As Israel’s attack on Gaza continues, the bodies pile up. As one might expect from the balance of military power, the bodies are overwhelmingly Palestinian.
According to the most recent statistics at time of writing from the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israel has killed 599 Palestinians.
These include at least 443 civilians, and 147 children, with the possible combatant or civilian status of 69 dead Palestinians not yet established.
At that point, 28 Israelis had been killed, 26 of them soldiers.
Comparatively, this meant that at least 74 per cent of the Palestinians killed by Israel were civilians.
However, only 7 per cent of the Israelis killed by Palestinians have been civilians so far.
For every one Israeli killed, about 21 Palestinians have been killed. And 15, maybe more of those 21 are always civilians.
Besides this, Israel has been systematically targeting civilian infrastructure in its bombardment.
For example, the latest OCHA report notes that Israel bombed “the Al Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir El Balah, destroying the top two floors, killing three people, and injuring over 40. Since the start of the emergency at least 18 medical facilities have been hit by airstrikes and shelling.”
One of these facilities was a hostel for people with disabilities.
Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem provided the testimony of a woman who lived there, May Hamadah, in her “only home”.
On July 12, she heard a loud explosion, woke up, and found the hostel destroyed, and her friends dead.
In hospital, people who came to visit told me that about seven minutes before the hostel was bombed, neighbours heard warning missiles. We heard nothing inside the hostel. Even if we had heard the warning, we wouldn’t have been able to do anything, because we’re all severely handicapped and none of us can move without help. Salwa wouldn't have been able to get us out of there by herself.
Besides, we never imagined they would bomb a hostel for the disabled.
B’Tselem observed that “Two hostel residents were killed in the bombing: Ula Washahi, 30, who suffered from cerebral palsy, and Suha Abu Sa'dah, 47, who suffered from an intellectual disability.”
On 16 July, B’Tselem reported that the Israeli military demanded that the al-Wafaa rehabilitative hospital in a-Shuja’iyeh be evacuated, along with everyone else in the area.
B’Tselem responded with outrage:
According to al-‘Ashi, the hospital currently has 17 patients, between the ages of 14 and 95, all suffering from different degrees of paralysis. There are also some thirty staff members in the hospital at this time and a number of international activists. Al-‘Ashi clarified that there is no intention to evacuate the hospital, noting that this was one of the only hospitals in Gaza to offer rehabilitative treatment for patients in these conditions.
The military’s demand to evacuate the hospital is unlawful. A hospital is not a military target and the military may not target it even after it is evacuated. The information B’Tselem has indicates that the hospital was ordered to evacuate as part of the sweeping demand to evacuate the entire neighborhood, in blatant disregard for the fact that evacuating a rehabilitation institution is a complicated task which may put lives at risk. There is no other rehabilitative institute in the area where patients can be transferred. These patients require special conditions that cannot be recreated. Transferring hospital patients is complicated and dangerous at the best of times. Under the current conditions in Gaza, the danger is mortal.
No prizes for guessing what happened next to the hospital, or at a-Shuj’iyeh more generally for that matter.
In another incident, Israel bombed a house with no warning. It killed 17 members of the al-Batsh family. Their ages ranged from 2 to 59.
How can any normal person see Israel kill hundreds of civilians and not feel outrage?
How can any person with an ounce of compassion support the deliberate and wilful bombings of hospitals, including those specialising in helping people with disabilities?
How can someone defend the bombing of a home packed with family members?
The Israeli government, in defending the indefensible, has its work cut out for it. And so we see some of the most obscene, cynical and audacious propaganda one is likely to see for a while.
In reporting on “Hamas terror”, the graphic attributes Hamas terrorists to “residential areas”, “schools and mosques”, “hospitals and ambulances”, and of course, civilians supposedly being used as human shields.
The point of this is clear: if all these targets are infested with terrorists, then how can one object to Israel bombing schools, mosques, hospitals, ambulances, residential areas and civilians in general?
They’re just fighting “terrorists”.
It provides no proof for these claims, but then, it’s propaganda, not a human rights report.
And so the Western media provides balance, and reports “both sides” of Israel bombing hospitals and family homes, because Israel claims there are terrorists there, and if it kills civilians – well, there were terrorists nearby says the Israeli army.
Someone else might say something different, but who really knows where the truth lies?
Of course, even if the factual claim were accepted, that would still not legitimise bombing a target like a hospital.
If Israeli bombing weapons cannot distinguish between civilians and military targets, those weapons are indiscriminate and should not be used.
