Essays

The Strongest Terrorist Organization in the Middle East

Israel Defense Forces

The IDF deliberately chooses to attack the families of Hamas activists. This is a war crime. Shall every Hebrew mother know, that her son serves in a terrorist organization.[1]

“Ladies and gentlemen, good morning, this is the news broadcast. Az Adin Al-Kassam fighters took responsibility this morning for the bombing of the house of Captain Motti, an IDF platoon commander, in Hanarkisim Street in Tel Aviv. Captain Motti’s wife, Ariela, was killed in the bombing, along with Yair, his 2 years old son, Sigalit, his 1 year old daughter, Shlomit, Motti’s 64 years old mother, and Yaron, a 23 year old neighbor, who was just visiting the family. Three nearby apartments on Hanarkisim Street caught fire, and eight neighbors were hospitalized with varying degrees of injury. According to Hamas’ statement, they did know that Captain Motti was not at the time present in the house. The bombing, they say, was necessary in order to clarify to Captain Motti — whom they consider a wanted terrorist for participating in the bombing of a tunnel in Gaza — that he has no home to return to.”

Of course, the statement is fictional. Does it sound ridiculous to you?

This is exactly the type of announcement that the IDF has started to release to the press in the last couple of days. Of course, the military makes sure to do so incognito: anonymous “senior officers” release statements to the press. Here is, for example, a recent report from Yisrael Hayom, the Prime Minister Office’s semi-official spokes-agency:

“Israel enhanced yesterday the operation in Gaza, hoping to force Hamas commanders to blink first and plead for a cease fire. As part of this initiative, the military decided to double the number of targets attacked. Attacks now include deliberate strikes of the private homes of all the commanders of Hamas fighters in Gaza, Han Yunnes and Rafach. The idea is clear: to create a ‘losing price’ and pressure of family members, who would be scarred to lose their whole world.” (My emphasis –Y.G.) [2]

Nachum Barnea wrote this morning something similar in Yediot Acharonot:

“The Egyptian military, which did not fight the tunnels in the days of Mubarak and Morsi, manages to eliminate them in the days of General Sissi. A house under which a tunnel is discovered is destroyed — together with its inhabitants. The prospering smuggling industry, which has sustained Hamas and enabled its armament initiatives, was fatally injured.” [3]

Indeed a “senior officer in the Israeli Air-Force” said something very similar to Haaretz. In other words, the IDF is intentionally briefing the media about its current house-destruction policy: they are intentionally sending a message. Of course, it is important to notice: Nachum Barnea doesn’t quote his sources. Haaretz is quoting a “senior Air-Force officer,” and Yisrael Hayom speaks of “senior officers in the IDF and the Shin Bet.” Why, if this briefing is so intentional, doesn’t the IDF’s spokesmen announce them? Why does no senior IDF officer take responsibility for this policy?

Because this policy is a war crime. An officer who would stand behind it would target himself for future international lawsuits. It is legitimate for the IDF to attack military targets, but the targets they are now shooting are clearly civilian. It is not a Hamas commander — but his family members — that they shoot, using them to put pressure on Hamas and on him. Less politely put, the IDF is taking his family as hostages, and is killing these hostages in large numbers.

As Betzelem pointed out earlier in this campaign — and before the killing of many more civilian casualties — a flying IDF terrorist used this morning a multi-million jet-fighter to kill Nur Marwan Almajidi, another 10 year old girl, from Rafach. All Palestinian casualties are now 105 (150 by the time of translation). Private houses are not a legitimate military target. Behind the balanced words, “violation of international humanitarian law,” there’s another concept, which is more to the point: war crime.

In earlier days, the IDF had a permanent excuse: it said that the killing of Palestinian civilians is never intentional, that the military only targets areas from which rockets are shot, despite knowing that civilians might be killed. The claim was, and still is: Hamas is hiding behind civilians. The IDF, up until recently, always insisted that it is not interested in the killing of civilians — the civilians only insist on getting into the route of its missiles and bombs.

