Uzi Benziman of Haaretz has written a compelling column about the IDF’s moral turpitude in its treatment of Palestinian civilians. And even more importantly in light of the IDF’s recent feeble attempts at investigating its own possible moral lapses–its lazy, hazy record of pursuing and prosecuting such investigations.
What spurred his column was, of course, the IDF’s guilt-free judgment of itself in the case of the Gaza beach massacre. But the point of Benziman’s piece is to say that this is but the tip of the iceberg:
…Should they [the Israeli public] believe the prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister, chief of staff and Major General Meir Klifi regarding the circumstances in which the seven members of the Ghalia family were killed on the Gaza beach, or the version maintained by Human Rights Watch and Palestinian witnesses?
Whereas the Israel Defense Forces claim, after an ostensibly meticulous examination, that the family could not possibly have been hit by fire from its troops, Palestinians – among them doctors at the hospital in Gaza, the ambulance driver who evacuated the wounded and witnesses who were at the scene of the explosion – present evidence that seemingly refutes Israel’s version (as Shlomi Eldar’s Channel 10 report Friday night showed). In addition, there is the testimony of Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch, who has in his possession a fragment of a 155-millimeter shell of the type the IDF was firing during the incident in question (Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz, June 15, 2006).
Describing the discrepancy between the versions of the state authorities and the [Palestinian] victims…as one that leaves the Israeli public wondering – is an understatement. Many Israelis actually believe the Palestinians, or those who speak for them, and not because they are consumed with self-hatred. They have regrettable precedents: abuse of Palestinians that is initially denied until clear-cut evidence discredits the denials (testimony from “soldiers breaking the code of silence”); deaths of foreign human rights activists, which the state authorities ignore until international pressure compels them to investigate the circumstances in depth (the case of Tom Hurndall); bogus descriptions of how innocent people were killed during assassinations from the air (the Salah Shehada hit); false accusations against international bodies (the claims that UNRWA had helped transport a Qassam rocket while photos proved it was a stretcher); incorrect data regarding the status of built-up areas that had been designated targets for shelling (populated homes in Rafah, May 2004); internal IDF and police inquiries whose conclusions were refuted or required double-checking (the PID on the responsibility of policemen for the killing of Israeli Arab citizens in the October 2000 riots; the IDF on Captain R.’s behavior in the confirmed-kill case of the girl Iman al-Hams); the accepted…defense establishment [tradition of] wrap[ping] political and settlement-related moves in sham security arguments (…the High Court of Justice [recently] ruled that the IDF had misled it in describing the reasons for determining the route of the separation fence…).
The state authorities, including the defense establishment and its branches, have acquired for themselves a shady reputation when it comes to their credibility. Do not be surprised, therefore, when not only the international community but also the citizens of Israel do not believe their versions – until proven otherwise.
Sol Salbe, Israel peace activist from Australia, has provided some incisive commentary on the Benziman column:
But has it been proven otherwise? Again it’s hard to tell. The most independent observer to have looked at the evidence, former Pentagon weapons analyst Marc Garlasco, seems to blame Israel. Garlasco who has led the US military’s battle damage assessment team in Kosovo and Iraq had investigated the matter on behalf of Human Rights Watch. His research indicated that the blast that killed Ghalia family came from a 155 calibre gun used by the Israelis. He produced a shell fragment with the figure “155” marked on it. That would have been a clincher except that Israeli analysis (carried out at Ben-Gurion University) of other shell fragments taken from another victim was conclusively not from a 155 shell. Its origin, however, was indeterminate. The presence of traces of manufactured explosives (rather than the home-made variety) indicates an Israeli origin. However the IDF hastened to add that just like their Iraqi counterparts with their improvised explosive devices (IEDs) the Palestinians also make use of unexploded Israeli shells…
So purely on the balance of the balance of the probabilities it was an Israeli blast: either a direct hit or possibly a previously unexploded Israeli shell triggered by the vibration of the artillery barrage.
And Sol has dredged up this quotation in Haaretz from none other than Ehud Olmert, in which he presents Israel’s true priorities before the world:
“I value the lives and the welfare of the residents of Sderot as much as, if not more than, those of the residents of Gaza.
