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Israelis Protest Beit Hanoun Atrocity

Israelis Protest Beit Hanoun Atrocity

Middle East News Service compilation/comment by Sol Salbe

Sometimes it is better to start with the conclusion: Of course Israel has the right to protect its citizens. But that excuse runs thin when nearly 400 Palestinians have been killed to stop the firing of rockets that have not killed any Israeli since September 2004. Sure, sooner or later one of the Palestinian rockets will unfortunately find its target. But no amount of argument from Israel’s hard-line supporters can hide the disproportionality of it all. At any rate, as we will see later, the killing has little to do with protecting Israeli citizens.

Yesterday’s atrocity was described by Haaretz: “19 Palestinians killed in IDF shelling in northern Gaza… Eight children and seven women were among the dead, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, adding that 17 of the victims were members of the Athamna family.

“Khaled Radi, a Palestinian Health Ministry official, said all of those killed were civilians. According to witnesses, the victims were sleeping when the 15-minute barrage of shells first hit….

“Radi also said at least 40 people were wounded, all civilians. Four hospitals are treating the wounded across Gaza.”

According to the Israeli Defence Force the killing happened when two shells strayed 500 metres from their intended target. That target, however, was an area which the IDF gunners could not see but which had been used to launch Qassam rockets at the town of Ashkelon on the day before. Southern Command Chief Major-General Yoav Galant was quoted in Ynetnews:

“It was estimated during the morning hours that Palestinians will attempt to fire Qassams from this area toward Ashkelon or some other area,” he said. “When you fire artillery shells toward this area there is a good chance that you are preventing an attack.”

But Ron Ben Yishai, Defence columnist for Yediot Acharonot and a paratroopers reserve Lieutenant Colonel, explained in Ynetnews why such a method is to say the least, counter productive:

“Overall, 12 shells were fired – the sites hit by only two of them are not precisely known. Days will pass before the picture clears, and in the meantime we cannot discount the possibility that the disaster is a result of a ‘work accident’ by Palestinian terrorists.

“Yet these facts make almost no difference in the grave overall picture that is already becoming entrenched in Palestinian and world public opinion, which accuse the IDF of committing a massacre. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

“In the dozens of years the IDF has been dealing with rocket fire from Lebanon and Gaza, one thing has been proven beyond any doubt: Artillery fire (using cannons) is the least effective means in preventing rocket and mortar fire. On the other hand, it is most susceptible to end up hurting innocent civilians….

“The problem: Shells are inaccurate

The reason for the above is that artillery bombardment in proximity to residential areas, as accurate and careful as it may be and even employing large safety margins, will always be susceptible to errors.

“Some of those errors are a result of the lack of eye contact, at the time of the firing, between the cannons and the target. Many other errors result from the shells' natural distribution.

“Artillery is a weapon system designed to ‘cover’territory and not hit specific targets, particularly when it is used as "preventative fire" at territories rather than a specified target….

“So why does the IDF still continue using artillery fire? It appears the answer stems from the frustration of IDF commanders after military operations considered successful do not curb or significantly reduce Qassam fire.”

Just how unsuccessful the most recent operation, “autumn clouds”, was recognised by several commentators in the Israeli media. Gideon Levy gave a good account of these in his TV review for Hebrew Haaretz (before the Beit Hanoun atrocity):

“One dead Israeli soldier, 62 dead Palestinians, out of which 18 were civilians including women and children. About 400 houses damaged. Six days of curfew inside houses without water or electricity. US$2.5 million damaged to a poor crowded town, a mere one and a quarter hours drive from Tel-Aviv. Operation “autumn clouds” was finished yesterday and the result – 33 Qassams during the past week including six yesterday. The IDF adds another humiliating failure to the total…

“What for, precisely, did we kill and get killed? For the few rusty rifles that we collected? For the miserable rocket-launcher-carrying donkeys that we bombed? Anyhow reporter Saliman A-shafi showed the Qassam production line in Gaza operating full speed…. The television does not mention any of this except for Alon Ben-David of Channel 10, once again the only brave military commentator who plainly explained that ‘these operations don’t work… I don’t think that anybody will feel any safer after these 62 deaths.’”

Commenting on the starvation of the people Gaza and the 80+ children under 18 killed there, Haaretz Arab Affairs commentator Danny Rubinstein said that the official reason for this, to prevent Qassam rockets is “neither logical nor realistic.”

Rubinstein was addressing the Tzavta club in Tel Aviv and his comments were reported on Walla (the news web site owned by Haaretz) by Amir Tivon at 13.00 on 7 November. (URL apparently no longer available).

“According to Rubinstein, Israel’s real aim is the collective punishment of the Palestinian population. ‘Eventually Israel is going to release prisoners in return for Gilad Shalit, including those who killed Israelis. The military operation is designed to prevent the Palestinians rejoicing at that. This is a political, media-driven operation which lack any military justification. The operation will not prevent the Palestinians from continuing to fire rockets at Sderot’, Said Rubinstein.”

Gush Shalom, the Israeli peace bloc, explained further:

“After yesterday's ’end of the Beit Hanoun operation’ - we now know it was not the end. The army withdrew only its troops from the town itself, to place them around it, immediately starting a nightly artillery bombardment which erased a whole family. As it now stands 19 people among them old and young, men, women and children were killed in their beds. Withdrawing to attack more strongly - it's like a metaphor for the Disengagement of the Gaza Strip.”

With Hamas indicating that as far as it was concerned the one sided ceasefire (the hudna) was over, many Israelis are understandably feeling anxious. It has been a long time since the group carried out suicide bombings inside Israel. Criticism and condemnation of the government and the Army came from many quarters. They have heard President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) condemning the “terrible massacre” and saying: "You (the Israelis) do not want peace at all. You have destroyed all chances of peace and you should bear all the responsibility.”

Haaretz reported : “Meretz Chairman Yossi Beilin said the moral and diplomatic price Israel will pay as a result of the strike is much greater than any achievement that could have been gained by such an attack. Beilin called on the government to immediately halt all military activity and begin intensive negotiations on a full ceasefire.

“Meretz faction whip Zahava Gal-On also criticized the action, and said the government is trapped in a cycle of violence in Gaza from which it has not plans to extricate itself. Gal-On said the government's mentality makes it impossible to bring quiet to Sderot.

“Labor MK Nadia Hilou said Israel had ‘awakened to a black morning.’

"’Once again innocent civilians and children are paying with their lives,’ said Hilou. ‘Our leaders must wake up.’"

Even the moderate Peace Now movement which has been dormant through the Lebanon War has called for action: “"THIS GOVERNMENT HAS BLOOD ON ITS HANDS"

Yariv Oppenheimer, Peace Now General Director: "This government has blood on its hands. Instead of searching for political solutions, the government is only interested in pursuing military options."

According to News Ltd websites about 200 people attended the demonstration called by all the peace organisation including the mainstream Peace Now.


[The independent Middle East News Service concentrates on providing alternative information chiefly from Israeli sources. It is sponsored by the Australian Jewish Democratic Society. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the AJDS. These are expressed in its own statements]

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