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The casualties of the next Gaza war

The awful experience of the past few years suggests that in about two years time will be ripe for yet another war with predictable outcomes: thousands of dead, each and every one of them a person who meant the world to their families and loved ones.

By Hagai El-Ad

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

A Palestinian child with a kite stands in front of the destroyed Al Nada towers in Beit Hanoun, northern Gaza Strip. The towers had 90 flats.

One month after the end of the war in Gaza – was it the second Gaza war? The third? – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in front of the UN General Assembly and declared that, “no other country and no other army in history have gone to greater lengths to avoid casualties among the civilian population of their enemies.” This declaration came just a few weeks after that day in early August 2014, when the home of the Abu Madi family in a-Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip was bombed. The attack took the lives of the grandfather, Yusef Daud Abu Madi, three of his sons and two grandchildren. Shadi Abu Madi, one of the family members who survived, but lost two of his children, 6-year-old Yusef, and two-week-old Hala, says their siblings ask about them every day. He tells them that Hala and Yusef went to heaven. His wife sometimes imagines that baby Hala is hungry and asking to be nursed.

On the 22nd day of the war it was Isaac Herzog, the leader of the opposition, who was making declarations: “There is no dispute between the coalition and the opposition on this. We are fighting a just war over Israel’s image and the image of the Israeli people.” Herzog made this statement on July 29, the day the Abu Jaber family home in al-Bureij Refugee Camp, the a-Dali home in Khan Yunis, and the Balata home in Jabalya Refugee Camp were bombed. In the al-Bureij bombing, 19 people died, 17 of them from the same family. In Khan Yunis, 34 died, more than half of them minors. In Jabalya, 11 were killed, all from the same family. Hanneyeh Abu Jaber survived the al-Bureij bombing. She remembered the Id al-Fitr holiday meal. The family had been dining together. She did not hear the explosion. When she woke up at the hospital, she was told that her son, his wife and their daughters had died. The next day, her niece told her about the other family members who had been killed.

Four months after the fighting ended, the Military Advocate General (MAG) said: “The laws of war are a guiding principle for the IDF and it acts with determination to implement them.” The MAG made this declaration in a conference titled, “Challenges of Warfare in Densely Populated Areas.” It appears that the bombing of dozens of houses with residents still inside in Gaza last summer was one of the ways of dealing with these challenges. B’Tselem’s recently published report based on the documentation of 70 such bombings throughout the Gaza Strip during the summer reveals that more than 600 people were killed in these attacks: more than a quarter of all Palestinian casualties in Gaza this summer. At least 70 percent of them were civilians that did not take part in the fighting. Hundreds of people — children, women and seniors — were killed in this manner. Family after family after family. Determination, indeed.

Read also: Bombing homes in Gaza: ‘It was supposed to be their shelter’

The prime minister and others keep making the same double edged argument: on one hand, that Israel’s actions in Gaza were both legal and moral. And at the same time, that any harm caused to Gazan civilians was entirely Hamas’ fault. But, if Hamas is to blame for everything, then Israel is responsible for nothing, and if that is the case, there are no limits on its military operations. This argument is simply not acceptable, neither legally nor morally. There is no reciprocity in war. If one side breaks the rules, the other side is still obligated to follow them. That is what it means to have rules. The choice to employ a policy whose lethal results were entirely predictable, or, at the very least, soon became abundantly clear a few days into the war, was made by Israeli policy makers and they are the ones responsible for the policy’s horrifying results.

This dual argument also seems to be redundant. Israel is claiming that its actions were not just lawful, but also restrained, beyond requirement. Restrained? Lawful? If that is so, then how did so many civilians die in such a large number of attacks from the air and the ground all over the Gaza Strip and throughout the fighting? B’Tselem’s research shows that the “legal framework” for this attack tactic was achieved by stretching so thin concepts such as “military target,” “proportionality” and “effective warning” that they lost almost any meaning. Evidently, this attack policy was not the result of junior level decisions by a pilot or an artillery officer, but rather a conscious decision made and persistently pursued by the country’s leadership, the same leadership that sent the military into action in the Gaza Strip.

Israel is responsible for its actions, just as Hamas is responsible for its own. As B’Tselem stated unequivocally before, during and after the fighting, Hamas breached International Humanitarian Law (IHL) provisions, most notably, its duty to distinguish between civilians and military targets. Not only did Hamas fire at Israeli civilians, it did so from within Gaza’s civilian population, and from locations that are adjacent to homes. But these Hamas violations do not release Israel from its IHL obligations – obligations that Israel keeps claiming it upheld, while at the same time blaming Hamas for the outcome of violating them.

