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Israel gives up white phosphorus, because 'it doesn't photograph well'

By Idan Landau

A certain air of nostalgia dominated Maarivs headline last Thursday: “Due to criticism in the world, IDF parts ways with white phosphorus”: just like the old Galil assault rifle and the old two-way radios that generations of soldiers grew familiar with. A couple of years ago we learned the IDF was giving up its cans of preserved meat (the kosher version of SPAM). Now, it’s white phosphorus that we say goodbye to.

[Twilight. The IDF and white phosphorus exchange a final gaze. A sad violin tune is heard. Curtain down.]

So the IDF is looking for a replacement for the white phosphorus bombs. A senior officer in the ground forces explained: “As we learned during Cast Lead, it [white phosphorus] doesn’t photograph well, so we are reducing the supply and we will not purchase beyond what we already have.”

“It doesn’t photograph well.” In all honesty, the man is right.

This item caught me by surprise. The IDF is giving up white phosphorus? Wait a minute; the IDF never used white phosphorus during Cast Lead. So how exactly do you give up something you never had? Chemical weapons are something the Syrians use, no?

Okay, after a while the army did remember that it had been confused, and it did use white phosphorus, but only in open territories and not against people.

Okay, then the IDF remembered that it got it wrong again and that it did use white phosphorus in urban areas. Two hundred bombs, actually. But this was only in order to create a “smoke screen,” and there is nothing wrong with that. And if there was something wrong, it’s insignificant and unintentional, and it would be thoroughly investigated, so that no stone is left unturned.

That’s all well and good, except that at least 12 Gazans met their horrific death this way, burned to death by white phosphorus. Among them were three women, six children and a 15-month-old baby girl. Dozens more suffered burns from the material which continues to burn through flesh and tissue until it reaches the bone. Doctors in Gaza were helpless in treating the unfamiliar burns. Israel didn’t give them time to prepare themselves; white phosphorus shells hit Al-Quds Hospital and completely burned the top two floors.

These facts were already known in the first days of Cast Lead. Human Rights Watch published a thorough investigation – one of the most thorough I have read – of Israel’s use of white phosphorus and its devastating effects. IDF soldiers who took part in the Gaza campaign also testified on the extensive use of white phosphorus, including direct fire on houses suspected of being booby-trapped (and not for “masking” purposes as the IDF later claimed).

Ghada Abu Halima, 21, who was gravely injured by IDF white phosphorus in Gaza. Abu Halima later died of her wounds (photo: Muhammad Sabah / B’tzelem)

Indeed, the outcome “didn’t photograph well,” and that’s the reason the IDF is parting ways with white phosphorous. Not, god forbid, the hell that Ghada Abu Halima went through from the moment she was burned by white phosphorous and lost five family members, up until her death two and a half agonizing months later. Ghada managed to give her testimony and to have her photo taken, which “didn’t look good,” and “burdened Israeli hasbara [propaganda],” as the Maariv reporter put it.

The lessons of Cast Lead – and more accurately, the lessons of the Goldstone committee – were already partly implemented during Operation Pillar of Cloud. The smoke that rose over Gaza five months ago wasn’t white phosphorus, but the goal was the same. Masking. So nothing is seen or photographed. It worked well with the Israeli media, which anyway doesn’t take much interest in Gaza, in war and in peace, so there is no danger that things “look bad.” It didn’t work as well with the foreign reporters, despite and perhaps because of the message the IDF sent them when its bombs knowingly targeted a press building in Gaza. Thus the gap continues to grow between Israeli self-perception and its image in the world.

Right now, someone is sitting at a drawing desk in Rafael or Elbit (Israeli arms manufacturers), trying to figure out how to invent the next magic weapon – the one that removes the idea of freedom from Gazans’ minds and at the same time, “photographs well.” The development plan has already been approved, the budget is on its way and the pilot is only a matter of time. In the weapons lab called Gaza, testing is part of the battle. Yet this weapon will fail too — as will the one that comes after it. As long as we have eyes, nothing that Israel does in Gaza will “photograph well.” You hear that over at Rafael? Maybe you should simply cut to the heart of the problem? Right-wing groups like Im Tirzu already get it: deal with those who can see.

