The collateral murder of Arabs in Iraq and Palestine

by Yaniv Reich on April 6, 2010

It is, in a certain sense, bound to happen. The massacre of unarmed civilians and the institutional cover-up for such behavior are certainties when it comes to modern warfare. This statement applies, of course, to the Sri Lankans as much as the Russians, to the Americans as much as the Israelis. The American military, for example, murdered over 600 Pakistani civilians in 2009 alone through 44 drone strikes; only four of these strikes hit their intended targets.

The point is that civilian massacres happen, they will happen with increasing frequency as modern militaries rely more heavily on drones and other real-life, murderous analogs to video games, and that they result regularly in personal and moral catastrophe.

And now this video comes to light. It depicts the unprovoked attack and summary execution of a group of Iraqis by the American military, who dispatch with cold-hearted efficiency, neutral and desensitizing language, and a deeply erring eye for the truth the blood, guts and lives of innocent people.

Warning: it is graphic and deeply unsettling, but it absolutely must be watched by anyone who advocates for war—ever.

And we are told they hate us for our freedoms.

Rules of Engagement and Other Fantasies

It is perfectly clear from the video that the army’s rules of engagement, which dictate “engaging” the “enemy” only after hostile fire, were not followed. Either these rules were wholly disregarded or purposefully manipulated by the over-active imaginations of these pilots who just wanted to “light ’em up”.

More to the point, even if these guys had all been armed, since when is the assassination of armed but nonviolent people acceptable? No trial, no arrest, no danger; nothing except the willful, almost pleading desire to murder a group of people who some almost certainly racist (because how else can you dehumanize people to such an extent), possibly traumatized himself piece-of-shit in a multimillion dollar machine determined—in total error—that these people (civilians, journalists, and children) had reached the time to have their innards spilt onto the Mesopotamian sand.

If you tolerate such monstrosities, you are simply unfit for civilization in any form based on human dignity. If you excuse this for even one second, you are just as culpable as the murderer who ever so gently pulled back on the trigger of a 30mm cannon while staring in the faces of innocent human beings. In the words of Arundhati Roy,

“The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable.”

In our case, though, the statement must go further: not only are we accountable for not speaking out, but it is widely accepted even among so-called liberals to praise this particular war crime in the context of wars against Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis, Somalis, Yemenis, and Palestinians—especially Palestinians.

One Video of Thousands

Which brings me to my primary point. Those ideologues who supported Israel’s onslaught against the imprisoned population in Gaza need to spend a few extra minutes watching and digesting this video. What this video shows is the massacre of about a dozen people in Iraq, and it shows how very easy it is for even the mightiest and most technologically advanced military in the world to butcher innocents. But we miss thousands of other such videos, which did not make it to Wikileaks.

In particular, we miss the hundreds of camera shots and radio transmissions that correspond to the deaths of roughly 1,100 Palestinians in Gaza in early 2009. According to the best estimates available, 519 Palestinian civilians were murdered by Israeli drones alone. An additional 473 were killed by Israeli fighter jets and another 92 were killed by helicopters, as were the Iraqis in the Collateral Murder video.

How are we to believe, after watching this video, that some important fraction of these people were not murdered in similar error, in like-minded dehumanization? Do we really think the pimple-faced Israeli teens staring at pixelated screens made the right call on whether that was a camera or an RPG, a stuffed animal or a bomb, a truck full of civilians fleeing in response to warning leaflets versus escaping “terrorists”?

There is very strong reason to believe Israel systematically failed to make this distinction, which is necessary not just from the perspective of ethics but also the international laws of warfare. The Goldstone report, of course, provides much detail on Israel’s institutionalized failure to uphold basic responsibilities in the course of war. But we need not turn to the distinguished jurist to buttress our concern.

Putting the Video into Words

In an interview with The Independent, an Operation Cast Leader commander “made it clear he did not regard the longstanding principle of means and intentions—whereby a targeted suspect must have a weapon and show signs of intending to use it before being fired upon—as being applicable before calling in fire from drones and helicopters in Gaza last winter.” The policy, the IDF commander explained, was one of “literally zero risk” to IDF soldiers, a policy borne out by the small handful of deaths the IDF suffered during the massive military campaign.

Another Israeli soldier explained in detail how lax the rules of engagement had become in the Gaza attacks: “Any movement must entail gunfire. No one’s supposed to be there [because we warned the trapped Gazans to leave]. . . . If you see any signs of movement at all you shoot. This is essentially the rules of engagement,” as explained to him by his brigade commander and others.

This soldier went on to explain that the majority of Palestinian deaths in his brigade area occurred through aerial firing, mostly from unmanned drones. “The number of enemy killed by HQ-operated remote. . . . compared to enemy killed by soldiers on the ground had absolutely inverted,” he said.

The picture that emerges is one hauntingly familiar from the Collateral Murder video. Drastically permissive rules of engagement, which were applied loosely and unevenly, if at all, allowed the murder by remote control of nearly 1,100 innocent Palestinians, including hundreds of children.

The terrifying video gives us some insight into the process of warfare as video game and reminds us of what exactly lies behind-the-scenes of Israel’s alleged “most moral army in the world.”

We must watch this video over 90 times—with each viewing representing the deaths of new, previously living people—to get a sense of the magnitude of what happened in Gaza.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 DrNick April 15, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Excellent post.

Extremely disturbing video footage. I can appreciate the paranoia of young soldiers in potentially dangerous situations (I’m not trying to justify actions, just acknowledging emotions), but for this kind of thing to be happening from un-manned drones is abominable. I like a shoot-em-up video game as much as the next person, but I am able to draw a very important distinction between reality and fiction. This surely represents either a mental inability of US forces to know when something is real or not, or a systematic de-humanisation of an entire people by military leaders and their hawkish apologists (Avatar, anyone?). Either way, it is unacceptable, and may some sensible debate (and actions) take place as a result of this tragedy (not to mention all the other tragedies of which we don’t have video footage).

Keep it up, Yaniv.

2 Yaniv Reich April 16, 2010 at 11:20 am

Thanks DrNick for the feedback. I couldn’t agree more with you.

3 45charleston November 1, 2010 at 11:48 am

Could it be that the Hamas fight from civilian positions and that civilians are dressed the same as the combatants? Could it be that more innocent Arabs are killed by Arabs ?

4 Yaniv Reich November 1, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Why yes, it could be, except for the fact that there were hundreds of documented murders that had nothing to do with Hamas military activity, as even the Israeli army is now (belatedly, reluctantly) acknowledging.

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