July 05, 2008

Do Israeli soldiers kill civilians including children?

It's a simple enough question but it seems to have the academics at Engage in a bit of a spin. It all started, this time, with this post by Mira Vogel on the case of Mohamed Omer who was permitted by Israel to go to Holland to collect a journalism award and "emerged emotionally and physically battered" after being detained at the Israeli border for four hours.

A bit of background here. Engage is a website which exists to defend Israel from people who think states should be for all of their people and/or people who campaign against the occupation. It's own self-description is that it is simply a resource against antisemitism but this doesn't stack up unless we define antisemitism sometimes too broadly, to mean the belief that Jews are not superior to everyone else, or too narrowly so as to exclude verbally bullying people for an occasional use of Yiddish. Let's just say it doesn't stack up unless we define antisemitism consistently wrongly or not consistently, but in a way that suits a given argument at a given time.

So, where were we? Ah yes, Mira Vogel of Engage is saying that Mohamed Omer needs to be investigated "swiftly and properly". In the interests of justice? Er no. It needs to be investigated because:
There is so much flagrant and one-sided misreporting about Israel, sometimes with horrific repercussions, that to have unqualified belief in any of it has become practically impossible. The most important example is the myth-making around footage of Mohammed Al-Dura, emblematic for people who push the idea that the Israeli army deliberately kills civilians. Although the IDF initially assumed responsibility, there was no evidence that he was even dead.
We can avoid the fact that most of the one-sided misreporting on Israel in the mainstream English language media is in Israel's favour and cut to the liberties being taken by Vogel over Mohamed al-Dura and the Israeli army's killing of civilians.

Film footage of Mohamed al-Dura was shown around the world and the Israeli army admitted its own responsibility whilst moving with obscene haste to destroy the infrastructure around where the boy was killed. Israel has killed over 850 plus children since that incident but that one was captured on film so some zionists, including Engage it seems, took the view that if they could just discredit that report then they get away with the other 850 plus. The case for Israel's innocence in the al-Dura case rests on the perverse result of a French libel case where the court decided that if you seem to be acting in good faith when you accuse someone of wrong-doing, then no libel has been committed. It's a strange one but it does nothing to change what we know about the al-Dura case. He was killed, on film, by Israel. Any myths then are being concocted by the pro-Israel side. Engage posted a link to the outcome of the al-Dura case without comment but they seem to be coming closer to the unfounded Israel is innocent position. Check out Wikipedia for the current state of play on all this fun and games.

But Mira goes even further than trying to muddy the waters on the al-Dura case. Note her reference to "people who push for the idea that the Israeli army deliberately kills civilians." This brings us to the comments. First up is Ben White:
Mira, this makes it sound like you're saying the Israeli army does not deliberately kill civilians. Is this what you're saying?
Mira doesn't directly answer the question. The direct answer would have been "yes" or "no":
I think if the IDF had policy to murder civilians evidence would have come up in 5 years of UCU boycott campaign.
Fairly neat dodge this. Does she means evidence of the killing, for which there is much or does she mean evidence of a policy for which there is also much but probably not a policy document or announcement which I suspect is the only thing she would accept. Next we have a Brian Goldfarb asking for evidence:
Ben, are you saying that the IDF does _deliberately_ kill civilians? If so, may we have your evidence, please? You will note that the Mohammed Al-Dura case is unravelling at the seams. This is not to say that the boy isn't dead; what evidnece there is does point to him being dead, unfortunately. However, the evidence that the IDF shot him, accidentally, deliberately, or even with a ricochet, is fast vanishing into the ground. So, it seems quite reasonable to ask you to produce the evidence for the assertion in your statement that the Israeli army does deliberately kill civilians.

To put it rather more pointedly, not to say crudely: put up or shut up.
Note the reliance again on the al-Dura case which does nothing to exonerate Israel and the implicit denial of the fact that the Israeli army does indeed kill civilians. And then there's another call for evidence and a not so subtle hint that the al-Dura case exonerates Israel which of course it doesn't.

Ok, you can check the comments yourself but I was getting a bit frustrated by the fact that Ben hadn't come back with any evidence. There were more comments all supporting the position that Israel doesn't kill children or civilians. The curious point in all this is that the main man at Engage, Dr Hirsh, has claimed that it is ok to criticise the behaviour of states but not their right to exist with a specific structure. Ok, he doesn't actually say that about states in general, he says it about Israel. But here is an Engage contributor (and many commenters too) covering up for Israel's appalling behaviour. But where's Ben.