Idan Landau is an Israeli academic at Ben-Gurion University. This post was originally published in Hebrew on Idan’s blog, “Don’t Die a Fool.“‘ it is reposted here with the author’s permission.

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  • COMMENTS

    1. Richard Witty

      While your point about Israeli military range of weapons is appropriate, at the same time, I’ve been waiting extremely anxiously for a sincere apology on the same basis “because its wrong” for the suicide bombing campaigns of the second intifada, and also the mortar and rocket firing at Israeli civilians from Gaza.

      Why are you stopping suicide bombings?

      Because its wrong?

      No, because it doesn’t look so good.

      Reply to Comment
      • directrob

        Ok, next time you read an article like this assume it starts with:

        “Palestinian attacks on civilians are war crimes and the Palestinians have to denounce them and say sorry and bring the guilty to court but that does not lessens the the Israeli responsibility for the vicious crimes described in this article”.

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          As a matter of fact, until Palestinians have denounced their own terrorism, Israel have a right to do what is needed to protect it’s citizens.

          Reply to Comment
          • Sabre

            Israeli’s are not semitic and are occupiers of another peoples land. When they go back to Europe, America etc..problem solved.

            Reply to Comment
    2. Laurent Szyster

      So Idan, you don’t like hypocrisy ?

      What about this: “Right now, someone is sitting at a drawing desk in Rafael or Elbit (…), trying to figure out how to invent the next magic weapon – the one that removes the idea of freedom from Gazans’ minds and at the same time (…)”

      That weapon is magical indeed and it is called Hamas, working quite fine in Gaza since 2005 …

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      In essence this decision is an admission that the use of WP was an Israeli war crime because it had no military necessity. If it had military necessity, Israel wouldn’t be giving it up.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Monkey logic ROFL

        Israel have developed alternatives since.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Hamas is not going to condemn or apologize for suicide bombers anymore than Israel will for Cast Lead tactics. Demanding such on either side is simply a verbal war similar to the actual tactics in intent–hobble the enemy. Similarly, the indignation against suicide bombing in Israel is mimicked by indignation against WP and general bombing in Gaza. Total war yeilds total destruction. You have to decide, on your own without demands on the other side, you no longer want total war. A very difficult position to construct. You ignore the atrocities on both sides and move forward. If I had to guess, I would say that Gazans are more tired of the logic of total war than are Israelis–because, per capita, they experience more of it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Richard Witty

        Hamas officials, probably not, although they should.

        Advocates for BDS however damn well should, not as an afterthought.

        Reply to Comment
        • directrob

          BDS is not about the violence, whether Israeli or Palestinian, it is about the wish to end the injustice by Israel and their supporters towards Palestinians.

          Palestinians have rights that should be respected. Those rights are uncoditional.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Palestinians have rights that should be respected. Those rights are unconditional.

            Alleged Palestinian Arab Nationalist right for sovereignly over entire Palestine is not unconditional at all.

            You don’t think that Israel would have survived if there was no tight cooperation with friendly clans, do you?

            Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            Their are no rights to alleged rights, only rights to real rights.

            Israel in it current rogue form only survives because of support from the US and Europe.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Their are no rights to alleged rights, only rights to real rights.

            Ok. Good having yo admitting that Palestinian Arabs have no real rights to the land.

            >Israel in it current rogue form only survives because of support from the US and Europe.

            Top-grade nonsense.

            Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            Palestinians have plenty of right to land even within the green line. They just do not have the right of sovereignty over all of former Palestine.

