Massacre In Beit Hanoun - It's Alright, It Wasn't Intentional
by heathlander, Wed Nov 08, 2006 at 08:16:34 AM EST
"We saw legs, we saw heads, we saw hands scattered in the street".
Those are the words of Attaf Hamad, resident of the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun which today has suffered the single deadliest Israeli attack on the Palestinians in four years. Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) artillery shells killed at least 18 Palestinians, wounding dozens more.
According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, all of those killed and wounded were civilians. Eight children and seven women were among the dead and 18 of the victims were from the same family.
Of course, Israel didn't mean it. Israel never does. It's always some mistake, someone else's fault. Yes, we killed over a thousand Lebanese civilians, but only because Hizbullah fighters were hiding behind them. Yes, we bombed whole villages to rubble, but we warned people to leave in advance. The fact is, as B'tselem points out, the IDF's proclamation that it didn't mean to harm civilians is `meaningless' and `cannot justify an action that amounts to a war crime'.
Israel accepts that twelve shells were fired, targeting a location roughly half a kilometer from Beit Hanoun from which Qassams had been fired at the city of Ashkelon yesterday. The IDF is citing human or technical error (such as mistakenly feeding the wrong coordinates into the machine) to explain why the shells went so tragically off course.
But, as B'Tselem points out, this does not excuse the IDF of responsibility. Firstly, by the IDF's own admission, the shells were not fired in self-defence. It was fired at a "launching space" from which previous attacks had occurred and was not in response to a Palestinian rocket-attack that was in progress. Secondly, artillery fire is inherently inaccurate and firing shells over several kilometers in the direction of crowded population centres is always going to be risky. It should, therefore, only be used as a last resort (i.e. in response to an ongoing attack). These facts, when combined with the fundamental principles of international humanitarian law - those of distinction (between civilian and military targets) and proportionality - mean that, in B'Tselem's words, there is a `grave concern' that the shelling of Beit Hanoun `constitutes a war crime.'
IDf Chief Dan Halutz has appointed Major General Meir Kalifi to head an investigation into the shelling. He will report back to Defence Minister Peretz by Thursday evening. Of course, it has `whitewash' written all over it (just like the military `investigation` into Qana). The Israeli public must demand an objective criminal investigation.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livny described the incident as `regrettable', but emphasised that,
"Israel is faced with constant attack by the Palestinian terror organizations, in the form of relentless firing of Qassam rockets at Israeli population centres".
That, apparently, justifies the murder of Palestinian civilians. Presumably, Livny would describe the death of Israeli civilians by Qassam rockets as similarly "regrettable". After all, it cannot be denied that the Palestinians are faced with `constant attack' by Israel, with the `relentless firing' of bombs and artillery shells at `Palestinian population centres'. One only has to look at the figures - between 19th October to 1st November alone, the Israeli Occupying Forces (IOF) killed 27 Palestinians, 11 of whom were civilians. Since June 25 and the start of `Operation Summer Rains', 324 Palestinians, mostly civilians and including 64 children, have been killed by IOF.
Does this justify Palestinian Qassams? Or does only Israel have the right to "self-defence"?
Her response is indicative of the low value Olmert's cabinet appears to place on Palestinian life. Olmert has apparently labelled all Palestinian casualties of `Operation Summer Rains' "terrorists" and it emerged today that the Attorney General has investigated precisely none of the 40 complaints of torture he has received in the past year. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that for many of those in power in Israel, the lives and rights of Palestinian people just don't matter very much.
Expect to hear Margaret Beckett describe the incident as `disturbing' (or perhaps Tony Blair will describe it as `an anomaly') and George Bush/Tony Snow once more to `urge' Israel to `avoid unnecessary civilian casualties'. Their standard, off-the-shelf responses delivered, the subject will then slip off the agenda until it all happens again in a few months time.
[Cross-posted at The Heathlander]