being remains an unsolved riddle.
Unfortunately, Israeli society needs memorial days. Each and every year, like a Swiss clock, over the week following Passover, Israeli society is drawn to its annual ritual: from holocaust to revival, a sea of [memorial] ceremonies, sirens and songs – a nation swept in to an addictive storm of sweet sadness, teary eyes, a sense of togetherness; with [the media playing] sad songs and pictures of life taken away and heartbreaking stories… and it’s hard to avoid the feeling that this refined concentration of grief, injected directly to the vein, is meant to strengthen our sense of [being the] victims, the justness of our struggles and our ways, remind us of our disasters – lest we forget them for a moment: if we want to stay alive our only choice is to be armed and ready (for a fight), to be strong and tough, or else the sword will fall from our hands (in Hebrew: fists) and our lives will be taken.
And I, when all this sadness withers away with the smoke of [independence day celebrations] barbecue grills, when Israelis go back to their normal lives, I’m still filled with deep sadness. I miss the good old Israel, the one that never existed; and I feel a sense of being an alien, of being a stranger here. This feeling has grown over the years, from war to war, from one election to the next, from the publication of one corruption to another…
And I think about my life, about the long journey I’ve made on my way to re-define myself, redefining what it means for me to be Israeli, what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be a human. I think about the light-years distance I’ve passed – from the teenager who fought 37 years ago along with a decimated tank company across the Suez Canal, from the young father who, 28 years ago, wandered around the streets of bombarded Beirut, without even thinking it could have been otherwise.
Since then, almost 40 years have gone by. And with each and every year this shell of being a victim is cracking. The cover of self righteousness and misery is slowly diminishing, the wall separating between me and the other side of the story is breaking.
When I was recruited to the [Israeli-Palestinian] Parents Circle – Families Forum, 12 years ago, for the first time in my life I was exposed to the existence of the other side – to this day I am ashamed to say that for the first time in my life (I was 47 at the time) I met Palestinians as normal people, just like me, suffering the same pain, crying the same tears and sharing the same dreams. For the first time in my life I was exposed to the story, the pain and anger and to the nobility and humanity of what we call: ”The other side”.
The height of this journey was this encounter with my brother, the “terrorist” that was imprisoned in Israel for seven years, peace combatant Bassam Gharamin, that wrote us these touching words:
“Dear Nurit and Rami. I would like to express my brotherly solidarity on this sad day, the anniversary of the death of your beautiful, pure child, Smadar. Undoubtedly, this is one of the saddest days, and from the moment we met I did not have the courage to write to you about it, fearing I might add more pain and suffering to your hearts. I thought time might heal this deep wound, but having experienced myself the same horror you have, after my daughter Abir was murdered on January 16th 2007, I realized that parents do not forget it, not even for a moment. We live our lives in a special way that others don’t know about, and I hope that no other human being- Palestinian nor Israeli – will ever have to know…”
To me, the dividing line between the sides does not cross between Israelis and Arabs, nor Jews and Muslims. Today, this line divides between those wishing for peace and willing the pay the price for peace and the rest. They are the other side! And today, the other side, unfortunately, is the group of corrupt politicians and generals leading us and acting like a bunch of mafia heads, war criminals playing a blood ping-pong between themselves, sowing hate and harvesting death…
But this evening I’d actually like to speak to those in the middle, sitting on the fence and watching us from the side; I’d like to speak to the Israeli public that sticks its head in the sand and doesn’t want to know, that lives in its big disconnected bubble, watches TV, dines at restaurants, goes on holidays, enjoys the good life and looks after its own interests, all with the aid of the co-opted media that helps it hide from the bitter reality that can be found only a few meters away from the Israeli public’s life center: the occupation, the land and home thefts, the daily oppressions and humiliations, the checkpoints, the hell in Gaza, the sewage in the streets of Anata.
Especially this evening, I would like to call upon the left leaning public, those disappointed and angry, those suffering from indifference, despair and passivity, those shutting themselves in their own bubbles and ranting at the Friday night dinner table. I would to ask them on this evening, eve of Memorial Day to the dead of both sides, to come join us in the fight against this malignant disease.
And I would like to tell them about the true and unknown heroes of our dark time. I’d like to tell them about those willing to pay a high personal price for their integrity and decency, those willing to bravely stand in front of the bulldozers, the refuseniks [‘draft dodgers’], the peace combatants who dropped their weapons in favor of non-violent protest, the determined protestors shattering every week in the face of terror by the police and the IDF in Bilin, Na’alin, Sheikh-Jarrah and Silwan, and the lawyers fighting everyday at Ofer Military court [for Palestinian detainees] and Israel’s Supreme Court, the heroic women of “Machsom Watch” and peace activists like Rachel Corrie who gave her life, and those who expose crimes and plots – from Anat Kamm to Gideon Levy and Akiva Eldar, and peace organization from both people and mostly the bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families that carry the flag of peace in spite of their tragedies.
And as the sky turns black, it’s easier to see those stars shining in the dark. As the oppression becomes more vicious and mean they, in their noble heroic struggle, save the dignity and humanity of us all.
And today we must desperately expand the circles of non-violent protest against the occupation! Tonight I’m calling upon you from the bottom of my heart – come out of your bubbles! Join this mosquito that ever buzzes in the ears of the occupation, harasses and annoys them, refusing to allow them to remain silent. Don’t let the other side steal everyone’s future!
[note: This article, belatedly published here, was originally written by Idan Landau in his Hebrew Blog "Lo Lamut Tipesh" (don't die stupid), it contains links to several sources. whenever possible I've provided english versions of the links. However, some of the links are for blogs, some for media articles with no available translation. Those links were left as they are - in Hebrew.)
How can we know what the future holds? That's a timeless human dilemma. How can we know what's happening now? That's probably a modern dilemma, one that comes with life in a society whose perception of reality goes through propaganda agents filters. And how can we know what has already happened? Here we are victims of the bitter struggle between memory and forgetfulness, between perception and selection.
How will we remember "Cast Lead"? Here's a good answer: we'll remember it in the way it (the war? The operation? The incursion? The defensive fighting?) was depicted in the newspapers supplements of the one year's anniversary of it. A year after the first day of the attack, the struggle over its representation in the collective memory is starting to show signs of fading. In a year or two (and an attack or two) and the formal version – "they threw Qassams on us and we didn't retaliate, eventually we kicked their ass and they stopped the shooting" – this version will become from just another narrative to "the true history", the rest of the versions will be drown out in the vast spaces of the internet as a flickering conspiracy theories.
That is why the anniversary of "Cast Lead", is one last chance for the ones who opposed this attack from its beginning, for its criticizers, for the ones who where appalled by it, to show, perhaps for the last time, the perception of reality as they comprehended it and experienced it, from the months prior to the attack to the findings revealed after the dust of the bombings went down.
The summary that follows, I'll say in advance, is a selective one. It does not contain one word (except for the death toll) on what the Israeli side experienced. The barrages of missiles on the south, the life in bomb shelters, the deployment of the home front authorities etc. Don't worry, of those the average Israeli will get more than enough, in every media channel available. This is their selection. Whoever took the trouble of entering this blog, admitted in doing so, that he is interested in what was left out of the mainstream covering eye.
A lot was left out, and from this one also needs to choose. In my summary I've decided to focus on the aspects that strike me as most crucial to the molding of every Israeli citizen in the future. Knowing what really happened between the 27th of December 2008 and the 17th of January 2009 isn't enough. One needs to know how those events where enabled, what are the military and propaganda mechanisms that made them happen. That's because the events themselves were left behind, but the darkness mechanisms are still with us, and already working hard on the next attack. It is not necessary to explain what happens to one who doesn't learn from his own past.
This summery is divided into several chapters. The first chapter examines the series of events and oversights that led to "Cast Lead". It's primary goal – to prove the avodability and unnessesarity of the attack, and to point out the hidden goals behind it, more thoroughly than it has been done before. The second chapter examines the death toll and the distressing gaps between the IDF versions (which are classified) to the human rights organizations versions (which are open to the public). The third chapter discusses the evidences and proofs of war crimes, which clearly contradicts the IDF denials. The fourth chapter describes the "spirit of the commander" which loomed over the operation, in the briefings and in the opening fire policy – as testimonies from within the IDF reveals. The fifth and final chapter looks on the investigation options that are available for one who is really bothered by the documented findings.
The Operation Goal was not Eliminating the Rockets Threat from the Southern Settlements: Step by Step
The rational behind "Cast Lead", as marketed by Israel, was to provide a response to the rockets launched by Hamas on the south of Israel in recent years. Indeed, the thousands of rockets that fell on Sderot and the settlements bordering the Gaza strip in recent years made the life of the people in the south unbearable. At least from that aspect, one cannot doubt the fundamental justification of an action that was meant to bring the sanity back to the life of the people of the south.
But this wasn't the goal of "Cast Lead". Those things were discussed in a few leftist sites, but were drowned in the never ending propaganda noise that surrounds the operation for a year, that is why their importance can't be overstated. Level-headed analysis of the events in the second half of 2008 clearly reveals that removing the rockets threat from the southern settlements could not have been the real goal of the operation. That's because there was an immediate, cheap and non-violent way to do so. But the Israeli leadership favored, from reasons that deserve to be pondered about, the way of fire and death.
We're talking here about a one and a half year old history, history that was already buried beneath mountains of written words. In order to restore it, we should rewind our clocks to the 19th of June 2008 – the day in which the cease fire agreement (the Thahadia) between Israel and Hamas began. Also we need to look on the details of the shooting at that time through a magnifying glass.
The Cease Fire
Well, this is how what should not have happen, happened.
Till the cease fire took place, things were in turmoil. According to IDF data, in 2006 1,744 rockets and mortars was fired from the Gaza strip to southern Israel, and in 2007 1,934 rockets were fired.
The cease fire began in the 19th of June 2008 and wad supposed to end in the 19th of December, 6 months afterward. The agreement, reached through Egyptian mediation, mainly stated a complete cease fire between the two fighting sides, and opening the border-crossings to commodities from Israel.
There were military actions on both sides, but according to the unwritten understandings between Israel and Hamas they were not considered as a casus beli. The politicians blamed each other for internal gains: they blamed us for breaking the agreement and we blamed them. Both sides were right, but both sides also knew that the low level of the fighting is much favorable to what took place before June 2008. In any case, the usual Israeli claim that Hamas broke the cease fire repeatedly doesn't have a leg to lean on. In fact, in the first week of the cease fire, 7 Israeli violations were registered and only one violation by Hamas.
In regard to the opening of the border crossings – Israel did not meet her obligations. In fact during the cease fire fewer supplies entered Gaza than in the beginning of 2006, when rocket firing was at its peak. The Israeli narrative according to which one side (us) met his full obligations while the other side (them) is breaking every one of his – is a propaganda lie. This propaganda played a major role in recruiting the public support for "cast lead", because if the other side is breaking the agreements, there is no other option but using force.
The Numbers Don't Lie
Did Hamas keep the truce? The answer is yes, almost completely (the few violations were committed mainly by other organizations). It is important to show this by numbers, because on the "violations" lie Israel has based a campaign of deception.
