Israel doesn’t bother with low-intensity warfare anymore. It
goes straight for the jugular. Day after day they’ve pounded away at the
Palestinian areas barely pausing long enough to assemble the lies needed to
fend off the media.
It’s quite extraordinary. One day they blow up a family peacefully touring
in their new car; killing three generations with one mighty blast, and then
a few days later they wipe out seven members of another family by shelling a
beach in Gaza. Both incidents would have passed unnoticed if someone hadn’t
kept the video running. Now the world has a visual account of a traumatized
12-year-old girl running around hysterically while the limp bodies of her parents
are carted off to the morgue.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s response to the tragedy was predictably
unsympathetic: ”The IDF is the most moral military in the world. There
has never been, and there isn’t now, a policy of attacking civilians.”
Nonsense. The IDF is no more “moral” than any other “organized
killing-machine”; they simply reflect the prevailing ethos of the Israeli
leadership, a leadership steeped in arrogance and racism. If we look at the
recent American massacre in Iraq, we see that there’s a straight line
between the “execution-style” killing of women and children in Haditha
and the Bush administration’s promiscuous attitude towards torture and
cruelty. The same rule applies to the IDF. A fish rots from the head. The culture
of impunity begins at the leadership level, not with a few “bad apples.”
This explains why Israel has refused to stop its attacks even though civilians
keep getting killed. In fact, the day after the incident on the beach, Israel
fired another three rockets into Gaza which killed 9 more Palestinians including
three children and two medics. The policy hasn’t changed a lick. The only
difference is that the Gaza massacre has become such a political hot-potato
that it’s been handed over to an Israeli public relations team.
According to the Jerusalem Post, “The Israeli Foreign Ministry has launched
an information campaign to change the minds of the world that has already blamed
Israel . . . Israel’s message is simple: The Palestinians are responsible.”
Israel is invoking the familiar “blame the victim” strategy. Fortunately,
forensic evidence has already proved that the shrapnel came from a “155
millimeter howitzer shell from a land-based Israeli firing device.” On
top of that, the last surviving member of the family, 12-year-old Huda Ghalia,
has provided a vivid account of the Israeli shelling of the beach.
“We were sitting and all of a sudden the shells just started falling
on our heads,” she said.
There’s no doubt that Israel is responsible. The PR blitz is pure sham.
The nonstop coverage of the bloodbath in Gaza on Arab TV has refocused attention
on Israel’s practice of targeted assassinations. The broader question
is whether the strategy implicitly justifies the killing of innocent civilians
Here’s a statement by the Foreign Ministry which articulates Israel’s
position on the issue: “Israel does not target innocents, yet must fight
terrorists who willingly shield themselves behind their own population in their
ongoing campaign to kill and maim Israeli civilians.”
The Israeli statement is somewhat misleading, but it clearly puts the fight
against terrorism above the well-being of civilians. It suggests that Israel
has the right to kill “terror suspects” whether innocent people
are put at risk or not. This is a radical idea and a real departure from long-held
precedents regarding public safety and the right to life.
So, what is the legal argument for targeted assassinations?
Government officials are required to comply with the law and, yet, targeted
assassinations are clearly “extrajudicial.” The state never has
the authority to intentionally kill someone without charging them with a crime.
State sponsored assassinations deprive the victim of all due process making
it impossible for him to defend himself against completely arbitrary allegations.
In Israel’s case, the decision for these summary executions is placed
in the hands of unreliable militarists, like Sharon, who have a long pedigree
of lying and war crimes.
Can these people really be trusted to mete out the death sentences on suspicion
Targeted assassination is premeditated slaughter; it has no place in civilized
societies. There’s no link between justice and murder; the two are polar
Still, targeted assassination is a central part of Israeli policy and, as a
result, incidents like the one on the beach in Gaza are occurring with greater
frequency. Whether the “collateral damage” is intentional or not
makes no difference. The question is whether Israel knows that civilians will
“predictably” be killed in their operations.
We assume that they do know. We assume that Israel knows that from 2001, 552
Palestinians were killed in Israeli assassinations, and that 181 of those were
people who just happened to be in the vicinity or tried to help the victims
when other missiles were fired. These figures prove that Israel knows exactly
what the consequences of its policy are, but goes ahead anyway. Therefore, we
can say with certainty that the killing of innocent people is a elementary part
of Israel’s calculation; whether it is intentional or not, makes no difference.
In Nigel Parry’s “Does Israel have a Policy of Killing Palestinian
Civilians?” the author digs into the larger issues surrounding targeted
“After you see someone kill a child, you perceive humans very differently
after that. We like to assume that when such a completely inexcusable event
takes place that the deaths happened by some kind of 'accident' or 'error.'
“'Crossfire' was perhaps Israel’s most successful lie at the onset
of the Second Intifada, and no amount of statistics showing otherwise really
seemed to penetrate our consciousness and make a difference.
"It made no difference because inside we desperately want to believe that
the murderers and serial killers of this world are aberrations, rare, that they
are sick or somehow different. This conclusion is not possible when you witness
a common, recurring pattern with your own eyes, across an entire army. At some
point something gives way inside, and your fantasies about basic human decency
crumble.” (Electronic Intifada)
Parry draws from his years of first-hand experience living in the occupied
territories and witnessing the violent reaction of the IOF to Palestinians protests.
In the many cases when he saw young Palestinians shot dead by Israeli soldiers,
he never remembers an incident when any of the soldiers were in a life-threatening
Parry continues, “Out of nowhere, when the energy of the clashes seemed
to be dissipating, a soldier would suddenly shoot a child or teenager, 100 feet
away from them or more. . . .
"Let me be clear. The events I am describing, in the clashes where people
died, were not the exception. They were the rule. And not one soldier was ever
Parry’s description is revealing on many levels. The violence against
Palestinians is oftentimes gratuitous, vicious, and steeped in racism. No one
was punished in the confrontations he witnessed, and no one will be held accountable
for the deaths of seven family members on the beach in Gaza. It is all part
of a culture of impunity that has saturated the Israeli leadership and trickled
down to the soldiers in the field.
Israel will not change its lethal policy until its leaders are forced to conform
to internationally accepted standards of justice. Targeted assassination is
never acceptable. It violates the most fundamental of human rights; the right
to life. No amount of public relations wizardry can justify firing missiles
into crowded areas or excuse the random killing of civilians. Everyone deserves
protection from disasters like the tragedy in Gaza, where an entire family was
snuffed out by an errant mortar-round. If the law had been followed, young Huda’s
life would not have been ruined.
The law is our only refuge from the terror of the state. We should make sure
our leaders comply.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached
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