Hurrah! Here he is more than half a day and several bogus comments later:
@ Mira
I didn't realise that you considered the UCU boycott campaign such a reliable source of information about Palestine/Israel.

It seems Mira is not the only one who thinks Israeli soldiers have not deliberately killed civilians. But this is just some of the evidence available:

Sister and brother Asma and Ahmad al-Mughayr, aged 16 and 13 respectively, were both killed with a single bullet to the head “within minutes of each other on the roof-terrace of their home” as they took clothes off the drying line and fed the pigeons. [1] Yet the Israeli army immediately claimed that Asma and Ahmad had been killed by an explosion caused by Palestinian fighters. At the hospital in Rafah, there was anger at the way in which Israel lied about the killings:

"Dr Ahmed Abu Nkaria, who pronounced the Mughayar children dead, insists on proving the manner of their killing. He pulls Asma's body from the mortuary's refrigeration unit and fumbles through the teenager's hair to reveal the hole where the bullet entered above one ear and ripped a much larger wound as it emerged above the other.

‘The Israeli propaganda is that they were killed in a work accident. These are the kinds of lies they tell all the time,’ he says. ‘They say all the dead are fighters. They say they do not deliberately kill children, but about a quarter of the dead from the first day of shooting are children. The evidence is here in the morgue. Does this girl look as if she was blown up by a bomb?’" [2]

In the first weeks of the Intifada, Palestinian doctors were noting with despair that Israeli soldiers seemed to be shooting to kill, or leave maximum damage. At the Shifa hospital in Gaza in October 2000, the head of the emergency services talked of how “‘In this time, there is a change of method”, adding that “the Israelis are trying very much to kill very many people’”. [3] The same article noted that “doctors at St John’s hospital in Jerusalem have treated 18 Palestinians shot in the eye”.

A particularly appalling incident was the murder of 13 year old Iman al-Hams, a school girl from Rafah. In October 2004, she entered an area declared out of bounds by the Israeli army and shortly afterwards, was riddled with bullets from automatic gunfire. [4] In the subsequent investigation, Israeli television broadcast a recording of internal communications between the soldiers, as Iman was first identified as a child and then shot:

"Iman, a short, slight girl wearing a school uniform and carrying a schoolbag, had entered an off-limits area and was spotted about 100 yards away from an Israeli position during the Oct. 5 incident in Rafah, Gaza Strip. After the ‘verification,’ the company commander, identified only as Captain R., sums up by telling his soldiers: ‘Anyone that moves in the zone, even if it is a 3-year-old boy, should be killed.’" [5]

While this incident seems exceptional for its cold-blooded brutality, the same report later cited a B’Tselem staff member who pointed out that “‘disregard for human life and being trigger-happy is not exceptional at all’” and that “‘the exceptional part here is that it was documented’”.

Incredibly, however, the army acquitted the commander of Iman’s death, accepting his defence that “he fired into the ground near the girl after coming under fire in a dangerous area” – though without explaining “why the officer shot into the ground rather than at the source of the fire”. [6] An army statement declared that “‘the investigation concluded that the behaviour of the company commander from an ethical point of view does not warrant his removal from his position’”.

In fact, in an extra twist, the commander in question was later compensated to the tune of over £10,000, as well as having all legal expenses reimbursed. [7] Ha’aretz noted that “the judges who acquitted Captain R accepted his version of event [sic], in which he stated that the shots that he fired were not aimed directly at the girl’s body…and that he believed that the young girl posed a serious threat”. He has since been promoted to major.

In a report issued early on in the Second Intifada, Physicians for Human Rights described how their “analysis of fatal gun shot wounds in Gaza reveals that approximately 50% were to the head”, such a high proportion suggesting that “soldiers are specifically aiming at peoples’ heads”. The report went on to note that based on “the numerous head and eye injuries, the high proportion of thigh wounds and fatal head wounds” PHR documented, IDF soldiers are firing “to injure and kill, not to avoid loss of life and injury”. [8]

Finally, since some of you mentioned Al-Dura specifically:

"Al-Dura became a symbol because his killing was documented on videotape. All the other hundreds of children were killed without cameras present, so no one is interested in their fate. If there had been a camera in Bushara Barjis’ room in the Jenin refugee camp while she was studying for a pre-matriculation test, we would have a film showing an IDF sniper firing a bullet at her head. If there had been a photographer near Jamal Jabaji from the Askar camp, we would see soldiers emerging from an armored jeep and aiming their weapons at the head of a child who threw stones at them…it is certain that the IDF has killed and is killing children." [9]