Well, how many rockets were fired to southern Israel in the first half of 2008, till the cease fire agreement? This datum took very winding ways to reach. After strenuous search it became apparent that the most accurate segmentation of the rocket firing, to the single day level was to be found in the ISA (Israel Security Agency) databases. This is how 2008 looked like – before and after the cease fire
The total of rocket fired from Gaza during 2008 – app. 3600. From the beginning of the cease fire till the end of the year 664 rockets were fired. That is, till the 19th of June 2.936 rockets were fired. In average, 17 rockets per day.
One would assume that the 664 rockets fired from Gaza from the beginning of the cease fire till the end of 2008 proves that the cease fire didn't work. But the opposite is true. Apparently until the 4th of November, a key date that we'll come back to shortly, only 50 rockets were fired. Spread across 4 and half months, we talk about one rocket per 3 days in average.
That is, from 17 rockets every day the cease fired calmed the fire to the level of one rocket every 3 days. An agreement that lowers the fire level times 50, is without a doubt a working agreement. Not only that, the fire level was decreasing constantly as the cease fire continued. 18 rockets in July, 19 rockets in August, 5 rockets in September and 4 rockets in October. October 2008 was the most peaceful month the southern settlements people knew for years. Throughout the cease fire, until the 4th of November, not a single Israeli citizen was killed or injured by rockets fired.
Not only the numbers, but Sderot residents also tell the same story: the cease fire period was a period of prosperity and recovering that everyone hoped will continue. Indeed, everyone also knew that Hamas is using this period to arm itself, but wait a second, what exactly did the IDF do in the same time? Made shovels out of his sabers? Or else acquired and utilized innovative weapons systems, tried for the first time on Gaza residents? The mutual acquiring of weapons is a fact of life concerning national conflicts, the important question is which side is trying all the nonviolent options he has before choosing to use the obtain weapons.
And then We Grew Tired from Peace
In the 4th of November everything collapsed. It was Israel's' fault.
IDF soldiers infiltrated the strip and reached a distance of 250 meters from the border in order to blast a tunnel that was dug in order to, according to Israel, kidnap Israeli soldiers. The tunnel was trapped with explosives and blew up. In the battle that followed the soldiers killed 6 Hamas fighters. Immediately, and not a moment before that, the usual pirouette began. In one day 66 rockets were fired to southern Israel – more than in the whole four and a half months of the cease fire prior to that day. The Israeli air force attacked, more deaths and injuries, hermetic closure of the border crossings, the darkening of Gaza and stopping of the humanitarian aid.
In November 2008, 233 rockets were fired compared to only 4 rockets in October. Breaking the cease fire by the IDF increased the Qassams firing overnight by times 60.
This graph, taken from the ISA site tells the story:
At first Israel admitted half heartedly that she has broken the cease fire. But immediately she added: "last week incursion made in order to blow up the tunnel took place in order to maintain the cease fire. It was evident to Israel that a terror attack made through that tunnel would have brought an end to the cease fire. Despite this, Hamas was trying to renew his terror attacks while breaking all terms of the cease fire".
In simple terms: we broke the cease fire in order for them not to break it before us. In the Israeli discourse this obviously doesn't count as a breach of the cease fire, we call it an "incursion". But the naked facts show this was the turning point that started the fire, fire that almost went out during October 2008. Whoever authorized the incursion, whoever chose to do it even with the high price (6 casualties) Hamas paid, took the consequences into account.
Try to imagine this alternative scenario: Israel and Hamas reach the end of the cease fire agreement, the 19 of December 2008, in a state of full ceased fire. Months without rockets and without incursions and air raids. In this situation, the agreement would have been most likely renewed, this time with potential to advance into more delicate matters – the releasing of Gilad Shalit and taking the cease fire also to the west bank. Before we would have noticed, we could find ourselves in the midst of a de facto peace process with Hamas.
Could this be what initiated the incursion in the 4th of November? Or else the incursion was just an opportunity, and things have already decided 6 months prior to that when the operational plans for "Cast Lead" were made? According to Tzvi Bar'el analysis, Israel broke the cease fire in Gaza because there was no way she would have agreed to take it to the west bank. The assassination of the cease fire, on the backs of the residents of southern Israel, was meant to eliminate any chance of Hamas will replace the puppet forces of Abu Mazen as the body who manages the conflict with Israel.
Hamas wanted to continue the cease fire
And what about Hamas? Did he want to continue the cease fire? Surprisingly enough, the answer is yes. Here also, everything is documented, and contradicts the official narrative of Israel who wants to show Hamas as a chronic negotiations refusnik.
Immediately after the end of the cease fire Mahmud A-Zahar declared in an interview to channel 10 news, addressing the Israeli government directly, that Hamas wants to prolong the cease fire for 6 additional months following the original terms, that is to say, Hamas drops his demands to take the cease fire to the west bank. Israel replied that she won't talk with Hamas about a cease fire agreement. He repeated this statement in the Egyptian press as well. A week after Haled Mash'al issued a similar statement. Again – Israel ignored that.
In this stage our appeasement refusniks to dismiss the statements of the Arabs – it is after all, a well known fact, that Arabs only tell the truth when they are pining for war an lie through their teeth when they are talking about peace. Embarrassingly enough, our own "national estimators" thought Hamas intentions were genuine. In the 21st of December, two days after the cease fire ended, yuval diskin the head of the ISA stated that "Make no mistake, Hamas is interested in continuing the truce, but wants to improve its terms. It wants us to lift the siege [on Hamas-ruled Gaza], stop [IDF] attacks, and extend the truce to include Judea and Samaria [the West Bank]“.
Here is a good place to mention that this demands of Hamas was absolutely justified. The right that Israel reserved for herself to stop the fire in Gaza while continuing it in the west bank reflect a totally unilateral separation ideology, according to which there is no connection between Hamas in Gaza and Hamas in Nablus. Hamas could all the same declare that he will stop firing on Sderot but continue to fire on Ashkelon.