If a criminal was holding a hostage, a police officer who used a grenade and killed them both would not be praised for killing the criminal, but criticised for using a reckless weapon that needlessly killed the innocent hostage.
This crime would be exacerbated if the police officer used force, when non-violent options were on the table and not exhausted.
Israel has not come close to exhausting its options. The reason it is resorting to force is because it refuses to agree to diminish its oppression of the Palestinians by ending the blockade on Gaza.
Rockets from Gaza have so far killed two Israeli civilians. One of those killed was a Bedouin, living in one of the dozens of villages Israel refuses to recognise and thus provide basic services.
Their villages do not have bomb shelters, unlike Jewish villages and cities in Israel. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel submitted an urgent request that bomb shelters be built for them.
In court, the “state expressed its position that there is no need to provide additional protective facilities to these communities, and advised the Bedouin residents to protect themselves by lying on the ground”.
One imagines that Jewish Israelis would not be asked to protect themselves from rockets by “lying on the ground”, but plainly, the Israeli government regards their lives as worth protecting.
Or let us turn to perhaps the most obscene comment yet by Netanyahu.
Whilst some might look at the pictures of the dead and suffering in Gaza with compassion, he urged us not to do so.
He explained that Hamas “want to pile up as many civilian dead as they can… They use telegenically dead Palestinians for their cause. They want the more dead, the better.”
So whilst, technically, Israel is killing hundreds of Palestinians, you shouldn’t feel sorry for them, because that’s just playing into the hands of the terrorists.
And whilst, yes, technically, there are dead Palestinians, we’re only seeing the “telegenically” dead Palestinians, because the terrorists only want you to see the ones that make you feel compassion.
If you saw the ordinary dead Palestinians, the ones who aren’t telegenic, you’d presumably understand that they’re terrorists and deserved to die. Or were near terrorists and deserved to die.
The crucial part is that you shouldn’t feel sorry for them – and the constant association of Palestinians with terrorists in Israel propaganda, and throughout most Israeli media – is crucial to this end.
That Western media allows this racist propaganda to infect our public discourse is yet another of their shameful contributions to Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
Given that the UN Human Rights Council is set to soon debate Israel’s attack on Gaza, it is worth revisiting a previous report into an Israeli attack on Gaza instigated by the Human Rights Council, the Goldstone Report.
The Goldstone Report chronicled at length Israel’s systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure in Gaza and deliberate murder of civilians in numerous incidents.
It also chronicled numerous statements by Israeli officials supporting the deliberate targeting of civilians.
It argued that Israel developed a new particularly brutal policy recently:
In its operations in southern Lebanon in 2006, there emerged from Israeli military thinking a concept known as the Dahiya doctrine, as a result of the approach taken to the Beirut neighbourhood of that name. Major General Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli Northern Command chief, expressed the premise of the doctrine:
“What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. […] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. […] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.”
Major General Eisenkot is presently Israel’s deputy chief of staff.
His doctrine was developed by others after the war. For example:
Major General (Ret.) Giora Eiland has argued that, in the event of another war with Hizbullah, the target must not be the defeat of Hizbullah but “the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure and intense suffering among the population… Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behaviour more than anything else”.
Note: “intense suffering among the population”. The “suffering of hundreds of thousands of people”, as policy that would achieve political goals.
The report summarised the military doctrine that Israel developed, as causing “disproportionate destruction and creating maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve military and political goals.”
The report went on to note that “Statements by political and military leaders prior to and during the military operations in Gaza leave little doubt that disproportionate destruction and violence against civilians were part of a deliberate policy.”
For example, it notes:
On 6 January 2009, during the military operations in Gaza, Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai stated: "It [should be]possible to destroy Gaza, so they will understand not to mess with us”.
He added that “it is a great opportunity to demolish thousands of houses of all the terrorists, so they will think twice before they launch rockets”. "I hope the operation will come to an end with great achievements and with the complete destruction of terrorism and Hamas.
In my opinion, they should be razed to the ground, so thousands of houses, tunnels and industries will be demolished”.
He added that “residents of the South are strengthening us, so the operation will continue until a total destruction of Hamas [is achieved]”.
On 2 February 2009, after the end of the military operations, Eli Yishai added: “Even if the rockets fall in an open air or to the sea, we should hit their infrastructure, and destroy 100 homes for every rocket fired.”
