Over the past decade, IDF military assaults against Gaza have grown progressively more vicious and brutal. Restrictions limiting damage to civilians, homes and non-military targets have been removed. Rules of engagement have grown looser so as to allow the slaughter of virtually anything that moved anywhere.
During Operation Protective Edge, Israel announced a new policy that was meant to further punish Hamas’ leadership for its role in organizing resistance to its siege. It would target the residential homes of the senior leadership not just of the military wing, but the political wing as well.
It was as part of this new tactic that the IAF and Shabak developed a plan to assassinate Muhammed Deif, the chief of Hamas’ military wing. Through the use of Palestinian informers, eighteen of whom were notoriously executed by Hamas during the war, Israeli intelligence determined that Deif was in his home on the night of August 19th. The IAF launched an F-16 with several especially powerful warheads that would each be dropped on separate parts of the home to guarantee its complete destruction.
As I reported here, at least two of the bombs did not detonate. Substantial damage was done to the home and Deif’s wife and two small children were murdered. Because of the devastation and the ‘certainty’ (which appears far less certain now) of intelligence operatives that Deif was inside, Israel announced he had been assassinated with 90% certainty. There was likely a celebration at Shin Bet HQ for finally getting the Palestinian ‘cat’ with nine lives (Israel had unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate him at least five times).
But it was not to be. Hamas assured the world that Deif was alive. It even released a statement by him. Even Israel’s leaders became more circumspect. They continued to believe he was dead, but made allowances for the possibility of failure.
Now Ben Caspit writes that Deif is indeed alive. Caspit, one of Israel’s populist right-wing columnists, offers, as is typical, no source for his claim. But it appears likely it’s from within the IDF or Shabak. This new report finally lays to rest the legend of Israeli omniscience in which its intelligence services luxuriate. Israel failed in this operation. It will never admit it failed. It will never explain why. The national security state doesn’t do such things. It owes no explanations to anyone, least of all citizens of the state itself. They’re taught to be quiet and obedient and told that they will know only what they need to know. This arrangement satisfies all because the citizens mistakenly believe that the generals know what is best for them and will do it–even if they don’t.
But even if the killing succeeded, as I’ve shreyed here for ages, Hamas would lose none of the power and ferocity of its resistance to Israeli aggression (remember who invaded Gaza…it wasn’t Hamas). In fact, as I’ve also pointed out, the level and quality of resistance could very well improve. After all, Israeli analysts have pointed out that the previous Hamas military leader, Ahmed Jabari, who himself was assassinated a year ago, was quite adept. But they noted that his successor, Deif, instilled an entirely new level of skill, innovation, and vigilance in Hamas’ defence of the homeland.
Let’s not leave this subject without expressing outrage that Israel didn’t hesitate to murder Deif’s innocent wife and two babies. What kind of nation achieves its objectives drowning in the blood of mothers and babies?
It’s in this context, that B’Tselem will publish its new report on the IDF’s deliberate targeted of Gazan homes, which were of no military significance. The title of the report, Black Flag, alludes to a judicial decision written by Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Halevi about the Kfar Qassem massacre. In describing what an illegal military order was, he wrote:
It flies like a black flag above the order, a warning to all saying: “Forbidden.” Not just a pro forma illegality, one hidden to all or the majority, not an illegality obvious only to those learned in the law. But a clear and flagrant violation, an illegality that is absolute and certain from the nature of the order itself. One which exposes the basic criminality of the order or the acts which the order commands. One that pricks the eye and outrages the heart, as long as the eye isn’t blind and the heart isn’t made of stone.
In 1957, when Halevi wrote of the Kafr Qassem incident, standards of morality were clearer. Israelis had a better sense of what was permitted and what was prohibited. Almost all knew such massacres were wrong and orders should be refused. But much water has flowed under that bridge. There is no more morality in war as far as Israel is concerned. There may still be some amidst the international community. It may yet hold Israel accountable. And this report may help do so.
‘Black flag’ has come to be an idiom which refers to operations known to be illegal. Though soldiers may refuse to obey such orders, they rarely do. They are done off the books and the standard norms of conduct are ignored. They are done out of revenge. By nature, there is no chain of command or written order. But those who conduct such operations are considered heroes. Not heroes in the sense of publicly celebrated. Because Israelis understand there are times when things much be done, but which must be done quietly so that the world will not take undue notice.
Unfortunately, Israel’s military history of full of such massacres: from Qibya to Kafr Kassem, to Nirim, to Horev the castrator. But the greatest Black Flag of them all is the Nakba itself. Though David Ben Gurion wrote voluminously before the establishment of the State about the necessity of expelling Palestinians from Israel; curiously, there is almost no written record during the 1948 War of plans relating to the indigenous population. Though 1-million were somehow ‘miraculously’ expelled, no one wrote an order to do it. It does remind one of the Nazis who, aside from the Wannsee Conference, similarly left no written record authorizing the Holocaust.
Returning to the issue of war crimes, B’Tselem is far too judicious to use such explicit language. But the language it does use is clear enough. Use of the term “black flag” clearly indicates B’Tselem believes IDF policy itself was flagrantly illegal, if not criminal. I am glad to see B’Tselem refusing to back off its commitment to basic human rights (as the New Israel Fund has done) despite the assaults against it by the Israeli right and Knesset.
The destruction of Gaza’s housing infrastructure caused tens of thousands of refugees to flee. But they often had no place in which to take refuge since the public buildings were themselves destroyed or full of other refugees. This left thousands to fend for themselves in the streets or wherever else they might find safety. 600 Palestinians (one-quarter of the total fatalities) died directly as a result of this policy. The vast majority were civilians. The nature of these attacks was especially vicious because in targeting homes, often entire families were wiped out as a result.
Israel’s defense was that the homes were “command and control” centers for Hamas terrorists. If there were civilians inside the homes, the apologists reasoned they were human shields for the fighters inside. In order to eradicate the terrorists, the homes and any collateral civilian damage was justified.
This is how B’Tselem, in a letter written to Bibi Netanyahu accompanying the report’s release, responded:
“[With such a policy,] there are no restrictions whatsoever on Israeli action and whatever method it chooses to respond to Hamas operations is legitimate, no matter how horrifying the consequences. This interpretation is unreasonable, unlawful, and renders meaningless the principle that violations committed by one party do not release the other party from its obligations toward the civilian population and civilian objects.”
An important corollary to the wholesale assault on private homes was the deliberate targeting of the homes of Hamas leaders I mentioned above. Prior to Protective Edge, there was at least a tacit recognition that the families of Hamas leaders were not to blame for the actions of Hamas itself. So except in a few rare instances (Salah Shehadeh), homes in which there were civilians were not targeted. That all ended this summer. Now everyone is a target and everyone a victim as far as Israel is concerned.
As a result, Israel has lost the right to distinguish between it’s own civilian and military as legitimate targets. If the IDF treats civilians the same as a Hamas fighter, then there is no reason for the Palestinian resistance to make this distinction in its own attacks on Israeli Jews. Hasbarists, do not accuse me of justifying the slaughter of Israeli civilians. If you wish to find the cause of such tragedy you have only to look at the actions of the IDF this past summer in Gaza. Indiscriminate murder of civilians–that is Israel’s legacy.
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