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Israelis go to the polls in a month, to vote in elections that will take place less than a year after one of the most terrible wars we have experienced here. More than 2,000 Palestinians and more the 70 Israelis were killed this summer. The images of death and destruction in the Gaza Strip are still repressed and silenced in Israel, as they were in the summer. But we are all paying the human and moral price, and will continue to for generations.

The awful experience of the past few years suggests that in about two years, after a few more years of closure imposed over the impoverished, crowded piece of land south of Ashkelon, the time will be ripe for yet another war in Gaza – the fourth? The fifth? Another war with predictable outcomes: thousands of dead, each and every one of them a person who meant the world to their families and loved ones.

Is this future inevitable? What is clear is that if Gaza wars continue to be conducted as they have been so far, the thousands of casualties of the next war are only a question of time. Baby Hala’s mother will never be able to nurse her daughter. What kind of future is waiting for the babies who made it through this war, and for those born after it, in Gaza and in Israel?

Hagai El-Ad is executive director of B’Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.

Report details IDF ‘double tap’ bombings that hit first responders in Gaza
Bombing homes in Gaza: ‘It was supposed to be their shelter’

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      • Pedro X

        Off topic again, Bruce. Now here is what NGO Monitor states in regard to B’Tselem’s poorly researched and reasoned report on the Gaza war.

        “In its report on IDF strikes during the 2014 Gaza conflict, B’Tselem presents a simplistic and distorted political narrative of Israeli guilt and Palestinian victimhood, according to Jerusalem-based research institute NGO Monitor. B’Tselem’s publication follows those of Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, and other investigation NGOs, contributing to the campaign surrounding the UN Human Rights Council by William Schabas, as well as Palestinian Authority efforts focused on the International Criminal Court.

        “Once again, and regardless of the circumstances and available evidence, B’Tselem has contorted the facts in order to pronounce Israel guilty,” said Anne Herzberg, NGO Monitor’s Legal Advisor. “Contrary to such claims, Hamas is morally and legally responsible for civilian deaths in Gaza: Hamas systematically conducts military operations from within civilian areas and stores its rockets in schools, mosques, and private homes.”

        B’Tselem’s claims regarding international law are marked by major omissions and distortions. It notably fails to state that under the laws of war, the presence of civilians does not render military objectives immune from attack. B’Tselem also does not explain why targeting Hamas fighters or Hamas command centers did not “effectively assist military efforts” or “provide a military advantage” to Israel.

        NGO Monitor notes that, as in the past, this publication fails to present definitive evidence that would justify the allegations. Indeed, it is clear that B’Tselem, like other politicized NGOs, lacks the necessary information, including military intelligence and command decisions. B’Tselem also lacked direct access to Gaza, instead presenting unverifiable “testimonies” from purported victims and eyewitnesses in Hamas-controlled territory, mixed with other data that originated with the Hamas Ministry of Health in Gaza.

        As a result, B’Tselem has a history of presenting faulty information on civilian casualties in alleged attacks against “families bombed at home.” Independent studies have identified at least 14 combatants present in such incidents, whom B’Tselem misleadingly portrayed as innocent civilians (see below for details). B’Tselem also did not mention that a meeting of terror operatives was occurring at the targeted home, but instead published an emotive account of a family member of an Islamic Jihad commander.

        “B’Tselem’s absurd argument that Israel cannot target Hamas fighters at home will only encourage terrorists to store more weapons, launch more rockets, and conduct more military operations from within homes and mosques, knowing they can do so with complete impunity,” continued Ms. Herzberg. “The international community should wholly reject this dangerous publication.”

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        • Bryan

          I thought you were a liberal and humane man Pedro, but now it seems you are prepared to quote from one of the most dishonest propaganda tools in the universe.

          Reply to Comment
    1. Please : not another time.
      The people who are paying the moral price are those who took part and cannot talk about it to their family or friends. Just as it has been for the Americans back from Nam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan,and Iraq. Societies who pride themselves on being civilized are allowing their leaders to put their young in nightmarish situations. Most people simply do not know or care. If only the sensitivity of this article could awaken them.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Richard Barnes

      Where we don’t have war we have the threat of war. We have a shaky cease fire agreement in the Ukraine in a war of greed between Russia and a US backed EU-let’s hope for the best. Today our technical abilities enable us to know about all of the earth quakes and storms all around the world. People can travel the world if they choose to and Israel is a nation again living in the land that God gave to them and they are hated. All of those are end times signs listed in the Bible. I wrote a small book about the end times and prophecy and the tribulation period. It’s just for your information and consideration and it’s free. I don’t even accept donations on my or anyone else’s behalf. It’s a short read of about 7 pages. I encourage you to take a look. http://www.booksie.com/religion_and_spirituality/book/richard_b_barnes/after-the-rapture-whats-next

      Reply to Comment