“The IDF has no problem attacking civilian targets on purpose… I did it myself.”

by Yaniv Reich on October 28, 2009

In the hysterical responses to the Goldstone report, or more generally to any criticism whatsoever of Israel’s military activities, Israelis love to argue that Israel doesn’t target civilians, unlike those immoral terrorists we have to deal with.

This argument makes for a great sound bite on the evening news, but its patently false, as shown by the eyewitness testimonies of Israelis soldiers from Breaking the Silence or the details of the Goldstone report. Or you can just go directly to the Israeli Air Force Website:

The operational maneuvers of Grapes of Wrath [1996] were similar to those of operation “Din Ve-Cheshbon” (דין וחשבון) in 1993: An extensive bombing of the Shiite villages in South Lebanon in order to create a massive flow of civilians north towards Beirut thus applying pressure on Syria and Lebanon that will make them restrain the Hezbollah.

Apparently, the IDF air force is now a bastion of “pro-Palestinian” and “anti-Semitic” sentiment that undermines Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Noam from Promised Land blog gives more details of this mission:

Then one morning came when we finally got a new order. We were told to take our combat positions [in southern Lebanon] in front of a one of the Shiite villages to the north, and be ready to open fire. I was ordered to take out the aerial photo of the village, and after a while my C.O told me to “take down” a certain house – lets say number 54 (all the houses on the photo had numbers). At last, I thought, some action. One of the lookout probably spotted terrorist activity on the village (we were told that the Hezbollah fighters are hiding in the villages. it might have been true, I don’t know), and we are finally going to do our job!
[…]
The village wasn’t that close, and the tank missed the first shot. I took out my binoculars and corrected it (it is extremely difficult for a tank to correct its own shots, mainly because of the dust it raises when it fires). Then we got the number of a new house, and again, the tank fired and I corrected it on the radio, and so on. I worked just as we learned in Bahad 1 (the IDF officer academy), using the exact procedure and code words. I kept getting praises from my C.O on the radio. To this point, this might have been the most exiting stuff I did in my service.

Then we got another number, but this time I couldn’t see the house. The Shiite village was on a hill, and the house was on its far side, hidden from us. When I reported it on the radio, my C.O just said: “well, take out a different one. How about the one in front of it?”

Only then it started to occur to me that there were no Hezbollah people in those houses. There were no terrorists’ hidden posts (all this time, of course, nobody was shooting at us from the village). These were just ordinary homes. We were simply punishing the population; it was part of the big “applying pressure” strategy. Someone has decided to replace the leaflets we were dropping with actual bombs, so our message would be clearer. But for all I knew, there could have still been people in these houses! Sure, we warned them, but what if some guy couldn’t run away north because he was sick, or too old, or he didn’t have a car, or needed to attend a sick family member, or maybe he was just too scared to run? What guarantee did I have that by “picking a different house”, I wasn’t sealing the fate of an entire family, just like Dr. Al-Ayash’s family whose house was hit by a tank in Gaza?”

Israelis will very often say they don’t like war. “Mistakes happen,” we argue. But its commonplace to accept the good intentions and benevolence of the “most moral army in the world”.

Armies are not designed for benevolence. They are designed to meet specific strategic objectives that very often conflict with the requirements of international humanitarian law, which is, of course, precisely why the Geneva Conventions were instituted in the first place. Sometimes, international law wins, especially if there are many cameras around. But sometimes, all too often, the strategic objectives win, with predictable yet profoundly catastrophic effects on real human beings, on daughters and sons and fathers and mothers.

Hiding behind the nationalist propaganda of being “the most moral army in the world” is unjustifiable. We must hold ourselves more accountable for the death and destruction we create. There is no way to evade this responsibility.

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