            It is very hard to overestimate the yearly aid Israel for strategic reasons receives from the US and Europe. Compare that with a full blown BDS and it is clear that the Israeli economy would not survive.

            http://journalistsresource.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/Military-Aid-to-Israel.pdf

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Palestinians have plenty of right to land even within the green line.

            Right to cultivate the land – Miri – is not quite the same as ownership of the land – Milk.

            >It is very hard to overestimate the yearly aid Israel for strategic reasons receives from the US and Europe. Compare that with a full blown BDS and it is clear that the Israeli economy would not survive.

            Yeah, semi-literate folk from BDS are supposed to believe in something like that.

            Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            Law should be applied in good faith not as a tool to trick the natives. The Israeli high court admitted that international customary law is also valid in Israel so Palestinians fugitives will obviously still have their miri rights.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >The Israeli high court admitted that international customary law is also valid in Israel so Palestinians fugitives will obviously still have their miri rights.

            You’ve just made this up.

            The state is not obliged to indefinitely grant right to work on the land.

            Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            Especially if peasants have no desire to register the land or pay taxes.

            Reply to Comment
          • directrob

            “Substantial parts of international law dealing with armed conflicts are of customary character. That customary law is part of Israeli law, “by force of the State of Israel’s existence as a sovereign and independent state”

            The right of return is part of customary law. This includes return of properties. The miri rights are owned and have value so they must be returned.

            Your comment “Especially if peasants have no desire to register the land or pay taxes.” is a bit weak. Anyhow as far as I know the UN will help to keep track of former rights.

            Reply to Comment
          • “Palestinians have rights that should be respected. Those rights are uncoditional.” : Rights are conditional to harm on others, not absolute. But with that proviso, in my view you cite the great matter which must be debated. It is inherently opposed to the logic of total war, which is one reason why some talk right past rights–they see, live total war.

            Reply to Comment
    5. caleb

      IMO you are a traitor and a fool. Arabs around Israel etc are constantly attempting to kill Jews and Israelis indiscriminately and the assumption is we should treat them with kid gloves.
      The world is reaching a state of affairs now that it is obvious that Islam is a political movement bent on converting or killing/destroying anyone in their way.
      So if you wish to be one of the ‘yafei nephesh’ prepare for the worst for you are an infidel to them and they will kill you also or hone you intelligence to see what is really going on.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Piotr Berman

      War is hard to discuss in sane categories. We are comparing different ways to kill, maim and destroy. Using explosives and high velocity shrapnel as “anti-personel weapons” is uncontroversial, poisoning with chemicals is a no-no, but incinerating people alive and causing deep burns is in a gray zone.

      Caleb feels that refraining from weapons that burn people and sticking to explosives is “treatment with kid gloves”. I have difficulties translating the phrase into my mother tongue. Wikipedia explanation tells the origin: handling objects with bare hands leaves fingerprints and smudges, so you may prefer to handle glassware and silverware in gloves. For housework one could recommend white cotton gloves:
      http://www.uline.com/Product/Detail/S-7892M/Warehouse-Gloves/9-Light-Weight-Cotton-Inspection-Gloves-Mens?pricode=WU337&gadtype=pla&gclid=CO6P5fv177YCFSrNOgodMzAA4g
      How that applies to application of exploding ordnance?

      Further research offers more clues. “3 Inch Leather Gloves With Contrasting Color Fourchette and 4 Leather Buttons
      $110.00

      These stunning 3″ Italian leather gloves are uniquely ours. Their sensuous elegance will make the most recognizable statement. They are lined with silk. Red/Black”

      Clearly, gloves from kidskin lined with silk are not meant for “handling objects” other than accessories, handbag, opera binoculars or whips (the latter are from a different catalogue or leather accessories).

      Reply to Comment
    7. Victor

      Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and its Hezbollah mentors and Iranian sponsors are working on weapons that look as ugly and devastating as possible in photographs.

      The cognitive dissonance is jarring.