Anyway, as we mentioned, even this justified demand (to take the cease fire to the west bank) Hamas dropped two days later. It didn’t help. The Israeli war machine galloped forward.
As usual here, when the war drums are banging, the media remains silent. A lone voice that publicly declared that “this was not necessary” in real time was Nehemia Strasler of Ha’aretz. (On the same day I have issued my own call for refusal) the question – why of all others a journalist that specializes in economy was able to recognize the spin that led to the war – is an interesting one. An economy journalist of all others, because our political and security commentators are linked with too thick chains to the systems they cover to develop a dissident perspective in real time. Strasler of all others, because we are talking about a “state hating” journalist who always casts doubt on the abilities and meanings of the state. Paradoxically when it comes to the social-economic, the undermining of the states privileges puts Strasler on the side of the power and money wielding, when it comes to the political, the same undermining puts him on the side of the political deprived people (Who knows, maybe if we could let the “efficient market forces” run the war instead of the state, Strasler would have supported it).
The Israeli stands were hollow, deprived of content. Nobody said it better than Sderot resident Na’amika Zion in the profound article she published in the midst of the attack:
“The first time I felt that the state really protects me was when the cease fire agreement was reached. I have no responsibility toward Hamas, and that is why I ask our leaders. Have you turn every stone to achieve continued cease fire? To prolong it? To reach a long term agreement? To solve the border crossings problem and the blockade? Have you traveled to the end of the world looking for suitable mediators? And why have you dismissed in a blink of an eye the French initiative to cease the fire after war broke out? And why to this very moment you continue to decline any possible offer for negotiations? Have we not reached the quota of Qassams we are able to suffer? Have we not reached the quota of dead Palestinian children the world can live with?”
“And who says we can take Hamas down? Haven’t we already tried this trick somewhere else? Who will come in his place? Fundamental global organizations? Al-Qaeda? And how from under the destruction, the hunger, the cold and the death, moderate voices of peace will emerge? Where are you taking us? What future do you promise us here in Sderot?”
Zion exaggerated only in this: our leaders didn’t need to “turn every stone” or “travel to the end of the world” in order to maintain the cease fire. All that was needed was to say yes to the clear and justified suggestions that came from Gaza and Damascus.
This conclusion should be cut and save toward the next conflict in Gaza which our captains are already working hard to make unavoidable.
So, what did we fight for?
If not for the peace of Sderot, as Na’amika Zion understood, so for something else. The real goal was bringing down the Hamas regime. And in this goal malice and stupidity were merged. Malice, because our leaders – Olmert, Barak, Livni and Ashkenazi – knew all too well that the human price of the operation, with its brutal opening fire protocols, would be horrible, and that in the end of the day, the rockets threat on southern Israel will not be removed. Stupidity, because the same leaders have not learned anything from our near history – it is impossible to overthrow a hostile regime by massacring the population he controls. Indeed thanks to the operation Hamas hold in Gaza is more stable than ever (same as Hezbollah hold in the Lebanese leadership after the second Lebanon war).
The evidence of overthrowing Hamas was the real goal of the operation are numerous and were covered in other places. The Olmert government publicly declared this strategic goal before and through the operation. The target chosen – government buildings in Gaza, offices, health and education infrastructure – tell us that the military branch of Hamas wasn’t the only things on the sights of Israel. Chief commentators talked about it (Alex Fishman, “yediot ahronot”, 23.1.09: “the two last parts of the operation were meant to overthrow Hamas, to enable Israel to control the smuggling mechanism, and to change the government”), but the main version, the one that was constantly repeated by the propaganda agents, and unfortunately convinced most of the scared residents of southern Israel, was – “to remove the threat of rockets from the south of Israel”. It sounds better, more righteous than some wild brutal delusion of changing the government in Gaza.
A year after the rockets threat became bigger, reached Tel Aviv, and the Hamas government in Gaza is stronger than ever. Israel is isolated like never before, the economic boycott on her is getting closer step by step, and her top officials are avoiding European capitals for fear of being arrested.
On the Israeli side the picture is clear: 13 Israelis were killed during the operation. 9 by Palestinians, 3 of them civilians and 6 were soldiers. 4 soldiers were killed by friendly fire.
On casualties on the Palestinian side there is a dispute.
The IDF data (April 2009): 1,166 casualties, from which 709 Hamas and Jihad activists; 295 civilians, from which 138 children under 16 and women, and 162 men over 16 who were not identified.
B’zelem data (September 2009): 1,387 casualties, from which 773 not involved in the fighting, including 309 children and 109 women. 330 of the casualties were active fighters, 248 were cops of Palestinian police.
Let’s start with the cops. All 248 cops were killed on the first day of the operation, during air raids on the Palestinian police headquarters and 18 more police stations. IDF counts them as Hamas casualties, though there is no reliable data on their organizational affiliation. What is clear – none of theme were actively participating in fighting during the surprise attack of the air force (42 of them were freshly nominated cadets). Police is a civilian body, therefore the massacre of cops is probably a crime of war.
How many Palestinian civilians were killed? The max number according to the IDF is 457 (civilians+not identified). The min number according to B’zelem is 773. The minimal gap is therefore 316 civilians. If we stretch the gap to the maximum (adding cops, removing unidentified) we reach 726.
That is – the IDF denies killing between 316 to 726 Palestinian civilians, that according to B’zelem he is definitely responsible for being dead. Not a small gap.
B’zelem is a serious organization. He visited homes of casualties and hospitals, collected death certificates, pictures and evidence about 363 children (under 16) a women that were killed. According to the IDF “only” 138 women and children were killed.