Much Israeli propaganda used to ride on this alleged moral difference between the IDF and Hamas: while Hamas is shooting at Israeli civilians and is hiding behind Palestinian civilians, the IDF protects Israeli civilians and only kills Palestinians as a side effect. The IDF, Israeli thinkers, and Israeli propaganda vehicles built a whole moral theory surrounding the alleged legitimacy of this fighting code. Somehow, the numbers, i.e., the fact that the IDF kills about 100 Palestinian civilians for every 1 Israeli civilian casualty, were successfully not included in this moral theory. But now, something new is occurring. Killing civilians is not anymore announced as a mistake — it is now a policy. Now the IDF has stopped the pretending and the make believe. If Hamas is shooting inaccurate weapons into civilian populations, but can claim to its defense that it doesn’t have accurate weaponry (to be sure, this wouldn’t help: this too is a war crime), the IDF is using accurate weapons and is now finally confessing that it uses them to target civilians.

This shouldn’t surprise us. The IDF’s fighting philosophy has always included targeting civilians. The famous Retaliation Operations, which still stand at the heart of the IDF’s fighting ethos, were deliberate attacks on Palestinian civilian villagers, attempting “to put pressure on the PLO and the other resistance movements,” or in clearer words: to terrorize the Palestinians.

In the fifties, the Israeli Air Force hijacked a civilian Syrian airplane in order to negotiate the release of a few Israeli intelligence officers who were caught after crossing the border to Syria. It is possible that this was the first hijacking of a civilian airplane (a method then used by Palestinians against Israelis repeatedly). The Prime Minister at the time, Moshe Sharet, was shocked when he heard of the hijacking and immediately instructed the IDF to release the hostages: but this does not change the fact that the IDF acted as a terrorist organization, and that this expressed something of a broader mentality.

In the War of Attrition on the Egyptian border, after the IDF failed answering the Egyptian’s persistence attack on its outposts in the Sinai Desert, it started to bomb and shell the Egyptian towns on the Suez Canal — that is, it transferred the fighting to civilians.

Similarly, in 1982 Beirut, our flying fighters killed thousands of uninvolved civilians. More or less the whole Israeli strategy in Southern Lebanon, culminating in operations such as Din VeChshbon and Invey Zaam, was based on targeting civilians: we will shoot the Shi’ite villagers; they will in turn put pressure on Beirut, which will in turn put pressure on Hezbollah. The IDF didn’t know how to deal with Hezbollah directly, and its commanders were fed-up losing on the battlefield.

The same logic is active now. The IDF doesn’t know how to effectively hit Hamas commanders, and it is reluctant to send troops in. In order to overcome this “dilemma,” it bombs their private homes from the air and kills their families. This policy is more wide-ranging than commonly imagined: according to details released by the OCHA (the UN’s humanitarian coordination agency), the Israeli Air Force has demolished in the current campaign 70 houses, along with 342 living unites that were severely hit. Approximately 2000 people became homeless as a result. Furthermore, Israeli fighters also attacked 5 clinics and injured 18 medical workers. These data were released 3 days ago.

Israel would have demanded international outrage, for a good reason, if Hamas had started blowing up private houses of IDF officers, especially if Hamas knew full well that the officers were not there at the time of bombing. Israel would have argued, again, correctly, that this is terrorism. But this is exactly the policy that Israel now adopts. If you didn’t have enough reasons to refuse serving in the IDF, here is the most recent one. Service in the IDF is direct and indirect cooperation with a policy of taking hostages and killing them. Shall every Hebrew mother know that she is sending her son to serve in a terrorist organization.

NOTES

[1] “Shall every Hebrew mother know, that her son serves under commanders who are worthy of commanding” is a slogan coined by Ben-Gurion and still widely in use by Israeli commanders, for example in the IDF officer-training programs.

[2] Israel Hayom [Israel Today] is a daily that was created by Netanyahu’s right wing American donor, Shledon Edelson. Its editors are unmistakably biased in supporting Netanyahu — in security and diplomatic issues, but also in internal Israeli politics. It is one of the most read newspapers in Israel.

[3] Top mainstream Israeli journalist, working in Yediot Acharonot, Israel’s largest circulating centrist daily newspaper.

This article first appeared in Friends of George and was translated from the original Hebrew by Omri Boehm. All footnotes are by the translator.