      Israel must make the act of killing combatants acceptable to Western pacifists.

      Meanwhile, the Islamists attempt to make the act of murdering innocents as bloody and savage as possible to satisfy the vast populations which support these movements (and only slacken their support if they feel those acts of murder are not bloody enough).

      Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        Some links, please? I think that this is simply false.

        Reply to Comment
    8. Empiricon

      The difference between Israel and Hamas is that Hamas always takes responsibility for their actions while, as we see chronicled above, Israel denies theirs, then incrementally admits their crimes. All the while, those who sip the KoolAid of nationalism support whatever lies are told.
      “The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” ~ George Orwell

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        >The difference between Israel and Hamas is that Hamas always takes responsibility for their actions

        That’s a big phat lie.

        >while, as we see chronicled above, Israel denies theirs, then incrementally admits their crimes.

        Yeah, like USA, Russia, China, Holland, UK, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, ZA and great most of other countries.

        P.S. Hamas should have had elections held quite a while ago.

        They take responsibility for lives of Gazans?

        Who the f**k they are to take responsibility?

        Reply to Comment
        • Empiricon

          1) Google “hamas takes responsibility” and you will see who the liar is.
          2) Thanks for accepting the fact that Israel does it. The fact that other countries do it to is beyond irrelevant. “But Mommy, Johhny gets to steal and rape without getting in trouble, why can’t I???”
          3) They are the duly elected government of Gaza. But Israel (and the US) immediately rejected the election. I make no apologies for Hamas other than to say they (and the PA) act in accordance with their situation of occupation, like prison gangs fighting for turf that is made ever smaller by the continual theft of land.

          Reply to Comment
          • The Trespasser

            >Google “hamas takes responsibility” and you will see who the liar is.

            Whoever claims that Hamas always takes responsibility. A liar or an idiot – you choose.

            >Thanks for accepting the fact that Israel does it. The fact that other countries do it to is beyond irrelevant. “But Mommy, Johhny gets to steal and rape without getting in trouble, why can’t I???”

            Obviously, if Johnny can steal and rape, denying the same right to Moishele is racist.

            >They are the duly elected government of Gaza.

            They WERE the duly elected government. But they are not for many years now.

            >But Israel (and the US) immediately rejected the election.

            Yeah. You see, civilized people could not have imagined that Gazans would prefer to elect a terrorist organization.

            >I make no apologies for Hamas other than to say they (and the PA) act in accordance with their situation of occupation

            That’s nonsense. Gaza was not occupied when Hamas came to power, is not occupied now and blockaded to prevent terrorist attacks and weapons trafficing

            >like prison gangs fighting for turf that is made ever smaller by the continual theft of land.

            Yet more nonsense.

            Prison gangs have to civilian population to rule.

            Reply to Comment
          • Empiricon

            6.3mm results for my search say it’s you who is the liar.

            Intersting morality you have there. You enabling of Moishele means that because Russians committed pogroms against Jews, Germans had the same “right”. Nothing more to say.

            Reply to Comment
    9. LaineyB

      Thank you Idan Landau for this honest article. I’m sure it will draw a lot of negative attention for you, but the time has come for people of conscience to speak out.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Dima

      Hey 972mag, how long are you willing to tolerate such racist slurs by “The Trespasser” on your website?

      »Well, since “non-Whites” invested about 0.001% in modern science and culture, I would not call it “racism”«

      »Since you won’t be able to prove that entire modern civilization was not created by Whites (including Ashkenazi Jews), G-d is unlikely to curse me for telling the truth.«

      Reply to Comment
      • Empiricon

        Then again Dima, his/her ignorance is on display for all to see, so why hide it?

        Reply to Comment
      • Piotr Berman

        Dima, clearly a case of misspend energy. We can call each other racists and liars in a cultural manner, without repeating identical posts (which I view as unmannerly trolling).