So, B’zelem has evidence of the death of at least 225 women and children during “Cast Lead” that the IDF denies responsibility for. Just imagine – 225 women and children in Israel, killed in a terror attack which no organization took responsibility for. We’ll add here that the data collected by Amnesty International is very close to the B’zelem data. App 1,400 casualties, form which 300 were children and 115 women.
What is the IDF doing with this data? Is anybody there bothered by these large gaps in the numbers of the casualties? Did anybody in the “constantly introspective” army at least contacted B’zelem in order to compare data and evidence?
Of course not. The IDF is above mistakes. Not only no appeal to B’zelem made, but from 20 appeals made by the organization to the army, regarding incidents were civilians were shot and killed during “Cast Lead” only one resulted an inquiry (using of “human shields”).
The casualty lists comprised by B’zelem and Amnesty International are open for the public. The casualty list comprised by the IDF – classified. Any requests to declassify it were refused. What is the reasonable excuse for that refusal? Why does the casualty list need to be a secret? Maybe the IDF is afraid to let some of the casualties that they are in fact dead, in order to not sadden them? And maybe, just like any aspect of this operation – starting from keeping journalist out of Gaza to the refusing cooperation with the Goldstone committee – the IDF spokesman believes in “minimum information, minimum critique”? What else needs to happen in order for our leaders to finally understand – when we are closing are eyes – the atrocities don’t go away, someone else still sees them.
.Is B’zelem mistake proofed? No. Of course not. But one can assume that at least in the aspect of field investigation in Gaza, the database of B’zelem is richer than the IDF’s. An army that was really interested in reaching the truth, and face the hard data of civilian killings in Gaza, would not have kept such an impassive silence facing such evidences that so harshly counter its official position. It would have tried to cooperate with anybody who could offer such important and elementary information.
Nowadays the IDF praises himself with the fact that the ratio of civilian killings in “Cast Lead” was “only” 1 out of 4. Such ratio would have, without a doubt, made the hair on the back of Israel past leaders – Ben Gurion, Dayan, even Begin – stand in horror and shame. But times have changed. I wonder what these leaders would think of a civilian killing ratio of 7 out of 10 as the B’zelem data suggests.
Evidences for Crimes of War
During the attack and in the weeks that followed, many evidences and proofs of massive damage to civilian population which was not involved in the fighting were gathered. The evidences are first of all the hundreds of civilian casualties; physical remnants of weapons that the international law strictly restricts their use; victims’ testimonies; medical reports made by doctors and paramedics; and finally, testimonies of IDF soldiers.
The automatic response made by IDF and other Israeli spokesman was that Hamas turned the civilian population in Gaza into “human shield”. But, no basis was ever found for this claim. In fact, there are not a few testimonies, including ones that made by soldiers, of the use the IDF made of Palestinians as human shields.
“Amnesty International did not find any evidence to Hamas or any other Palestinian organization broke the rules of war to the extent that Israel repeatedly claimed they have done. Especially, the organization didn’t find any evidence to Hamas or other warriors directed civilians’ movement in a manner that will protect military objects. However, Amnesty International did find that in some occasion during “Cast Lead” Israeli forces used Palestinians as “human shields”. In any case the international humanitarian law clarifies that using human shields by one of the fighting sides does not excuses the attacking force from his legal duties regarding civilians.
Amnesty International representatives interviewed many Palestinians which complained about Hamas behavior, especially oppression and attacks on Hamas opossers, including killing, torture and random arrests. However, Amnesty International did not receive any complaints of Gaza’s residents about Hamas fighters using them as human shields”
(From Amnesty International report).
Hamas fighters did operate from populated areas, but in fact they were not the ones that chose the fight scene anyway, because Israel by deciding to demolish the Palestinian administrative and governmental buildings localized the fighting in those populated areas.
The Israeli media dealt much with the unimportant rather than the main issues. It concentrated on the messengers rather on the message. Individuals and organizations that claimed or showed proofs for crimes of war made by the IDF were personally attacked (and on this issue the media almost absolutely joined ranks with the IDF spokesman). Their personal backgrounds were searched, their sources of funds, their so called ignorance of Hamas crimes – anything not to discuss the issues themselves. This policy, as we now know, exploded in Israel face with the publishing of the Goldstone report and the wave of sues issued against Israeli leaders in European courts.
This heavy media screening caused us to forget (and this was its main goal) the evidences and proofs themselves. That’s why we should, especially in those days when Israel fights with half of the world about sayings, metaphors and righteousness shows, go back to the hurtful, horrifying facts of “Cast Lead”.
A white phosphorous attack in the 17th of January on an UNRWA school in Beit La’hia, where 1,500 people sought refuge. 2 five and seven year old children died, and many were fatally injured. Photo: Muhammad al Baba
From the multitude of incidents documented, I’ve chosen only three. They are described in the detailed reports published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch during last year. Contrary to those organizations false image in the Israeli public, their activity does not focus only on Israel, their activists are spread around the world. Moreover, both this organizations (like the Israeli B’zelem) systematically denounce Hamas, Hezbollah or any other enemy of Israel crimes of war as well. They employ investigators who take testimonies, legal experts, doctors and weapon experts. One who reads their reports and brushes them of as “Palestinian propaganda” (the IDF spokesman) makes himself look absurd, especially compared to the dry slogans, void of documentations, that the IDF presents as “operational inquiries”.
1. synopsis: a drone fired a missile that killed two youths, 12 and 17 years old, who played on the rooftop of an apartments building. On their bodies and on the surroundings were found physical evidences of drone missiles fire.
On January 4, 2009, the second day of Israel’s ground offensive, at around 10:30 a.m., an IDF drone launched a missile at two boys playing on the rooftop of a two-story home in downtown Gaza City [GPS 31.51243/034.45655]. According to residents, the site was at least five kilometers from any fighting at the time between the IDF and Palestinian armed groups. IDF statements and media reports also report no fighting in that area at that time; Israeli forces did not enter central Gaza City until later in the ground offensive. Because the house is surrounded by taller buildings in the center of Gaza City, it is a highly unlikely site for firing rockets, and it would be a poor location for artillery spotting or reconnaissance.
