By: Editorial Board
Date: Wednesday, March 25 2009
The continuing rocket attacks from Gaza are regular reminders (as were the thankfully diminished suicide and car bombings of several years ago and as was the major car bombing that was averted at a Haifa mall last Saturday night) of the kind of violent terror Israel has faced for as long as anyone can remember.
But it is now clear that the terrorist arsenal has now morphed into a more comprehensive public relations mode, enjoying the collaborative efforts of witting and unwitting fellow travelers. A full-fledged effort is being mounted to weaken the ability of Israel to respond to Hamas and other terrorist groups by citing the impact on Palestinian civilians those operations inevitably have.
It will be recalled that seven years ago, in the aftermath of Operation Defensive Shield, there was a concerted effort by the Palestinians, the UN, European leaders, and a number of media outlets to allege that a massacre had been perpetrated by the IDF in the Palestinian city of Jenin.
For several weeks Israel was on the political defensive as the notion that Palestinian terrorism was somehow justifiable gained traction. Yet as the truth of what happened at Jenin slowly emerged – not only had the number of Palestinian deaths been grossly inflated, but the IDF actually sustained more casualties than would otherwise have been the case because of its policy of sparing civilians wherever possible – the effort lost its steam. Now it is back with a vengeance.
During and soon after Operation Cast Lead, the concept of disproportionality took center stage in international discourse, parroted even by those who acknowledged Israel’s right to defend itself. That is, if Israel is attacked by, say, 15 rockets, the rule of proportionality requires that it only respond with a roughly equivalent level of firepower and cause only a roughly equivalent level of damage. Lost in all of this was the maxim that wars are won by those who bring greater firepower to bear on an enemy and cause greater, more significant damage.
But no matter; the proportionality argument is still very much with us. Also routinely dismissed is the relevance of terrorists embedding themselves in civilian areas.
The aftermath of Operation Cast Lead saw a notable bump in the popularity of proportionality. Mahmoud Abbas, who is surely not unaware of the virulence and tenacity of Hamas, as well as its capacity for cruelty, nevertheless labeled Operation Cast Lead in its totality a “war crime.” Complaints were filed with various world bodies – including, for the first time, by a non-Arab capital with the International Criminal Court,which announced it was prepared to take the complaint seriously.
A series of UN agencies issued reports, most recently as last week, charging that the IDF engaged in human rights violations during Operation Cast Lead, including, in at least one instance, the use of a Palestinian child as a human shield. The claim, it should be noted, emanated from Palestinian sources, with no independent corroboration – i.e., nothing other than the bare charge and the usual hyperbole.
But the overall effort was ratcheted up by reports in Haaretz last week that two IDF soldiers involved in Operation Cast Lead were charging that the IDF had acted less than honorably. One said:
Prior to going into a crowded area … we had a meeting about the rules of engagement and opening fire within a city, because as you know we fired a lot of rounds and killed a lot of people in order for us not to be injured or shot at…. When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up story by story … I call that murder. Each story, if we identify a person, we shoot them. I asked myself – how is this reasonable?
He went on to relate a story about an old woman who was crossing a main road who was shot by the soldiers: “I don’t whether she was suspicious, not suspicious I don’t know her story… I do know that my officer sent people to the roof in order to take her out… It was cold-blooded murder.”
The other soldier spoke of an incident in which a family was killed:
We had taken over the house … and the family was released and told to go right. A mother and two children got confused and went left… The sniper on the roof wasn’t told that this was okay and that he shouldn’t shoot … you can say he just did what he was told … he was told not to let anyone approach the left flank and he shot at them. I don’t know whether he first shot at their feet or not (per IDF engagement instructions), but he killed them.
When asked whether he had spoken to the sniper afterward, he said no: “I think he felt horrible about it, that he had done what he was told. I know that most people I’ve talked to feel that the atmosphere in Gaza was that the lives of Palestinians were far less important than the lives of our soldiers.”
The soldiers were not identified, nor were they interviewed directly by Haaretz. Their comments were contained in a report, issued by a left wing antiwar advocacy group, which concluded that the IDF employed “loose rules of engagement” which led to military excesses against Palestinians.
Plainly, the comments are at worst ambiguous in the context of the reality of war. Nor are they necessarily descriptive of the operation as a whole. Indeed, the notion that the IDF systemically targeted innocent civilians was vigorously rebutted by IDF spokesmen and individual soldiers. Yet the headlines around the world spoke of Israeli troops admitting Gaza abuses, including murder.
We can expect more of this as Hamas and its allies continue their efforts to discourage Israel from defending itself and its interests.
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