Tag Archives: Hezbollah

The Qana Moment: When the Israeli government falls off its Protective Edge

When the Israeli government and military began Operation Protective Edge, they must have known that the moment would come. I’ll call it the Qana moment after the incident on April 18, 1996, during Operation Grapes of Wrath, a round of the war between Israel (with its proxy, the South Lebanon Army) and Lebanon (in the form of Hezbollah). Then, as now with the hostilities between Israel and Gaza, an undercurrent of violence flared up into open warfare, with each side blaming the other for starting it. Then, as now, Israeli authorities accused their opponents of using civilians as human shields.

UNIFIL Peacekeepers (Qana 1996) Remove Artillery Attack Victim Remains

UNIFIL Peacekeepers (Qana 1996) Remove Artillery Attack Victim Remains

Then, as now, Israeli authorities called on civilians to leave the area in which they were going to attack, and hundreds of thousands did flee. Some 800 of them took refuge in a UN compound, nearby from which Hezbollah fighters fired rockets and mortar rounds towards Israeli military positions. In the response, Israeli artillery shells struck the compound, killing 106 and injuring many more. International outrage did not immediately halt the military campaign, although on the same day the UN Security Council passed resolution 1052 calling for an immediate ceasefire, which was not reached until ten days later. A subsequent UN investigation concluded that it was extremely unlikely that the Israeli shells had hit the compound by accident, and in its rejection of the report the Israeli government continued to claim that it had not intended to hit the compound.

The Qana moment is not an isolated incident in Israel’s asymmetrical wars against non-state foes, when “by accident” a horrific number of civilians are killed by Israeli munitions. In the last round of the Israel-Gaza war in 2012, the moment was the Al-Dalu family killing on 18 November, in which twelve people died in an attack on a home.

Palestinian men gather around a crater caused by an Israeli air strike on the al-Dalu family's home in Gaza City on November 18, 2012. (AFP Photo / Marco Longari)

Palestinian men gather around a crater caused by an Israeli air strike on the al-Dalu family’s home in Gaza City on November 18, 2012. (AFP Photo / Marco Longari)

In Cast Lead, in 2009, it was the shelling on January 6 of the al-Fakhura school in which hundreds of people were sheltering, killing more than 40 of them. The story is always the same. The Israeli authorities say that they were targeting a source of fire or some armed people or installation, and that the civilians were too close to the target, or there was some technical error. As Moriel Rothman-Zecher put it on his Leftern Wall blog, the Israeli authorities’ intention matters less than the consequences of their action. The killing of civilians is not an incidental by-product of this sort of asymmetrical warfare: it is an inevitable element of it, just as the deaths of Israeli soldiers, some by “friendly-fire,” are inevitable when the air war becomes a ground war. When Israeli authorities wage war in this way, it simply means that they intend to hit their targets. That is a military, not a moral, stance.

The Qana moment may already have happened in this bout of hostilities, Protective Edge. It might have been the bombing of the Abu Jameh family home on July 20th, killing 25, apparently without warning. As I write, details are emerging of another deadly strike that is eerily similar to the al-Fakhura incident: an UNWRA school in Beit Hanoun in which people had sought shelter but were apparently trying to evacuate, was hit by shells, killing about 10-15 and injuring many more.

The Qana moments don’t stop the violence (or bring the Western governments that support Israel’s “right to self-defense to withdraw their public support), nor does media attention to them address the whole range of death and destruction. At this point, unlike in the actual Qana moment, the UN Security Council has not resolved that there be an immediate ceasefire, although the UN human rights council has formed a commission to look into possible Israeli war crimes. The Israeli response has been dismissive, with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni saying “get lost” and Prime Minister Netanyahu calling it a travesty, given Hamas’ war crimes. In all probability, when the UN completes its report, the Israeli government will reject it, just as they after Grapes of Wrath, and for the same reasons. And when civilians are killed again in the next operation, and the one after that, and so on, they will repeat the same talking points as civilians die.

The deadly repetition of inevitable civilian casualties might perhaps be slowed if not halted by an Israeli public opinion that is as appalled by them as much as public opinion is elsewhere. But unless Israelis are seeking out alternative news to that provided by their mainstream media, they will see and hear little about the Palestinian casualties. Surely if Israeli authorities were as confident in the “righteousness of our way” as they claim to be, as in the new President Reuven Rivlin’s swearing in speech, then there would be no problem for the Israeli public to be fully aware of each “justified” death, each “justified” injury, each “justified” destruction of homes, and hospitals, and mosques. As a way of bringing the public’s attention to that for which they bear responsibility but do not hear, Israeli human rights groups B’tselem tried to pay for a spot on Israeli public radio in which the names of some of the dead Palestinian are read out. But the Israeli Broadcasting Authority rejected the group’s appeal to place the spot, so instead it can be found on social media, out of sight and mind of most of the Israeli public and its sphere of ethical responsibility.

“Every person has a name” goes the Hebrew song that is used on memorial days for soldiers and the Holocaust. And indeed, everyone does have a name, and the taking of that name cannot be excused by talking points. The cost of the Qana moments is horrendous, but they have the power to remind all of us of our ethical responsibility.