        That said, Trespasser wrote “Obviously, if Johnny can steal and rape, denying the same right to Moishele is racist.”

        Burning people alive is not specifically prohibited and USA produced so-called “highway of death” where they burned thousands of retreating soldiers and buried them quickly to prevent the body count. But some photos were made, perhaps they are very good photos but not recommended to view after a meal. So Johny clearly can burn people alive.

        And what Johny can do, Moishele can also do, the writ of international law does not work against the pals of Johny. This problem remains, however: what do you do when you can do everything? Do you steal, rape, burn people alive, keep people in small cages for years, the list of options is endless. It is your choice!

        Reply to Comment
        • The Trespasser

          >It is your choice!

          It surely is. Only consequences are of importance.

          Ex. Russian royalties were oppressing Jews, and Jews had payed them back by eliminating the whole system. German Nazis thought that they can exterminate millions of people – but failed and responsible had paid the ultimate price. Palestinian Arabs thought that they can deny Palestinian Jews equality – and were left without a state. Etc., etc.

          Reply to Comment
    11. Dysnomia

      Israel also have nuclear weapons, i don’t see anyone talks about it either. It is pathetic how Zionists use media and people are buying it.

      Reply to Comment
      • The Trespasser

        Are you claiming that Jews are disallowed to posses nuclear weapons?

        Leftist racists don’t ever realize how racist they actually are.

        Reply to Comment
        • David T.

          “As a matter of fact, until Palestinians have denounced their own terrorism, Israel have a right to do what is needed to protect it’s citizens.”

          As Palestinians have a right to resist occupation by all means and Israel has an obligation to protect the occupied.

          “Right to cultivate the land – Miri – is not quite the same as ownership of the land – Milk.”

          It’s not up to Israel to decide Palestinian land regulations which were respected by British mandatory even when it comes to grazing rights of the Bedouins.

          “Whoever claims that Hamas always takes responsibility. A liar or an idiot – you choose.”

          Hamas records any attack on Israel and posts it on its homepage. What they don’t do is taking responsibility for Israel’s attacks and liars or idiots (you choose) shift this responsibility to Hamas.

          “civilized people could not have imagined that Gazans would prefer to elect a terrorist organization.”

          Yes, civilized people could have not imagined that Isrsael chose two terrorists to be prime ministers either.

          “Gaza was not occupied when Hamas came to power, is not occupied now and blockaded to prevent terrorist attacks and weapons trafficing …”

          Gaza is an integral part of the occupied state of Palestine and the blockade does fare more than prevent terrorist attacks and weapon trafficing.

          “Are you claiming that Jews are disallowed to posses nuclear weapons?”

          Are you lying about what Dysnomia claimed?

          “Leftist racists don’t ever realize how racist they actually are.”

          I’m sure they will never keep up with your lack of self-awareness.
          Btw, the first time I heard about “leftist racism” was from German Neo-Nazis. It seems to be their invention.

          Reply to Comment
    12. Tamara

      Jews United Against Zionism:

      http://www.nkusa.org/

      These guys fully support the dismantling of Israel and the restoration of Palestinian land and sovereignty.

      You don’t have all the fact, we’ve been lied to by our leaders and media. Who speaks for the Jews? When there are Jews supporting the Palestinian people and actively rejecting and fighting Israel, can you claim them anti-semitic?

      Look into what these Jews are saying. They have info not reported in mainstream media. You may well be surprised.

      Reply to Comment
    13. James

      [quote]These guys fully support the dismantling of Israel and the restoration of Palestinian land and sovereignty.[/quote]
      First sensible thing anyone has said on here…

      Reply to Comment
    14. Is Israel now using internationally banned chemical weapons in Gaza?

      There are allegations that it is. [1] Specifically, it appears that it is using White Phosphorous (WP) in civilian areas in ways that are illegal under international law. I am very surprised by this, and would want to see better evidence of the allegat…

      Reply to Comment
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