You have to read between the lines a bit to draw out the correct interpretation of this statement. Olmert is too slick to say merely that he “values the lives of Israelis more than he values those of Palestinians,” which is of course what he really believes. If George Bush said the life of a U.S. citizen was worth more to him than a Mexican, perhaps on one level you might say this was purely pragmatic and almost self-evident since he is the president of the U.S. and not Mexico. But when you understand that Olmert is really saying that if, in order to protect a life in Sderot I must accept the loss of an innocent one in Gaza, then this is a bargain I can make. Herein lies the moral bankruptcy of the Israeli position.
And besides, there is absolutely no proof that anything the IDF has done thus far HAS provided any greater protection to the residents of Sderot. One might argue that the opposite is the case since for every Palestinian civilian murdered scores of Qassams have been launched. Further, one might argue that the IDF’s cessation of artillery barrages and targeted assassinations has almost brought the Qassam barrage to a standstill (only three fired today). This might argue for the notion of ‘peace for peace.’ That is, if the IDF ceases its Gaza counter-terror operations then the Palestinian militants might cease theirs. But of course, it is too early to tell whether any of this will hold true in the longer term as such ceasefires have a habit of being but temporary lulls leading to some horrid escalation in mayhem.
Yossi Sarid also adds his own commentary about the IDF’s credibility and places it in a sorry historical context. He notes that through the 1967 war, the IDF’s statements and claims could be vouched for and authenticated as they were based on cold, hard facts. Not so anymore. After one too many lies:
That strategic weapon – credibility – self-destructs: The moment it misses its target, it becomes junk….
Strangely, the fact that no one believes their versions puzzles the defense establishment’s top brass. These honorable individuals – in and out of uniform – cannot understand why their explanations are now unreliable.
A dramatic change has recently occurred: The defense establishment’s announcements are a priori suspect unless their validity can be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt.
There are many among hardline pro-Israel supporters who take deep offense at my coverage of the massacre and call me all sorts of names insinuating that I’m anti-Israel or worse. It feels good to hear Israelis say almost precisely what I’ve been saying ever since the Gaza beach tragedy. To my detractors, are Uzi Benziman and Yossi Sarid anti-Israel? Of course, to the pro-Israel crowd they are–a traitor to their people, etc. But to the reasonable among my readers such charges will appear ludicrous as they indeed are.
“But when you understand that Olmert is really saying that if, in order to protect a life in Sderot I must accept the loss of an innocent one in Gaza, then this is a bargain I can make. Herein lies the moral bankruptcy of the Israeli position.”
Then this is the moral bankruptcy of any nation on the planet, since the beginning of time. If you are the leader of a country, one of your responsibilities is protecting its citizens from foreign attack. If in defending your citizens you have to take innocent life, well, that’s war. in fact, most governments throughout history have not cared about keeping enemy civilians out of wars. The more rape and pillage and taking in slavery the better.
I know you hate to hear this, but it’s true. Israel’s government goes out of its way not to target civilians more than any other country. But Israel is morally bankrupt because it doesn’t exist in the platonic ideal you imagine.
Richard Silverstein says
No, if you take one innocent life, or ten, or 100, then perhaps one could argue “that’s war.” But when you take thousands and you continue military policies that cause that number to mount & you refuse to investigate seriously yr errors & punish wrongdoers among your forces, then you engage in blatant immorality and violations of international law.
Your learned erudition really shows here. If we’re talking about ancient history, then perhaps you might be correct in some cases. But is ancient history the standard by which we judge contemporary war-making? No, that standard is defined by the Geneva Conventions which explicitly outlaw such acts. If you deliberately target civilians or engage in military action which you know will endanger civilians then you’ve violated those laws & may pay the price. Not to mention that you’ve driven a stake through the heart of your good name in the world community.
More propaganda from the Israeli Foreign Ministry–or is it Little Green Footballs?? This comment shows you either haven’t been reading the Israeli papers for the past month where headlines blare about innocent Palestinian blood shed by IDF gunners & pilots who afforded no respect or dignity to the Palestinian civilians they murdered; or else you have been reading them but not understanding them. I’d say it’s more likely that you’re in denial.
Adam Holland says
The most shocking thing in this barrage of excess verbiage is the lack of concern for the facts. The important questions beg to be asked, investigated and answered. Your concerns, however, are not with the facts, but with finding confirmation for your bias. Sad…
Richard Silverstein says
I have no idea what you’re talking about since you make such non-specific statements and nowhere refer to anything I’ve actually written. For example, what are “the facts” in your mind? What are the questions ‘begging to be asked’ which I haven’t asked?
I’d like to know the facts of this incident but Israel unfortunately has done almost nothing to clarify them.