Those killed were:
Mahmud Khaled ‘Alayyan al- Masharawi, 12
Ahmad Khader Diyab Subayh, 17
“Our neighborhood was very calm at that time,” Mahmud’s brother, Ashraf Mashhrawi, 30, a freelance television cameraman who runs an independent news agency, told Human Rights Watch. “The tanks were more than five kilometers away to the northeast.” According to Mashhrawi, many members of his extended family had sought refuge in his home because they believed the area was relatively safe. He said that various family members had gone to the roof that morning to play, but only Mahmud and Ahmad were up there when the missile struck.
Ashraf ‘Issawi, a neighbor who was in the doorway of the house when the missile hit and was the first to reach the victims on the roof, told Human Rights Watch about the attack. “I had heard drones overhead and then there was an explosion and everyone was screaming,” he said. “I ran up to the roof and found the boys’ bodies. Ahmad’s leg was next to Mahmud who was still alive.”
Human Rights Watch researchers examined the rooftop of the building and found small cubic fragments, circuit boards, and blast patterns that were consistent with drone-launched missiles. They also examined fragments of clothing that the family said the children were wearing at the time of the attack. The clothes were perforated with dozens of tiny holes. Photos and a video of the children taken by Ashraf ‘Issawi at the time of the attack show that the bodies were also perforated with dozens of tiny square wounds. The incident was filmed by Ashraf’s cameraman and later used in a documentary produced by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation
Human Rights Watch has uncovered no evidence that the two boys on the roof were fighters or that they were otherwise directly participating in the hostilities. Given the optical capacity of the drones, the young age of the boys should have been apparent to the operator. And the location of the roof, deep in the center of Gaza City, was a poor location for engagement or artillery spotting. The absence of IDF ground forces in Gaza City as of that date, January 4, further undermines any military justifications for the attack.
The use of drones in “Cast Lead” arouses many questions (on the broader questions that their use arouses, see here). The Amnesty International report which also documented the use of drones against civilians ponders this:
Surveillance drones have exceptionally good optics, allowing those watching to see details
such as the type and colour of the items of clothing worn by those being observed, and what
kind of objects they are carrying. For example, on 4 February 2009 an Israeli drone operator
explained: “We identified a terrorist that looked like an Israeli soldier. Our camera enabled us
to see him very clearly. He was wearing a green parka jacket and he was walking around with
a huge radio that looked exactly like an army radio. We saw that he was not wearing an army
helmet, and he was ducking down with a weapon close to the wall, wearing black trousers. It
was very clear he wasn’t a soldier”.29 According to the Israeli army, “pilots can divert missiles
already en route to their targets to avoid striking civilians”.30 The questions arising from the
cases detailed in this report and many others are why so many children and other individuals who were visibly civilians were targeted in the first place and why these missiles were not diverted when it became clear that they were about to strike children and other civilians
The IDF, as usual, avoided providing a serious answer. But fortunately enough in the body of testimonies gathered by “Breaking the Silence” organization after the operation the answer could be found. A soldier tells that in the briefing it was made clear to him that going on the rooftops is strictly prohibited because “the air force have a green light to shoots on anybody on the roofs – in fact, without having to distinguish between a fighter and a civilian”. Here is the testimony.
One who connects between the evidences of firing on civilians on the rooftops with this testimony will reach the unavoidable conclusion: the Israeli drone operators were conducting under clearly unlawful orders. They and their commanders – the entire chain of command to the air force commander – took part in committing crimes of war. But who will make this connection? The IDF? The same IDF that waved the HRW drones report as “based on unknown, unreliable Palestinian sources that their military expertise isn’t verified, and they are driven by clear interests as part of the propaganda system in Gaza?” The same IDF that waved the “Breaking the Silence” testimonies as “hearsay and second hand testimonies”?
The IDF did not connect, will not connect and cannot connect this connection. The testimonies and the findings are laid before us and before the entire world. One who is able to make this connection – must do it.
2. synopsis: white phosphorous shells (forbidden to be used near civilian population) directly hit the house of Abu Halima in Saiapha in the north of the Gaza strip, killed five family members and wounded five more. In the scene unmistakable remnants of phosphorous were found and doctors verified that the survivors’ burns were from a new kind which they didn’t know before.
In separate interviews, three members of the family told Human Rights Watch what happened that afternoon, around 4 pm, when an artillery shell containing white phosphorus directly hit their house, killing five members of the family and wounding five. The testimony is consistent with accounts given to journalists and the Israel-based human rights group B’Tselem.
Ahmad Abu Halima, the 22-year-old son of Sa`dallah and Sabah Abu Halima, who was inside the house at the time of the attack, told Human Rights Watch what he saw:
I was talking with my father when the shell landed. It hit directly on my father and cut his head off. The explosion was large and the smell unbearable. It caused a big fire. The pieces [from the shell] were burning and we could not put them out… We ran outside, the four of us who were unharmed. My brother’s wife and daughter, Ghada and Farah, came down with no clothes [because they were burned off]. My brothers Yusif and Ali too. Yusif was burned on his face and Ali on his back
Ahmed’s brother Omar Abu Halima, 18 years old, was next door at his uncle’s house when the shell struck:
I heard the sound of an explosion. We ran into the street and saw that it had hit our house. We ran upstairs and when we arrived I found my father and four others dead. We took them out and then dealt with the four wounded.