[1] ‘Israel/Occupied Territories: Killing of children must be investigated’, Amnesty International, MDE 15/055/2004, May 25 2004
[2] 'Palestinian doctors despair at rising toll of children shot dead by army snipers’, The Guardian, May 20 2004
[3] 'Palestinians' tell-tale wounds expose shoot-to-kill tactics’, The Guardian, October 5 2000
[4] ‘Gaza girl death officer cleared’, BBC News, October 15 2004
[5] ‘Israeli army under fire after killing girl’, The Christian Science Monitor, November 26 2004
[6] ‘Gaza girl death officer cleared’, BBC News
[7] ‘IDF officer cleared in death of Gaza girl to receive compensation from state’, Ha’aretz, December 14 2006
[8] ‘Evaluation of the Use of Force in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank’, Physicians for Human Rights, November 3, 2000
[9] ‘Mohammed al-Dura lives on’, Gideon Levy, Ha’aretz, October 7 2007
There you go, evidence. That's what they were asking for, evidence. Is it good enough? Well, I think it must be because a Toby Esterhase changes the subject completely:
You forgot Little Saint Hugh, Ben.


I don't think that one has ever been properly investigated.
This was a cue for still more wacky comments until Mira comes back with, not a thank you for the evidence she asked for and got but this:
When somebody gets murdered, you go through the suspects and you look for vested interests. What your theories, Ben? Why would the IDF want to kill Palestinian children?
No Mira, when someone gets killed, you look for who did it. In the cases Ben White shouldn't have had to outline above, we know the killers, the Israeli army. Why look for a motive?

Just before Mira's latest, a Jonathan Romer raises an issue that Fred responds to:

"It sounds like you want to take the probable fact that some Israeli soldiers, like some soldiers in every war, have done brutal, illegal things, and then pass it off as IDF policy."

What happens then when the system doesn't hold those soldiers to account? If soldiers aren't punished when they do illegal things, what does that say about policy?

This change in policy has led to a drastic fall in the number of Military Police investigations. From the beginning of the current intifada (29 September 2000) to 14 February 2007, the Military Police investigated only 239 cases involving shooting by soldiers. Only 30 of these investigations resulted in the filing of indictments. During this period, 3,963 Palestinians were killed, among them 814 minors (under the age of 18). Some of those killed were indeed killed while fighting against Israeli soldiers or civilians, however hundreds of others were not involved in the fighting.

Since the outbreak of the second intifada, Israel has increasingly avoided accountability for the serious violations of the human rights of residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip for which it is responsible. This avoidance is seen, in part, in its policy not to open criminal investigations in cases of killing or wounding of Palestinian who were not taking part in the hostilities, except in exceptional cases, and in its enactment of legislation denying, almost completely, the right of Palestinians who were harmed as a result of illegal acts by Israeli security forces to sue for compensation for the damages they suffered.
Ah, so it is starting to look like policy.

I haven't pasted all the comments here, you can see them for yourself by following the link above but this last comment from Saul to Fred sums up the Engage position on this:

What you say is no doubt correct. However, Ben is saying something different; Ben is claiming that Israel has a deliberate policy of killing civilians.

It is unfortunately the case that, as with Northern Ireland (where the UK did have a "shoot to kill" policy), states vary rarely hold their troops to account (even or, rather, especially, in cases of extremity). In the wake of Mai Ling, only one US serviceman has ever been convicted (and, as you are no doubt aware, Vietnam was never a "legal" war). A similar picture appears in relation to the crimes of Abu Graib.

None of these facts is to justify Israel's refusal to investigate, nor to stop or undermine demands that guilt be legally apportioned followed by appropiate punishment. Rather, that on this matter, as with many others, contrary to Ben's accusation, Israel is far from unique in its State's protection of wrongdoing.

It would help all of use concerned with such matters, both in Israel and elsewhere, if people like Ben did not add fantasy to an already diffuclt reality.
Now this is downright silly. First up, Ben didn't say it was policy. He asked Mira is she thought that the Israeli army does not kill civilians. He was challenged for evidence which he provided. You might not see the word "antisemitism" in the comments but sure enough, the invoking of the blood libel by Toby Esterhase was an allegation of antisemitism. Fred was indeed saying something different from Ben. Again, since so many academics have failed to understand, Ben asked Mira is she was saying that the Israeli army does not kill civilians. Fred was pointing to the fact that it does indeed look like policy. So Saul is transposing Ben and Fred's comments whilst dodging the central question. Is Mira Vogel saying that the Israeli army does not kill civilians? Simple enough, yes or no?

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