Precision: The Logic Of Israel's War On Civilians
By Ramzy Baroud
09 August, 2006
Sky News newscaster, interviewing British Foreign Secretary Margaret
Beckett on Sunday, July 30 demanded an answer to this paraphrased question:
if indeed Israel had precise intelligence that a Hezbollah operative
was present in the village of Qana, in South Lebanon, how could it possibly
fail to realize that the area was also crowded with civilians?
The question was prompted
by Beckett’s insistence that while Israeli attacks that victimize
uncountable civilians — like that in Qana which killed scores,
mostly children — were "appalling", they resulted from
tactical errors, and were never deliberate. In fact, she referred to
the "apparent deliberate targeting" --as described by UN secretary
Kofi Annan — of the UN peacekeepers compound in South Lebanon
and the killing of four unarmed observers, as a "mistake."
In effect, Israel is hardly
accused — at least in the Western narrative of the Middle East
crisis, as exemplified in media coverage and political discourse —
of deliberately targeting civilians, even among those who are daring
enough to describe Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s "provocation"
— the capturing of two Israeli soldiers on July 12 — as
Israel often acknowledges
— with "regret" — the high civilian tolls of its
war; sometimes it goes as far as apologizing for such unintended "mistakes."
The Israeli government however is adamant that it will continue to carry
out such attacks; that it’s those who "hide among the civilian
population" which deserve the blame, not Israel; that neither Hezbollah
nor Palestinian resistance groups seem to care much for the life of
Israeli civilians, while Israel does care for Palestinian and Lebanese
civilians. In fact, and ironically, according to various Israeli politicians
and media pundits, one of Israel’s objectives is to liberate its
neighbors from the suffocating grip of terrorists. An objective journalist
is expected to highlight both narratives, without pointing out the fallacies
of one or the other.
has served Israel well, since facts on the ground are hardly consistent
with its claims.
For example, out of nearly
4,000 Palestinians killed during the Second Palestinian Uprising —
in the last 5 years — the overwhelming majority have been civilians,
many of whom are children. Such figures are also mirrored in much of
the damage inflicted by Israel’s military machine against Palestinians
in the Occupied Territories: the great majority of the wounded, the
destroyed infrastructure, the confiscated land, the razed orchards,
the bulldozed homes, etc, have been overwhelmingly civilian. Wednesday,
July 26, was hardly a diversion from that norm, as 29 Palestinian civilians,
many of whom were children as young as a few months old, were killed
in northern Gaza, all in the span of 24 hours.
As of today, including the
Qana onslaught, the number of Lebanese civilians confirmed dead has
crossed the 750 mark; more than one third of them are children, according
to UN counts. Likewise, the destroyed Lebanese infrastructure, not only
in Hezbollah’s strongholds in the south, but across Lebanon were
built primarily for the benefit of the civilian population.
The handy excuse that Hezbollah
and Hamas fighters launch their rockets at Israel from civilian areas,
no longer suffices. There is yet to be one shred of evidence, one video
or bit of satellite footage — at least in the ongoing war in Lebanon
— that confirms such an allegation. In fact, it seems imprudent
for Hezbollah’s fighters to expose their operations to Israel’s
informers, while they can safely fire from the numerous orchards dotting
the south region and quickly redeploy elsewhere.
Concurrently, the "unintended
mistakes" theory, promulgated by Israel’s apologists —
read the Bush Administration, among others — is utterly inconsistent
with claims promoted by Israel and its apologists that Israel is the
"most moral army in the world", and that Israel uses the most
advanced war technology to avoid harming civilians.
These allegations cannot
all be accurate, all at once. If Israel is indeed very "moral",
then why does its army continue to repeat the same "unintended
mistakes", over and over again, for decades? Is it possible that
the killing and wounding of tens of thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese
civilians as a result of those "unintended mistakes" didn’t
induce a very moral army to reexamine its tactics and adopt a decisive
change in military policy?
Wouldn’t that be the
"moral" thing to do? (Note that the small village of Qana
was bombed by the Israeli air force in 1996, as civilians were seeking
shelter in a UN compound, killing over 100 people, including many children
and UN peacekeepers.)
The second claim, that Israel
strives to obtain high-tech (American) weapon technology to minimize
civilian casualties, is also fraudulent. Once again, the numbers indicate
the precise antithesis; denoting that either the "fifth strongest
army in the world" is so horribly inept, that most of its military
strikes result in blunders, or that the killing of civilians is in reality
part and parcel of Israel’s military strategy. This latter assertion,
in my opinion, is the true objective; but why?
Israeli officials may parrot
to the media that Hezbollah (like Hamas) is an outsider force that holds
no legal legitimacy, and that its true strength arises from its terrorist
links to Iran and Syria. Conversely, Israeli conduct on the ground gives
evidence to a different conviction: punishing the true party —
ordinary Lebanese — that provide Hezbollah with the needed support
to sustain such costly military confrontations with Israel, or ordinary
Palestinians who elected Hamas to power.
Both Hezbollah and Hamas
are homegrown; there should be little contention over this. But they
cannot be scrutinized divorced from their immediate surroundings: Hezbollah
emerged as a result of Israel’s frequent bloodbaths in Lebanon
and its members are comprised primarily of victims of Israel’s
past wars, while Hamas sprung from Palestinian refugee camps in the
Occupied Territories and has been sustained with the support of the
poorest segments of the population.
Whatever strategic alliance
they hold outside — Iran, Syria or whomever else that is willing
to acknowledge their right to fight Israel — is out of a desperate
need for a safe haven, financial assistance and a political platform.
Israel knows well that "destroying"
Hezbollah and Hamas is a losing battle — they’ve tried this
time and again, and have failed with each attempt. What is needed now
is a concerted effort to deprive the leadership of these movements with
the popular support that placed Hamas at the helm of the Palestinian
political equation and elected Hezbollah to the Lebanese parliament.
The Israeli tactics, however,
are reaping a conflicting outcome, as both Hezbollah and Hamas are emerging
more powerful than ever before, widely viewed as the only defenders
of Lebanon and Palestine, as conventional Arab governments have finally
declared, and without reservation, their military impotence and political
Regardless of its media utterances,
Israel has committed yet another colossal strategic error, comparable
in magnitude and consequence to the American debacle in Iraq. Indeed,
both governments are fighting two impossible wars, where civilians are
killed with extraordinary "precision."
Ramzy Baroud is
a US author and journalist, currently based in London. His recent book,
“The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s
Struggle” (Pluto Press, London), is now available at Amazon.com.
He is also the Editor-in-Chief of the Palestine Chronicle