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Yossi Gurvitz

  • While I recognize the telling meaning of this critique, I am uncomfortable with the implications people may draw from the account. I will be writing about this soon. My concern is that on both sides use the military to resolve a political conflict, extending and intensifying the tragedy. And political theorists and political sociologists are implicated, as they confuse coercion with political power. More soon..

    • grungewort

      The confusion of political with coercive power is not what is implicating theorists/sociologists. Rather, misleading equivalencies like “both sides use the military” extend justification of the tragedy.

      • As I said in my comment, I plan on writing more about this. But note: bombs are moving in both directions. Nonetheless, I know that the suffering is in no way equal and find Gurvitz’s piece convincing.

      • Zachary Sunderman

        We could just as easily claim that the insistence on historicization of this conflict quite nicely fulfills the function of providing justification for whatever acts are committed by one’s chosen side (and both sides definitely do it). I do not mean that it should be de-historicized, of course; but historical knowledge should serve as a guide toward the way out, not as a blank check for brutality. When someone like Professor Goldfarb makes an “equivalency” of two opposed parties’ violence, it cannot be invalidated by history, because it is a judgment made on the moral platform. The morality of action rests more heavily on what effects it has on living beings, not on its historical impetus. If an aggrieved party has history on its side, we would be wrong not to sympathize with its plight–but we are also wrong if we confuse history with morality and consequently support actions that cause harm to other innocents. This is what Goldfarb highlights when he points out that equivalent violence is prolonging the tragedy. How common should we expect it to be for the victims of brutality to turn away from their experience and its immorality in favor of detached historical judgment?

        Supporting the Palestinian cause should be informed by history for the purpose of understanding the complexity of the conflict and determining how justice can be achieved (and what it is). This does not require the dismissal of the value of Israeli life or the ascription of amorality to Hamas. Voicing support for Palestinians should not be little more than the socially acceptable face of permitting and encouraging the suffering of Israelis. Our task is not to be the blind cheerleaders of a side, but rather the far more complex responsibility of being true stewards of justice, wherever it finds itself violated.

        • michael

          I wholeheartedly endorse the idea that history should be consulted for solutions rather than justifications for renewed violence.

          But I’m troubled by the moral logic of focusing on the effects of violence. In other, less immediately upsetting contexts, we routinely recognize that disparate outcomes can be legitimate if the process by which they come to pass is legitimate. It seems quite arbitrary to exclude this possibility in advance in the case of armed conflict. One does not have to endorse IDF actions to acknowledge that there is no a priori moral standard authorizing their direct and wholesale condemnation. It is not sufficient to say “Children have been killed, therefore those responsible are evil.” With or without historical reflection, the moral calculus is more intricate than that.

          Nor is there a shared definition of justice even among Left intellectuals like ourselves, let alone between the parties to this conflict. More importantly, though, moral conviction is often a poor guide for political judgment. In the end, the parties themselves actually have to establish common ground, and that won’t be helped by issuing absolute moral edicts.

    • Alex N

      Perhaps. but I think this is a symptom of the de-historicization of the conflict, removing or neglecting both America (to an extent) and Saudi Arabia’s complicity in the failure of Palestinian nationalist agendas. While I’d argue this is manifested most clearly in the “peace process,” I think it would also be safe to link it to the military conflict.

      • My point in the article I want to write would be that political power is not ultimately based in the barrel of a gun, though military power obviously is. Not understanding this, I believe, will undermine the prospects for a decent life, dignity and democratic possibility for the people of Israel / Palestine.

        • Alex

          I agree, but in order to situate political power (as opposed to military power), mustn’t one also contextualize the sources and limits of Israel and Palestine’s political power for instance vis-a-vis Saudi and America?

  • Alex N

    It should also be noted that the IDF uses human shield tactics in the West Bank with what is called ‘neighbor procedure’– Essentially if an IDF squad suspects that a Palestinian house is booby trapped, they will send a member of a neighboring family into the house before entering the house themselves. How do I know this? I was told by former IDF officers.

    • Omri Boehm

      it is true that this method was more or less officially practiced in the past. but it was then officially stopped, and declared illegal. perhaps some criminals still use it – in fact, i wouldn’t be surprised if many criminal officers see nothing wrong with it — but the military’s official ban of this method needs to be mentioned.

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