The Naïvety of Security

Smoke and fire fill the the skyline over Damascus early Sunday after an Israeli airstrike targeting a shipment of Iranian-made missiles believed to be on their way to Lebanon's Hezbollah group. (AP Photo/Ugarit News)

Smoke and fire fill the the skyline over Damascus early Sunday after an Israeli airstrike targeting a shipment of Iranian-made missiles believed to be on their way to Lebanon’s Hezbollah group. (AP Photo/Ugarit News)

At this point at which attention is focused on the Israeli air strikes on targets in Syria, the usual protests against occupation seem irrelevant. What does it matter if some Palestinian farmers have been denied access to this or that field by the army or settlers, when Israel’s security is at stake? What does it matter if this or that building has been demolished by Israeli occupation forces in this or that Area C West Bank village when the murderous chaos in Syria threatens to flow over into Israel? What does it matter that this or that house in the East Jerusalem area of Sheikh Jarrah has been taken over by right-wing Jewish settlers  when the real question is whether Hezbollah will possess Fateh-110 missiles , Israel’s sworn arch-enemy? Why make a headline report about an incident (on the same day as the air strike) near Ramallah, where 12 Palestinians were injured in clashes with settlers and soldiers who burst into Ras Karkar village? Doesn’t it seem hopelessly naïve for Israeli peace activists to be demonstrating about some uprooted olive groves and the route of the Separation Barrier in the West Bank when, as they really should have understood from kindergarten, Israel is a small country surrounded by enemies, and without the Israeli Defence Forces, would have been wiped off the map years ago?

 

And so, we sensible Israelis should put in the proper context the growing tension in the West Bank and Gaza that was evident last week, including the murder of Israeli settler Evyatar Burovsky (the first Israeli fatality on the West bank since September 2011), the subsequent rioting of settlers under the noses (and sometimes protection) of the Israeli security forces, the arrests of terrified Palestinian children in Hebron for alleged stone-throwing by Israeli troops (who threw a Swedish observer into the mix of arrests for good measure). Mairav Zonszein wrote on the +972 blog in relation to those and other events that “violence is a cruel reminder of a reality that is neither calm nor stable,” and in light of the Israeli strikes on Syria we should (if we are sensible) misunderstand her message to mean that of course “the situation” (as Israelis refer to our complicated reality) is not ever really calm, other than the calm brought to us by our security forces, the Rock of Israel. Another disturbance in the calm last week was the first Israeli targeted killing of an alleged Global Jihad militant, Haitham Ziad Ibrahim Sahali, in Gaza, since last November’s “Pillar of Cloud,” on the grounds that he was involved in the recent rocket attack on Eilat. So, you see, it’s really the same pattern that always repeats itself: they attack us and we are forced to defend ourselves. It can hardly be surprising that there was only a lukewarm Israeli response to the Arab League’s hint at softening the terms of its 2002 peace plan in a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry, on April 30th 2013. Only naïve peaceniks (and opposition politicians hoping for  a headline) concern themselves with such hypothetical matters, when Israeli common sense focuses on the serious threats that come from outside. Maybe tomorrow there will be time for peace; now (a long now) it’s time for war.

 

At a time like this, a sensible Israeli should watch Channel 2 news, taking a cue from the ever serious looking anchor Yonit Levi to take utterly seriously the very important and wise things that the authoritative men at her side, the security commentators Ehud Ya’ari and Ronnie Daniel are telling us. They know, after all, what the guardians of our security cannot tell us in detail just yet, about how they are defending us. We should pay close attention, so that we understand why it is very unlikely that either the Syrian regime or its Hezbollah ally will retaliate, why it is important to prevent these particular arms from falling into the hands of Hezbollah (on top of all the other rockets they have), how carefully calculated each Israeli military strike is, what’s going on with the Turks, the Russians, the Americans, and which precise message the air strikes send and to whom (because simply texting wouldn’t possibly communicate effectively). We should be reassured that the Home Front Command has issued no special instructions and Prime Minister Netanyahu has set off for China as planned, though local government officials in the north of the country are making sure that they are ready just in case. The question we can ask ourselves (so long as we remain sensible and think first and foremost about security), as Amos Harel puts it in Ha’aretz, is whether the Syrians will respond, in which case, the government might have some explaining to do. Perhaps, despite the clarifications on Channel 2 and other Israeli media, someone in Syria or Lebanon has misunderstood the message (but surely they too hang on every word of Israeli TV news?). And if the situation does heat up, Ya’ari and Daniel will be reinforced in the studio by other authoritative and serious men in suits or leather jackets whose security expertise will protect us from confusion and questioning.

 

Certainly, because we’re sensible and put security before and above all other issues, we shouldn’t ask the kind of questions that Larry Derfner suggests in his +972 blog, in which he points out that nobody in Israel is asking too many questions or protesting because no missiles have stated falling on Israel from either Lebanon or Syria. Nobody asks too closely which ‘game’ the weapons that Israeli attacks targeted would change, so Derfner tells us (though he lacks the proper qualifications of the security experts):

The game of Israeli military superiority, of the Israeli “qualitative edge.” The rules of this game are that Israel continually flies spy planes over Lebanon, bombs Syria now, and may bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities later, secure in its belief that the targets can’t do much in return.

The key question we shouldn’t ask is why is Israel provoking a war? As we know, we sensible Israelis, that question doesn’t make sense, because we don’t provoke wars, they (Syrians, Hezbollah, Global Jihadists) do. Only the naïve peaceniks who protest the trivial side-effects of the occupation we have to sustain because they don’t want peace would take seriously the sort of polemic expressed by Secretary-General of Palestinian National Initiative, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti. In response to the violence at Ras Karkar he stated that the ongoing and escalating attacks carried out by the settlers are “a repetition of what Zionist gangs did in Palestine, and the massacres they committed in 1947 and 1948”. It’s as if, according to some twisted logic, we sensible Israelis who know that security matters above all else have some responsibility for our lack of security, as if reliance on armed force to secure ourselves, in the fields and villages of Palestine in 1948 or the skies above Damascus in 2013, has not brought us security, but continued insecurity. To be so naïve as to ask questions about the false security of superior armed might would be suggest that the naïve are those who believe in the fantasy of security without peace.