The report went on to note:
Major Avital Leibovich, a spokesperson of the Israeli armed forces, reportedly argued “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.” The deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Dan Harel, [said]‘We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings. […] We are hitting government buildings, production factories, security wings and more. We are demanding governmental responsibility from Hamas and are not making distinctions between the various wings. After this operation there will not be one Hamas building left standing in Gaza, and we plan to change the rules of the game.’
Israeli armed forces’ spokesman Captain Benjamin Rutland reportedly stated: “Our definition is that anyone who is involved with terrorism within Hamas is a valid target. This ranges from the strictly military institutions and includes the political institutions that provide the logistical funding and human resources for the terrorist arm.”
The report notes that Israel’s “concept of Hamas’ “supporting infrastructure” is particularly worrying as it appears to transform civilians and civilian objects into legitimate targets.” It concluded:
The framing of the military objectives Israel sought to strike is thus very wide indeed.
There is, in particular, a lack of clarity about the concept of promoting “terrorist activity”: since Israel claims there is no real division between civilian and military activities and it considers Hamas to be a terrorist organization, it would appear that anyone who supports Hamas in any way may be considered as promoting its terrorist activity.
Hamas was the clear winner of the latest elections in Gaza. It is not far-fetched for the Mission to consider that Israel regards very large sections of the Gazan civilian population as part of the “supporting infrastructure”.
The report went on to observe that Israel’s military attack on Gaza should be put on a continuum with its blockade on Gaza, which it characterised as a form of “collective punishment intentionally inflicted by the Government of Israel on the people of the Gaza Strip.”
The indiscriminate and disproportionate impact of the restrictions on the movement of goods and people indicates that, from as early as some point in 2007, Israel had already determined its view about what constitutes attacking the supporting infrastructure, and it appears to encompass effectively the population of Gaza.
The continuum can be explained, in that Israel, “rather than fighting the Palestinian armed groups operating in Gaza in a targeted way, has chosen to punish the whole Gaza Strip and the population in it with economic, political and military sanctions.”
It also observed that:
It is clear from evidence gathered by the Mission that the destruction of food supply installations, water sanitation systems, concrete factories and residential houses was the result of a deliberate and systematic policy by the Israeli armed forces. It was not carried out because those objects presented a military threat or opportunity, but to make the daily process of living, and dignified living, more difficult for the civilian population…
Allied to the systematic destruction of the economic capacity of the Gaza Strip, there appears also to have been an assault on the dignity of the people… the Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.
Though Richard Goldstone, the lead author of the report, went on to distance himself from the report in the wake of intense pressure on himself and his family from elements of the South African Jewish community, the substance of the report remains unchallenged.
When debating the report, whilst he still believed in it, he expressed disgust that Israel was pretending to investigate “itself behind closed doors! That’s not a legal system! That’s not a judicial system. That’s not justice at all.” And in nine months, “What’s been the result? One conviction, for the theft of a credit card! I mean, that’s demeaning of the victims in Gaza.”
Subsequently, two more convictions followed. Two Israeli soldiers forced a nine-year-old boy to act as a human shield. Their punishment was demotion, and three months suspended sentences for forcing the child to look through bags they thought were booby-trapped.
The court claimed that they did not seek to degrade or humiliate the boy, and also regarded it as a mitigating circumstance that the soldiers were tired.
It is worth remembering the farcical non-punishment accorded to Israeli soldiers who used a Palestinian child as a human shield, every time you hear professional liars for the Israeli government solemnly explain that Palestinians use other Palestinians as human shields, as though that justifies murdering them.
Considering that Israel doesn’t think it’s severe enough of a crime to warrant a prison sentence, it should be asked why it warrants the murder not only of the alleged people using others as human shields, but also the murder of the human shields themselves.
But let us return to the words of Mr Netanyahu. He has condemned what he calls “the cruelest, most grotesque war that I’ve ever seen.”
Remember that Israel has killed about 95 per cent of those who have been killed in this “war”. You decide for yourself who is responsible for the cruelty and grotesqueness that is occurring.
A final point should be made. The Goldstone Report meticulously recorded Israeli war crimes. But its recommendations were ignored.
As long as Israel can act with impunity, it will continue launching deliberately disproportionate attacks designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population.
It is up to people like us to make sure that Israel is held accountable, to end the appalling suffering it is once again inflicting on the Palestinians in Gaza.
Donate To New Matilda
New Matilda is a small, independent media outlet. We survive through reader contributions, and never losing a lawsuit. If you got something from this article, giving something back helps us to continue speaking truth to power. Every little bit counts.