Thursday, January 15, 2009

War crimes accusations against Israel continue (updated)

Frankly, had Israel hit Gaza fiercely for a few days and then stopped relatively few people would have been concerned. Israel doesn't seem to know when to stop. As a result, outrage is growing after repetitive, increasingly detailed reports of likely war crimes by Israel (often explained as "mistakes"* by Israeli officials). The fact is that knowledge of Israel's misbehavior is increasing in the United States, and the public outrage is growing. This is why Israel's Gaza war is quickly becoming a PR disaster that will color the public's evaluation of future Israeli claims.

Israel took advantage of the last days George W. Bush's regrettable administration to launch its campaign to decimate Gaza' infrastructure, cripple Hamas and "regain its deterrence." In doing so, Israel has illustrated the profound perils of a U.S. president who was excessively pliant to Israeli interests, and negligent in his concern for U.S. interests. Thanks to the ravages of the Israeli horde in Gaza, I suspect that President Barack Obama will be especially concerned not to repeat Bush's puppet act.

*"Mistakes" indicate fast and loose rules of engagement that reflect an insufficient respect for the Laws of Land Warfare, including the immunities of non-combatants, internationally protected persons and clearly marked institutions, such as hospitals, as well as the use of proscribed ammunition against civilians. If these mistakes sound familiar then you must be remembering the Lebanon war in 2006, when a similar pattern of mistakes occurred.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israelis 'shot at fleeing Gazans'

Claims have been received by the BBC and an Israeli human rights group that Israeli troops have fired on Gaza residents trying to escape the conflict area. Israel has strongly denied the allegations.

BBC journalists in Gaza and Israel have compiled detailed accounts of the claims.

Some Palestinian civilians in Gaza say Israeli forces shot at them as they tried to leave their homes - in some cases bearing white flags.

One testimony heard by the BBC and human rights group B'tselem describes Israeli forces shooting a woman in the head after she stepped out of her house carrying a piece of white cloth, in response to an Israeli loudhailer announcement.

The Israeli military has dismissed the report as "without foundation".

The BBC has spoken to members of another family who say they are trapped in their home by fighting and have been shot at when they tried to leave to replenish dwindling water and food supplies, even during the three-hour humanitarian lull.

Israel is denying access to Gaza for international journalists and human rights monitors, so it is not possible to verify the accounts.

B'tselem said it had been unable to corroborate the testimony it had received, but felt it should be made public.

'Home destroyed'

"Munir Shafik al-Najar, of Khouza village in the south-east of the Gaza Strip, told B'tselem and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) of a series of events on Monday which he said left four members of his extended family dead.

"He told the BBC that some 75 members of his extended family had ended up huddled in a house, surrounded by Israeli forces, after troops shelled the area and destroyed his brother's home on Sunday night.

"On Monday morning, he said the family heard an announcement over a loudspeaker.

""The Israeli army was saying: 'This is the Israeli Defence Forces, we are asking all the people to leave their homes and go to the school. Ladies first, then men.'

""We decided to send the women first, two by two," he said.

"First to step outside was the wife of his cousin, Rawhiya al-Najar, 48.

""The army was about 15 metres (50 feet) away from the house or less. They shot her in the head," he said.

"The woman's daughter was shot in the thigh but crawled back inside the house, he said.

And this today from Security Council on January 14, 2008:

"Terrorism, Mr. President, poses enormous harm to civilians in armed conflict. Terrorism turns civilians into targets, shields and weapons. "Acts, methods and practices of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations are activities aimed at the destruction of human rights." So stated the United Nations in clear and unambiguous terms." [The speaker was Israeli Permanent Representative Ambassador Gabriela Shalev].

Wapo gives major play to civilian casualties of the Gaza war, and particularly the IDF's failure to meet its obligations under international law.
"A senior IDF commander acknowledged last week that Israel is not holding back. "We are very violent. We do not balk at any means to protect the lives of our soldiers," the commander said in a briefing for journalists."

My own observations of the Israeli army in action have left me with the impression that the IDF, which is sometimes celebrated as a professional, highly trained army, is, in fact often unimpressive. The rank-and-file soldiers enjoy an enormous hardware advantage over most of their adversaries, but man-for-man I would say that that Jordanian army, for instance, is much more impressive. In 2006, in tight quarters fighting in southern Lebanon, the IDF was frankly out-fought. The Israeli army often employs rules of engagement that put the lives of innocent civilians at peril, as the Gaza war illustrates very clearly and as the quotation above illustrates. Moreover, the IDF often disdains and disregards the immunity of international actors, such as the United Nations. I want to be plain about the fact that the US military committed some of the same war crimes in Iraq that Israel seems to now be committing in Gaza; however, one of the key to the impressive success of leading U.S. Generals such as David Petraeus and Peter Chiarelli is that they understood that through their actions U.S. soldiers were creating more enemies, and they acted forcefully to change the behavior of their soldiers. In contrast, the IDF never seems to get it. Instead, I see a pattern of behavior that I can personally trace for nearly thirty years.

No comments: