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What happened in Gaza? Civilian Casualties and the IDF


This past week an Israeli missile targeting Hamas terrorists wounded numerous Palestinian bystanders who had gathered to offer first aid following a first missile strike. Official Israeli sources denied that the IAF had fired into the crowd, and offered videos of the strike to show that pilots had not seen the crowds. Nonetheless, there were many injured civilians. Though Israel never targets civilians as a matter of policy, there are increasing concerns that IAF and IDF personnel are careless or deliberately careless, and that the implementation of policies that are bound to lead to "collateral damage" amounts to deliberate targetting of civilians.

Israeli actions are clearly not as bad as sometimes depicted in the Arab press, but the large number of Palestinian casualties, and the numerous incidents in which children were killed after soldiers "fired into the air" suggest that all is not as it should be. Israeli apologists are quick to point out that "we are better than the Hamas" "We don't deliberately target civilians" and "We do not do the terrible things imputed to us in the Arab press." Unfortunately "better than Hamas" is not saying much. It is really pitiful if any self-respecting society uses racist religious fanatics as the standard by which to measure its behavior.

Meanwhile, Israel has added yet another unhappy "incident" to the history of the Intifada, invading a hospital and Balata refugee camp to arrest terrorists, and in the process has injured many bystanders, including International Solidarity Movement (ISM) activists. Of course ISM is there to shield terrorists and "support the resistance," and of course they hide behind their own nonviolence to do so. However, it is still wrong to kill civilians who block bulldozers, even if the bulldozers are destroying tunnels used to smuggle weapons, as happened in the case of Rachel Corrie, an IDF activist in Gaza. Now the IDF has added several more such "martyrs." Let's face it, at minimum, the ISM has posed a tough moral and operational dillema for Israel, even if they are not on moral high ground, and Israel has failed miserably to even try to meet the challenge. It is not sufficient to retreat behind the idea that you "know" you are right, because others "know" with equal certitude that you are wrong, and Americans and Canadians are not going to take kindly to the IDF killing and injuring their kids. Once again, as in Gaza, there is an AP account of the invasion carried by Ha'aretz, a slightly different version given by the BBC and a different story, told this time by ISM. In the BBC story, the terrible injuries that ISM claims were inflicted on its personnel become minor shrapnel wounds incurred incidentally. Israel claims that at least one of the "patients" they arrested was in perfect health, indicating that Palestinians are once again using medical facilities as a means of protecting terrorists. Previously, Israel incurred the ire of human rights groups by firing at ambulances, which Israelis claim are used to transport suicide bombers and explosive belts. The IDF has a video to document this claim, but thus far it is apparently an isolated incident in three years of fighting. Who is telling the truth and how do we know? It doesn't matter so much. Anyone who raids a hospital or fires on an ambulance or kills or wounds an international non-violent "activist" is looking for trouble, and they will get it. The operational value of such actions must be weighed carefully against the huge damage they are certain to do to Israeli image. The operational value of killing ISM activists is 0. It is inexcusable. There were two such incidents. The best that can be said is that there is a possibility it was an accident due to negligence, and that isn't good enough.

Of course, Israel doesn't do all the terrible things imputed to it in the Arab press. The Arab press accuses Israel of poisoning Palestinian kids, giving them AIDS, and plotting mass extermination. In order to be as bad as the Arab press says Israel is, the IDF would have to be a cross between the hordes of Genghis Kahn and the Waffen SS. It is "bad enough" when dozens of women and children, including infants, are killed and wounded. It is "bad enough" not for the Palestinians, but for Israel, because in this war for public opinion, it is likely that the winner will be the side that kills and maims the least number of people.

It is true that the Palestinians initiated the violence in September 2000. It is impossible to fight a war of this sort without inflicting civilian casualties, and the Palestinians certainly took this into account. Israel certainly has the right to self defense. However, Palestinian civilian casualties are hurting Israel. Israeli policy makers must recognize that one of the strengths of an underdog is precisely to show themselves to world public opinion as the weak and injured party, and the Palestinians are doing this very skillfully. Each pregnant lady held up at a check point, each four year old child wounded or killed for no reason, each old man gunned down for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, creates more and bitterer enemies for Israel among Palestinians and in the world, and makes it that much harder to bring about the peace that must eventually and inevitably come to our peoples.

It is hard for an 18 year old to understand that "kicking butt" against kids that are sometimes almost his own age, but are armed only with a rock and an attitude, or acting discourteously to a lady going about her business, has negative strategic value and is harming both the cause of Israel and the cause of peace. 18 year old draftees usually don't know too much about human rights and war crimes statutes either. The IDF and Israeli society have put these soldiers in a difficult, perhaps an impossible positions. They have also not done nearly enough to educate soldiers in humanitarian behavior toward civilians, not at check points nor in searches, nor in opening fire on threatening crowds.

Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery and Ha'aretz editor Ze'ev Schiff take opposite views of the question of IAF guilt in Gaza, and Uri Avnery also examines the wider issues. ISM and Ha'aretz provide opposite views of the incursion in Nablus.

Ami Isseroff

Uri Avnery


Whom to Believe? Well...

"Whom do you believe?" asked General Ya'akov Amidror on TV with subdued anger, "the army spokesman
or Hamas?"

General (reserves) Amidror is the highest religious officer in our army. In the past he has raised
several public storms with some utterances denigrating secular Israelis, saying that they are not
real Jews. He has a sharp mind, much above the average in the army command, and his intellect is
fully employed in serving his extremist views - both the extremist religious and the extremist
nationalist ones.

His question was intended to be rhetorical. After all, the answer is self-evident: on one side there
is the IDF, "the most moral and most humane army in the world", as it calls itself, and on the other
side there is a bunch of crazy murderers, so what's the problem?

But, according to Amidror himself, the reverse is happening. The world believes Hamas and does not
believe the IDF spokesman. The Israeli public believes Hamas. Even cabinet ministers and Knesset
members believe Hams and do not believe the army spokesman.

The crisis of confidence was revealed in all its harshness by a series of events last week in the
Gaza Strip. According to the Palestinians, the army fired air-to-surface missiles at a car in which
there were two Hamas militants. When people from the neighborhood crowded around the smashed car to
see if the could help the victims, they were attacked by another missile. All in all 14 Palestinians
were killed, among them a doctor who had rushed there to help, and dozens of others, including many
women and children, were wounded.

"A big lie!" the Army Spokesman angrily announced. The army did not fire another missile at all. It
did not hurt civilians! It's just another vicious Palestinian slander!

So there are two opposing versions, which are completely incompatible. A matter of either-or. One of
the two sides is lying. But who?

The Palestinian version is supported by the TV and video coverage of the killed, the funerals, the
wounded delivered to the hospitals, as well as by doctors and journalists, local and foreign. The
army version is supported by the host of Israeli "military correspondents" and "Arab affairs
reporters" on TV, the radio and the newspapers who, almost to a man, repeat the official line like
robots, as if they themselves had investigated and come to this conclusion.

This time even the heavy artillery joined the battle, headed by Haaretz military commentator Ze'ev
Shiff, whose independent judgements are often uncannily similar to those of the army command. The
Air Force commander, already up to his neck in the affair of the rebellious combat pilots, took an
unprecedented step and had the official version, denying the Palestinian story, circulated at all
Air force bases.

To reinforce its own story, the Air Force published, after a delay of 24 hours, a clip shot during
the action by an army drone (unmanned aircraft). It clearly shows two missiles fired at the suspect
car, with hardly any civilians in the vicinity. The devoted military correspondents even used their
stopwatches to measure the seconds between missile A and missile B.

So here we have a perfect riddle. A factual clip against the eye-witness account of the journalists.
What would Sherlok Holmes have said?

Well. Perhaps a Palestinian propagandist of genius invented the whole thing. The civilians committed
suicide or shot each other, dozens of others wounded themselves, all in order to besmirch the IDF
with a monstrous lie. (By the same logic, the father of little Muhammad al-Dura killed his son, at
the beginning of the present intifada, in order to slander our brave and upright soldiers).

Another possibility is that not two, but three missiles were used - the two seen in the clip and a
third one later on. In order to find out, one has to view the whole film, not just an excerpt. And
perhaps we are dealing with two different events altogether.

If the Israeli media were truly independent, instead of being a department of the security
establishment, a dozen Israeli journalists would have rushed to Gaza on the same day, interviewed
the dozens of wounded in the hospitals, compared the evidence, visited the families of the dead and
taken testimony from eye-witnesses, confronting these with the army version. But apart from Amira
Hass and a Palestinian correspondent of Channel 2, this kind of independent investigation has
disappeared long ago from our media (and perhaps never existed.)

There remains the rhetorical question posed by General Amidror: Whom to believe?

The Minister of the Interior Avraham Poraz (Shinui party) and the Knesset member Zahava Gal'on
(Meretz) chose, so it seems, the Palestinian version and acted accordingly. So did a large number of
other public personalities. That was what raised the hackles of the army.

But even if we take the official version on trust, we would have to raise another question: WHY do
so many people, in Israel and throughout the world, believe the Palestinians? In other words, why do
they not believe the army spokesman?

There were times when the army spokesman was believed without reservation. During the 50s, I was
often asked by foreign journalists whether to believe the army statements. My answer invariably was:
Sure, our army does not lie.

These days are long gone. The occupation, which has corrupted everything, has corrupted the army
statements, too. During the first intifada, the IDF published hundreds of statements that were
manifestly mendacious. Children "lost their lives" when the army "shot into the air" (giving rise to
bitter jokes about "flying children"). Palestinians were killed while "trying to wrest weapons from
the hands of soldiers". Tall stories. Baron von Munchhausen would have been envious. Since then, the
situation has become even worse.

During the last 20 years I have followed the work of foreign correspondents, neutral,
pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, and almost all of them trust the Palestinians more than official
Israeli spokespersons.

When things get tough, official spokespersons bring up the Jenin affair. The Palestinians claimed
that during the "Defensive Shield" operation in April 2002 a massacre occurred there. This proved to
be an exaggeration, but the things that did indeed happen there were terrible enough. For example,
many houses were demolished by the drunken driver of a giant army bulldozer, without any idea
whether the inhabitants were still inside. The terminological battle over the word "massacre"
distracted attention from what actually happened.

Credibility is worth more then gold. It takes years to build up, but just a few minutes to destroy.
Now this affair shows that the credibility of the army spokesman has fallen into an abyss.

"Whom do you believe?" the general asked. Well.hmm.it's not pleasant to say, but...

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IAF report quickly dispels rumors on Gaza strike

By Ze'ev Schiff


There is one document that, in some ways, offers
even better testimony than do real-time
photographs from a pilotless drone as to what the
Israel Air Force command really knew about
Monday's missile strikes in Gaza. It is an
internal report on the operation sent by IAF
headquarters to all air force units.

This document, which reached
hundreds of personnel, was
sent out after news reports
began claiming that
helicopters had deliberately
fired missiles into a crowd
of Palestinian civilians
gathered near one of the

The drone's camera showed no such crowd, but thecamera's lens might not see everything
happening on the ground around the target.

But anyone who thinks it is possible to lie in a
bulletin sent to every unit of the IAF and not
be caught does not know the air force. Any lie
or distortion would quickly be noticed - and

The bulletin was sent out on Tuesday in response
to plea by two IAF base commanders who, having
heard the media reports, wanted to know what
really happened. It was drafted by the head of
the operations division, with the approval of
IAF Commander-in-Chief Major General Dan
Halutz. The following are excerpts from the
text. The full text, minus a few operational
details having mainly to do with munitions,
appears in today's Hebrew Haaretz; details
omitted even in the Hebrew are marked here by

"The following document briefly describes
yesterday's [i.e., Monday's] operational
activity. The document is being sent so that
you will know the facts ...

I. The IAF conducted five strikes against
terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip
yesterday ...

III. Following are the operations and the main
results, in chronological order:

A. An attack on a plant for manufacturing
explosives: ... Moderate damage was caused to
the building.

B. An attack on a car carrying weapons: Two
missiles were fired, which hit the car

C. An attack on a munitions warehouse: 1. One
missile was fired, which destroyed the
building. 2. The building blew up, indicating
the presence of munitions.

D. An attack on a car carrying suicide
terrorists: Two missiles were fired, which hit
the car and killed the two suicide terrorists
inside it.

E. Another attack on the explosives
manufacturing plant (the plant attacked in item
A): 1. It was attacked with ... to minimize
collateral damage. 2. The result was ... and
the building was seriously damaged. 3. The
attack was halted because people approached.

IV. Main points: ...

C. All the targets were targets belonging to
terrorist organizations engaged in producing
arms or organizing attacks.

D. In the planning and execution, maximum
efforts were made not to hurt uninvolved
persons. Despite this, when [there is] fighting
against terrorists who deliberately live among
a civilian population, uninvolved persons are
sometimes hurt.

E. With respect to the media reports of a
missile that went astray and massive injury to
uninvolved persons, it is important that you
know the facts:

1. All the munitions struck their targets

2. In every attack, at the time the munitions
were fired, neither the operational nor the
video films showed any uninvolved persons.

3. There was no firing of munitions into a

4. In the attack on the car carrying the suicide
terrorists, the second missile was fired about
a minute after the first missile struck. At the
time the missile was fired, no uninvolved
persons were spotted, but by the time the
missile hit, a small number of people had
apparently already arrived at the scene. In any
event, according to the films, there was no
massive injury to uninvolved persons and there
was no firing into a crowd.

V. Summary

A. The results were very good.

B. Planned terror attacks were prevented and
many armaments were assaulted.

C. Maximum precautions were taken, in both
planning and execution, to avoid harming
uninvolved persons."

The above document reflects what the IAF knew,
but it does not offer a full explanation for
the large number of Palestinian casualties. In
any event, air force policy on the conflict
with the Palestinians remains unchanged, so
this is probably not the last time such
operational-ethical questions will arise.

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[Balata Refugee Camp and Rafidia Hospital, Nablus]
The ordeal for those shot last evening in Balata continues. Two
young Palestinian boys and two international peace activists were
injured when Israeli soldiers drove into the Balata Refugee Camp
last evening firing their weapons into the streets of the camp. One
of the Palestinian boys, treated in Rafidia hospital, was released
yesterday, the internationals were treated overnight, and
consequently subject to a military invasion of the hospital. Masked
and heavily armed Israeli soldiers entered the hospital at
approximately 3:00 this morning and arrested three Palestinian men.

Immobilised from gunshot injuries sustained yesterday, one of the
International Solidarity Movement volunteers Jeremy (Australia),
said "Lying there, I could feel the pain from the wound earlier in
the evening and it made the threat of the weapon they were pointing
at me much harder to ignore. Normally we assume that they are not
willing to shoot us, but earlier in the day they proved the exact
opposite. With the barrel of the gun aimed at my legs, I was more
terrified than I have ever been in my life".

Jeremy, Mark (Colorado, U.S.) and the other patients were held at
gunpoint and filmed by the soldiers in an ordeal lasting over an
hour. After subduing their fear, the ISM volunteers attempted to
use a video camera to record some of the troop invasion; it is not
yet known how much was captured. "Many of the patients are very
anxious that the troops will return overnight tonight." Jeremy
said "As terrified as I was, I eventually realised that it must be
so much worse for the Palestinians because there's nothing
protecting them or restraining the soldiers from shooting".

In the same unit as the injured internationals, a middle-aged father
of four is in a serious condition after being shot three times while
on his way to work. The builder was attacked by Israeli soldiers at
5 a.m. on his usual route from Burin to Till in Nablus.

For further information please call:
Mark +972-66 387 350
Jeremy +972-52 362 199


The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) is a Palestinian-led non-
violent initiative supported by international peace activists from
all over the world. ISM campaigns for the end of the Israeli
Occupation of Palestine using nonviolent means.

Tel: +97222774602 Fax: +97222772018
e-mail: ism-alert@palsolidarity.org Web: www.palsolidarity.org

Last Update: 25/10/2003 13:57

IDF arrests two militants in raids on Palestinian hospitals in Nablus
By The Associated Press

Dozens of Israel Defense Forces troops wearing black ski masks and armed with assault rifles
raided two West Bank hospitals before dawn Saturday, arresting two Palestinian terror
suspects, including a critically injured patient, witnesses and the military said.

Around 3 A.M. troops pulled up in jeeps and swept into the two hospitals in the city of Nablus, confining doctors and other staff to rooms for more than an hour as they kicked open doors in room-to-room searches, witnesses said.

The operation followed several similar raids in recent weeks, including cases
where soldiers arrested militants using
hospitals to hide, and raised fears among
doctors and human rights groups that hospitals
were no longer neutral ground in fighting
that's lasted three years.

In Nablus' Anglican Hospital, soldiers entered
the intensive care unit and snatched Khaled
Hamed, a 25-year-old member of the militant
Hamas group who was badly injured Wednesday
when explosives inside a car he was riding in
went off accidentally. One man was killed in
the blast and another injured.

"I explained to the soldiers how critical his
condition is," said Dr. Annan Abdel Hak. "Then
they removed the machines from his body."

The doctor said Hamed lost two fingers in the
blast and suffered bleeding in his brain and
light burns on his body.

A military source said Hamed had planned suicide
bombing attacks. He said troops transported the
man in a military ambulance to an Israeli
hospital where he was in stable condition.

Elsewhere in the city, troops stormed Rafidiyeh
Hospital and arrested an armed member of the Al
Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a group of militants
with links to Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction.
The military said troops found the man, who
Palestinians identified as Jawad Ishtayeh, 27,
hiding out in the hospital's cellar and armed
with a pistol.

Palestinian security sources said the man was
not a patient and was apparently using the
hospital as a hide-out.

An American peace activist witnessed the arrest
raid in the hospital, where he was recovering
from light gunshot wounds to his leg. He said
he was hurt along with a fellow activist from
Australia by Israeli army gunfire after dark
Friday during clashes in the city's Balata
refugee camp.

"Around 3 a.m. I was woken up with a flash light
shining in my face. I opened my eyes and had an
M-16 pointed in my face," said Mark Turner, 24,
from Boulder, Colorado.

He said soldiers in black ski masks and bullet
proof vests stood at the foot of hospital beds
for more than an hour, pointing guns at staff
and patients and warning people not to make a
sound. Phone lines were cut and soldiers made
some doctors and nurses to lie on the ground
and told patients to put their hands in the
air, Turner said. Another soldier filmed
patients with a hand-held video recorder.

As they left, Turner looked from a hospital
window and saw one man being arrested.

Friday's raids were the third and fourth Israeli
military sweeps of Palestinian hospitals in the
last two months.

IDF spokeswoman Maj. Sharon Feingold said
Palestinian militants were making a new
strategy of hiding out in hospitals to avoid
arrest. She said troops would continue to
search hospitals when it's believed militants
are among wounded patients or are hiding out.

"Hospitals should not be used to harbor
terrorists," Feingold said.

Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat accused
the Israelis of violating international human
rights laws with the raids.

"This is a very grave measure by the Israeli
army," Erekat said. "This is the most flagrant
violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention when
hospitals are not safe anymore from Israeli

In August, troops patrolling Nablus fired at
three Palestinian fugitives hiding on the roof
of Rafidiyeh Hospital, killing one and
seriously wounding two. The men had sought
refuge in the hospital during an Israeli arrest
sweep and ignored pleas from doctors to leave.

Four days later, troops snatched the two injured
men, carrying them out of the hospital on

On Sept. 24, about 50 Israeli troops surrounded
and stormed a hospital in the northern West
Bank town of Qalqilyah, searching for Mikdam
Jaber, a militant from the Al Aqsa Martyrs'
Brigades, who had a bullet wound in the stomach
from a clash with troops earlier in the day.

Fellow militants swiftly carried him out a back
door and escaped before troops could arrest
him, witnesses said.

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Israelis raid West Bank hospitals


Israeli troops have raided two West Bank hospitals, detaining two suspected Palestinian militants.

Troops swooped on a Nablus hospital early on Saturday, seizing one man who was being treated in intensive care, Palestinian doctors said.

Soldiers arrested another militant who was armed and using the hospital as a base, Israeli officials said.

Israel accuses militants of hiding out in hospitals but Palestinians say the raids violate international laws.

Troops pulled up in jeeps and ran into the two hospitals before dawn, kicking open doors in a room-to-room search, witnesses said.

'Perfect health'

At the Anglican Hospital in Nablus, soldiers entered the intensive care unit, snatched Khaled Hamed, a member of the militant Hamas group, and took him away in an Israeli military ambulance.

"I explained to the soldiers how critical his condition is," Dr Annan Abdel Hak told the Associated Press. "Then they removed the machines from his body."

Mr Hamed, said to have been badly injured when a bomb he was carrying detonated prematurely, would be treated in a hospital in the Tel Aviv area under guard, an Israeli security official said.
The Israelis accuse him of planning suicide bombing attacks.

In a second raid, Israeli soldiers stormed the Rafidiyeh Hospital and arrested a man said to belong to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.

The Israeli military said the man, who was hiding in the hospital's basement, was armed and in perfect health.

Neutral ground

"This is not the first time that Israeli troops kidnap wounded Palestinians from hospital beds and endanger their lives," said chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

"It's a grave development that contravenes international law."

There have been several similar raids in recent months weeks, increasing fears among medical staff and human rights groups that hospitals are no longer neutral ground.

But the Israelis say Palestinians are violating international law by allowing militants to use hospitals as sanctuaries.

"Hospitals should not be used to harbour terrorists," Israeli army spokeswoman Major Sharon Feingold said.

In another incident in Nablus, the International Solidarity Movement says two of their foreign volunteers were slightly injured by shrapnel during overnight clashes in the city's Balata refugee camp between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli troops.

Two young Palestinian boys were also lightly wounded, the group said.

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