The stairs were very smoky. We went inside and it smelled very strange. We had never experienced that before. It was difficult to go forward. First I saw my mother with burns coming out of the house. We found her at the entrance. She told us to go in and get my injured brothers. But when we got inside we saw nothing because of the smoke and dust, and we couldn’t breathe. We found my brother’s wife, Ghada, she was burning in flames, and also her daughter Farah, also burning. There were also my brothers Yusif and Ali. All of them were burning badly; their clothes were melting. They were all burned but Abd al-Rahim and my father had their heads cut from their bodies too. We took the wounded in two tractors, with my mother in the first one. We tried to call an ambulance but they said they couldn’t come.
R’ada Abu Halima who got burned in a white phosphorous attack on her house in Beit La’hia in the 3rd of January, were dying for two and a half months in a hospital in Cairo and died in the 29th of March. More on the incident – here. Photo: Muhammad Sabach, “B’zelem”.
On January 23, Human Rights Watch investigated the Abu Halima house. In the ceiling above the hallway where the family said it had been sheltering, researchers saw a hole approximately one meter in diameter, apparently caused by the shell. The hallway beneath was badly charred and the remaining furniture burnt. The rooms around the hallway had black burns on the walls and the plastic light switches and electrical outlets had melted. The wood around the doors and windows of the house was charred. On the wall in one bedroom, someone had written in lipstick, in Arabic with some misspellings: “From the Israel Defense Forces, we are sorry.” Residents do not know if IDF forces entered the houses of the neighborhood because they all fled, but the tank positions about 100 meters to the east of the Abu Halima house indicate that the forces were nearby.
Amid the debris of the family’s possessions, Human Rights Watch found two 155mm artillery shell fragments, painted the light green color that militaries use to identify white phosphorus shells, as well as the base plate from the shell. Two canisters of the sort used to hold white phosphorus in artillery shells were found outside the house. Another white phosphorus shell and canister were found about 20 meters to the west of the house, and a third shell was about 50 meters from the house in the same direction. Human Rights Watch does not know if any of the shells struck at precisely those spots or whether they had been moved.
Human Rights Watch spoke with Dr. ‘Alaa ‘Ali from the al-Shifa Hospital burn unit, where Sabah Abu Halima was getting care. He said that she had been admitted on January 4 at 5:05 p.m., and he showed hospital entry records confirming that date and time. “Sabah had very deep burns that reached the bone, and in some places even burned the bone,” he said.
3. Synopsis Flechettes shells (forbidden to use near populated areas) landed near family house in Izbet Beit Hanoun, killed two children, a woman and three men, wounded several others. The wounded carry Flechettes darts in their backs.
Flechettes are 3.5cm-long steel darts, sharply pointed at the front, with four fins at the rear. Between 5,000 and 8,000 of these darts are packed into shells which are generally fired from tanks. The shells explode in the air and scatter the flechettes in a conical pattern over an area about 300m by 100m.65
On 5 January 2009, Israeli forces fired several flechette shells into the main road near the Abd al-Dayem family home in ‘Izbet Beit Hanoun, to the south-west of Beit Hanoun. Six civilians – two children, a woman and three men – were killed and several others were injured. Twelve-year-old Arafat Abd al-Dayem was killed instantly and 16-year-old Islam Jaber Abd al-Dayem was struck in the neck by flechettes. He was taken to hospital but died three days later. Mizar, his brother, was injured in the same attack and still has a flechette lodged in his back.
Nearby, 21-year-old Wafa’ Abu Jarad, who was pregnant, her two-year-old son, her husband, her father and her brother-in-law were all injured by flechettes in the courtyard of their home. Wafa’ died of her injuries two days later. Her husband, Mohammed, told Amnesty International: “We had just had breakfast, then we had tea. We walked a bit in the garden, to the corner of the house, just a few metres from the front door. Then we heard shelling, followed by screaming. We turned back, towards the door. As we got to the door, we were hit. Wafa’ fell on the steps. There was blood everywhere.”
X-rays show that Wafa’s husband still has a flechette lodged in his back, which doctors cannot remove because it is so near his spinal cord they fear performing such an operation on him could result in him being paralysed.
Those shocking evidences and proofs, supposedly, contradict the image of the IDF and his soldiers as a moral army which takes care not to needlessly hit civilians. But whoever listened to the voices that came from within the IDF itself, from the fighting branches, knows very well the image is false. Not only Palestinians, but IDF soldiers and commanders testified that in “Cast Lead” several red lines were crossed.
Most of the testimonies were given anonymously in a brochure published by the “Breaking the Silence” organization an in fighters discussions in the Rabin preparatory program in Oranim college. Those where immediately accepted with distrust or in the worse case – vile incitement. Everybody hanged on the anonymity of the testifiers as proof for their testimonies fallacy, forgetting in the process that it is a well known and accepted procedure in the investigations of crimes and corruptions. People within the system who wants to expose its crime to the light of day but don’t want to pay a personal price for it – have no choice but to keep their anonymity. Sure, anonymous testimonies don’t prove anything, their goal is to push the relevant bodies to investigate. But the total ignoring of them, and denying them without any investigation – that certainly proves a lot.
And anyway, not all the testimonies were anonymous. Notice this soldier, face revealed, describing the briefing he got from the 312 brigade commander. “You open fire and don’t ask any questions”, “a building stands in your way – shoot it”, “there are no innocents – anybody there is the enemy”.
On the 19th of March channel 10 published a video of a company commander briefing his soldiers before action in Gaza. The commander states:
“We are going to war, we are not in a routine security action or anything else. I want you to be aggressive. Anything suspicious in a floor of a house – we throw shells on it. We suspect a building now, we take the building down… no second thoughts. If it is them or us, then it is them. A person walks unarmed toward us – shoot in the air. Continues to walk – this person is dead. Nobody thinks twice. Let the mistakes be on their lives, not ours”.
