An Israeli reporter for Maariv, Aviram Zino, has been embedded with an IDF unit during the current invasion. Noam R writes in his Israeli political blog about Zino’s fawning enthusiastic response to being given the chance of a lifetime to be a reporter in the middle of the “action.” His reporting comes across as cheerleading rather than objective journalism. But in spite of himself, Zino reveals a damning fact that impeaches the IDF’s credibility regarding its denial of deliberately targeting UN buildings housing Palestinian civilian refugees.
Zino reports that the unit commander, Nadav, ordered the firing of a $100,000 Tamuz (aka Spike) heat-seeking anti-tank missile on a UNWRA school in Beit Hanoun on July 24th:
Nadav tried to clarify what means were available to him. A survey of the field shows clearly fire coming from an UNWRA school in the center of Gaza. The order is given and a Tammuz missile is fired at the school. The commanding general, who arrives later for a press conference, says in response: “This is yet another example of Hamas’ cynical use of civilian structures for the purposes of terror.”
It’s a bit aggravating since the unit tried from the beginning of the Operation to do minimal damage, as best as possible, to the “uninvolved” [military jargon for “civilians”].
15 Palestinian civilians died from this missile and 150 were injured. As Noam R points out in his blog post, this is the first eyewitness, definitive evidence that the IDF deliberately ordered a lethal guided-weapon (not indiscriminate artillery fire) to be fired at a civilian building in Gaza knowing there were unarmed non-combatants inside who would be killed.
Two things to point out about this report. Clearly, Zino didn’t see firing from the school. He trusted the unit commander’s word that such fire had been confirmed. But by whom and how is not mentioned. Second, the commander speaking at the press conference only notes the attack by the IDF on the school without explaining how it justified killing civilians. Zino, in the closing sentence, admits explicitly that the attack was both disproportional and knowingly attacked civilians. As Sara Lee Whitson says in the paragraph below: that “is a war crime.”
…The…presence of…civilians despite a warning to flee cannot be ignored when attacks are carried out, as Israeli forces have done previously.
“Warning families to flee fighting doesn’t make them fair targets just because they’re unable to do so, and deliberately attacking them is a war crime,” Whitson said.
In other words, you may not attack a civilian target containing unarmed civilians using heavy lethal weapons, even if you believe there are armed fighters engaged in combat operations against you. The safety of civilians trumps any desire to eliminate the armed threat, if there is one. This is reinforced by the fact that the IDF never presents any proof of its claims that armed fighters are firing from such structures and didn’t do so in this particular case.
There is yet another instance of serious IDF prevarication. Army spokesperson Lt. Col. Lerner told AP 900 Palestinian fighters had been killed during the war. Yet the IDF itself only two days before had put that number at 300. When asked why it jumped so much, AP characterized his response:
Lerner said the figure of 900 militants killed was an approximation, based on reporting from individual Israeli units, but provided no further detail.
In other words, “900” is nothing more than the old Vietcong “body count” released by the U.S. army to persuade the press it was killing gooks and winning the war. The truth turned out to be quite different, as it will be in Gaza as well.
Palestinian and UN reports place the number of dead fighters at 20% of the overall total, which is 1,900. That would mean that 380 militants were killed. My own Israeli source reports more candid IDF claims that 500 fighters have been killed. Certainly, the final number will be somewhere between 380-500, but nowhere near Lerner’s prevaricating claim of 900.
My Operation Protective Edge debrief yesterday argued that while both sides had gotten bloody noses, Hamas, simply by remaining standing, had gotten the better of Israel. Sheera Frenkel interviewed soldiers leaving Gaza and they uniformly told her they believed both that their objectives hadn’t been clear going into Gaza, and now that the Operation had ended, they hadn’t “gotten the job done.” Meaning, don’t believe the PR-bloviating you’ll hear from Benny Gantz and Bibi Netanyahu saying that Hamas had been dealt a mortal blow, that Israel had achieved all its objectives, etc. None of that happened. As Arnold Schwarzenegger says in Terminator: “I’ll be back!” Of that you can be sure. War is a never-ending phenomena as far as Israel is concerned.
One final word about the utter futility of Israel’s policy toward Gaza. International bodies are now organizing a conference to pledge reconstruction aid to Gaza. This is a ridiculous undertaking. It is just what the world did the last time Israel attacked Gaza in Operation Cast Lead. Not to mention that Israel prevented most of the aid from entering Gaza for its intended purpose. Why should the world bear the responsibility to reconstruct Gaza when it didn’t destroy it? The onus should be squarely on Israel to do so. And if it refuses, as it clearly would, then further action must be taken to force it to accept responsibility. Of course, this would never happen under existing circumstances. But those circumstances will and must change.
If Israel wants to ravage the Middle East and destroy the territory of its neighbors, then it must pay the price.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.