For the first time since the Gaza war Israel has been forced to accept culpability for one of its heinous acts of destruction against the civilian population. The Times of London reports that Israel’s shelling a year ago of the UN’s major food distribution facility with white phosphorus, thereby setting it on fire and destroying it, has resulted in an agreement for the country to pay the international body $10-million for the massive devastation that resulted.
There are two ways of looking at this: it can be seen as the first chink in the armor of Israeli impunity regarding its crimes in Gaza; the first time it has agreed to make monetary compensation for its acts. On the other hand, UN aid workers in Gaza are furious and believe their leaders in New York have sold them out considering both the ultimate value of the destroyed warehouse and the magnitude of Israel’s havoc:
…Local staff said they were outraged.
“Israel cannot think that it will buy us this cheaply,” said one, speaking anonymously because he did not have permission to comment on the agreement.
As any decent lawyer would, Israel refused to concede any precedent to its compensation:
Israeli officials emphasised that it would not set a precedent.“This is a special agreement, reached on this particular issue, it carries no legal ramifications,” said an Israeli defence official, describing the payment as a “goodwill gesture”.
All of which is preposterous. Though it may not carry “legal” ramifications it certain carries moral ones and does set a precedent. This is the first hole in the dyke of Israeli impunity through which sea water will eventually stream freely.
At first, Israel claimed the shelling was justified because militants were in the compound. Then they were around the compound. Now Israel concedes it made a mistake though it still maintains there were militants in the area. All of the UNWRA denies vehemently. In fact, the UN spokesperson essentially accused Israel of making the story up.
I believe that Israeli deliberately destroyed the warehouse as part of its scorched earth strategy to leave nothing of any worth standing. It figured it would deal with any the collateral damage to its reputation at a later date. Now the chickens have begun coming home to roost.
The destruction of a major piece of Gaza infrastructure which served a purely civilian, humanitarian purpose surely would’ve served as the underpinning of any international war crimes tribunal. So perhaps Israel sees this as a way of buying out of that charge cheaply. It will now be able to say if the issue does come up that it resolved it to the UN’s satisfaction. I don’t think this will work, but you have to hand it to the Israelis–they can be crafty and shrewd in a devious sort of way.
Despite this calculation, I believe that this is the equivalent of the first lawsuits against tobacco companies by lung cancer victims. At first, they won them all. Then they lost one. Then another. And even if they didn’t lose as much as the profit they harvested from smokers, they were forced to spend gargantuan sums defending these suits. Now, Americans know the truth and the moral victory is on the victims’ side. The same will hold true in the case of Israel’s crimes in the Gaza war and elsewhere. They will eventually be found culpable. There will be no perpetual impunity.
In a separate incident, Israel killed 40 civilians seeking shelter in the UN school at Jabaliya. Israel hasn’t seen fit to offer anything for the lives it took there.
Let’s short-circuit some nattering nabobs who will take issue with my reliance on this story from a newspaper I recently excoriated for its acceptance of a forged Iranian document as proof Iran was seeking to weaponize its WMD. I would note that Sheera Frenkel, the Times reporter who wrote this story, is excellent. The same cannot be said for Oliver Kamm and the other reporters involved in the Iran fraud.