Arik Dubnov, in the reconnaissance company of a reserve brigade told a journalist:
“From the first briefings before going in, it was clear that the army had changed its entire mindset. Instead of getting the usual precautions on not harming civilians, we were told about the need to make a very aggressive entry. We were told: ‘any sign of danger, open up with massive fire’. In previous training, we prepared for fighting against guerrilla forces, but this time they told us that we would be facing Hamas fighting in full military formation – something that, obviously, did not happen. Some of us were very uncomfortable with these orders, others were pleased that finally the IDF was taking off the kid gloves. I suppose that it boils down to people’s political background. When it was over, both right- and left-wingers felt that it had been a pointless exercise. The rightists said we hadn’t gone far enough, the leftists said, why did we do it to begin with? But we didn’t talk much about it.”
Amir Marmor, a gunner in a tank crew of a reserve armored battalion that operated in Jabalya told a journalist:
“The operation was marketed to us and the entire nation as a measured retaliation to the Hamas attacks, but to me it was like a punishment exercise. That was what it seemed like from the enormous extent of the destruction. We were there for a week and despite the fact that no-one fired on us, the firing and demolitions continued incessantly. I am very doubtful how many of the demolitions can be justified. We were told to expect incoming fire from various directions; our first reaction was to blow up or bulldozer houses in a given direction so as to give us better lines of fire. But then no fire came from that direction, or any other. On another occasion we were told that an attack was expected and an artillery barrage was fired, but we didn’t see anyone moving there.
Those testimonies, coming from non anonymous witnesses, correlate wit IDF investigations about the uncontrolled destruction of houses and buildings during the operation. “The investigations revealed that in many cases commanders ordered to demolish buildings who limited the “eyesight” for IDF stations, or because the commanders thought them as potential threats. In other cases houses were demolished because a makeshift bomb or a Kalashnikov gun were found within, even if controlled demolition which will cause less damage to the house was available. Dozens of houses were demolished because of an unverified suspicion of tunnels being dug in the vicinity”.
If the commanders don’t take Palestinian civilians into account, no wonder that the simple soldiers didn’t. Correction they did take them into account, death camps style: “one down, 999,999 to go”. This writing and other racistslur were sprayed on houses walls in Gaza (among others on the walls of the Samuni family house that indeed was massacred horrifyingly)
Graffiti left by Giv’ati soldiers in Zaitun. Photo: AFP
When you add up the findings of the HRW and Amnesty International investigations, with the soldiers’ testimonies and their briefings, all the question marks go away. Why were so many civilians hit? Because the soldiers were order to consider everyone as “enemy”. Why did brutal ammo as white phosphorous flechettes fired on civilian population, in contrast to rules of war? Because the shooter and his commander denied the need to distinguish between fighters and civilians, between guilty and innocent: “there are no innocents”. This, in short, is the definition of terror.
The Investigation of Crimes
A year after “Cast Lead”, the IDF has proven he is not able to investigate itself honestly and effectively. The gap between the quantity of incidents of shooting of civilians and their severity, as documented by human rights organizations, and the lack and superficiality of the incidents investigated by the IDF – this gap is unbearable.
The obvious conclusion is that the investigation should have been taken out of the IDF hands in the first place. Alas, in the Israeli side there was no one to reach this conclusion himself. Thus, after a winded web of denials, half mouthed admitions and, mostly, repeating the mantra “Hamas made a cynical use of the civilian population” – Israel pushed itself into a dead-end.
On one hand, it is clear to all that the severity and the scope of the findings necessitate an investigation, on the other hand, it is clear that after a year, an effective investigation is impossible. The physical evidence – ammo remnants, tanks marks, broken walls – were already removed. Eyesight testimonies and hearsays taken today would be, naturally, less reliable from the ones taken when the memory was fresh.
In other words, the most reliable findings are the ones that were already meticulously gathered by human rights organizations in real time. The only question is whether anybody in Israel will dare to use those findings. For, what do the voices calling for an “external” investigation for “cast Lead” events hope for? One can hope they don’t want just another committee that all she’ll see and hear will be soldiers’ testimonies. And if so, there is no alternative to using the evidences, the photos and the findings that are available outside of Israel.
And why not? Why won’t an Israeli court, or a national investigative committee summon experts who checked the scene, and ask them to sign an oathed statements saying that they stand behind their reports? Why not summon Palestinian witnesses and re-interrogate them thoroughly on their given testimonies?
In short, why not use the usual juridical process, were the court is given the evidences and decide by accepted methods about their reliability? What other way can refute all the claims those “Israel Haters” spread throughout the world and the internet?
This is a dissembling question. Nothing of the mentioned above will be done. When Israel charged the IDF to investigate “Cast Lead”, she knew very well what she’s doing. And when she’s refusing, for more than 7 months, to answer B’zelem’s, Amnesty’s, HRW’s and the UN’s queries in regard to hundreds of well documented incidents of civilians being hit (the IDF refuses to reveal even the list of casualties in Gaza, according to his own data), she, again, knows what she’s doing. Only a gullible person (or a crook) will believe that Israel denies all those external investigations because she intends to investigate those incidents herself, outside of the army. This denial, as the hundreds of horrifying evidences from Gaza, shines as a beacon of shame on the face of the state, and clarifies its guilt.
The next attack on Gaza, as has been already declared, is a matter of time. One who doesn’t want to see his state yet again committing horrible crimes in his name, even worse crimes than in “Cast Lead”, and then avoids responsibility yet again, shakes the gunpowder off her clothes, whitens the blood of the innocents, and happily skips into the horizon of her undeniable righteousness – should decide even today where he or she will stand in the first day of the attack and on the last one.
In War: Resolution. In Defeat: Defiance. In Victory: Magnanimity. In Peace: Goodwill.
- Winston Churchill
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