|Beyond Images - Briefing 7
||Perspectives on the Arab-Israeli Conflict
DELIBERATELY TARGETS PALESTINIAN CIVILIANS
|London - published Wednesday 21 August 2002
"Israel’s security forces deliberately kill
Israel flatly denies that it deliberately
Israel denies outright that it targets
civilians. Israel does not wish to inflict suffering on the
Palestinian people and has no conceivable purpose in doing
Israel has a self-interest in a stable,
secure and prosperous Palestinian society.
Its conflict is with the violent, rejectionist
terrorist groups who are organised in Palestinian towns and
villages, and who have carried out thousands of attacks against
Israel in the last two years.
Israel’s armed forces have sought
to minimise civilian casualties on the Palestinian side during
its efforts to quell these attacks.
According to a leading commentator on the
left-leaning Ha’aretz newspaper, in more than 100 Israeli
operations against the self-proclaimed leaders of Palestinian
terrorist groups, Palestinian civilians have been harmed on
six occasions. This is a tragic statistic, but a relatively
For Israel deliberately to target civilians
would be unethical, and illegal under international law. It
would also be politically unacceptable in Israel, inflame
Palestinian feeling, and incur ongoing international condemnation.
The Israeli Government recognises this.
This commitment translates into Israeli
operations on the ground. Israel’s rules of military
engagement strictly prohibit attacks by its soldiers on civilians.
Many reports by Israeli soldiers and journalists describe
how strictly these rules have been complied with in difficult
Israel's Terrible Dilemma
In exercising its right of self-defence,
it is impossible for Israel to avoid Palestinian civilian
casualties altogether. This is the “terrible dilemma”
facing Israel (in the words of an Israeli spokesman).
At least five Palestinian terrorist groups
operate with virtually complete freedom in the West Bank and
in Gaza. They openly declare their intention to kill and maim
Israelis in the future. These groups can hardly express surprise
that the Israeli armed forces target them.
Furthermore they have adopted a method
of operation which makes civilian casualties inevitable -
bomb factories situated in built-up areas, the booby-trapping
of civilian homes, the use of civilian areas as launchpads
for attacks in the apparent hope of drawing Israeli retaliation
(see Beyond Images Briefing 11 - Casualty Figures: The
Israel’s military assault on Jenin
was carried out by Israeli reservists on foot, because any
other form of attack would, in Israel’s view, have endangered
the lives of Palestinian non-combatants.
Israel lost 23 soldiers in Jenin in its
efforts to minimise Palestinian civilian casualties.
When NATO attacked the regime in the former
Yugoslavia in 1999, and the USA attacked the Taleban in Afghanistan
in 2001, neither sent in ground troops to combat heavily armed
fighters. They chose to bomb from the air, causing extensive
loss of civilian life and massive loss of property. Israel
has shown far greater concern for Palestinian civilian welfare
than NATO or the USA did in those instances for the civilians
affected by their operations.
The Death of Muhammed Al-Dura
The tragic death of 12 year old Palestinian
boy Muhammed Al-Dura, televised around the world in October
2000, caused an outcry and a rapid escalation of violence
by the Palestinians.
Israeli soldiers were accused of deliberately
pinpointing him. In fact, he was caught in cross-fire - the
victim of a gun-battle raging around him between Israeli soldiers
and armed Palestinian militias.
Not only was he not "deliberately
killed", but the question has been raised whether it
was Israeli or Palestinian fire which led to his death. A
German TV investigation suggests that Palestinian gunfire
killed Muhammed Al-Dura, not Israeli gunfire.
The attack on Salah Shehadeh
Israel’s attack on Saleh Shehadeh
was called off eight times, according to Israel’s Defence
Minister, because on each occasion planners considered that
there was too high a risk of Israel harming Palestinian civilians.
(see Beyond Images Briefing 9 – Attacking Hamas’
Mastermind: The Israeli strike on Saleh Shehadeh)
For this reason, Israel faced the risk
of Shehadeh continuing to plan massive atrocities against
its citizens. Far from being indifferent to Palestinian civilian
life, Israel appeared willing to risk attacks to its own rather
than being able to intercept the mastermind behind them, if
the effect would be Palestinian civilian casualties.
When the attack was carried out, Israeli
decision-makers were not aware of the extent of the risk to
children and non-combatants.
Palestinian civilians have been killed
by stray Israeli tank fire, by over-hasty firing by Israeli
soldiers (usually inexperienced, young and frightened, and
sometimes inadequately trained), by stray sniper fire, and
by cross-fire. These incidents are the tragic side-effects
of a war perpetuated by Palestinian groups. They are not the
result of calculated Israeli policy.
Israeli Arabs have died in premeditated
attacks - but not at the hands of Israel. They have died in
Palestinian suicide strikes - in Haifa, Safed, Gilo, Wadi
Ara, Tel-Aviv, Megiddo and in many other locations.
Israel is a transparent, democratic society seeking
to retain moral values while under ruthless attack
Israel’s media, its human rights
groups, politicians and judiciary are constantly vigilant
about the possibility of deliberate killings. Incidents are
Arab victims of the violence are treated
in Israeli hospitals - even the perpetrators of failed suicide
During Operation Defensive Shield in April
2002, Israel offered to make bloodbanks available for the
treatment of Palestinians injured in the fighting, but the
offer was rejected by the Palestinian Authority.
Israel is a democratic country in which
its leaders are held accountable for their deeds, and which
is struggling daily with the dilemmas of fighting a war against
a type of terrorism which has never been inflicted on any
Israel's critics make the false charge
that Israel targets civilians. Yet at the same time they either
ignore, understate, condone or express "understanding"
for the murder of Israelis by Palestinian groups.
This stance encourages the terrorists to
believe in the "justice" of their actions. It therefores
contributes to perpetuating violence.