Israel has a strategy for reducing collateral damage, what’s “contentious” or “controversial” about that?
As Operation Protective Edge it’s worth anticipating the likely response to Israel’s latest war against Hamas. Israel will be accused of a disproportionate response and of not taking care to avoid collateral damage. Already there’s been at least one incident in which a number of civilians were injured and and 7 were killed.
Israel has a policy of letting civilians know when they are about to bomb a target to give them a chance to get of the way. One would assume that observers would be impressed that Israel gives up the element of surprise in order to reduce collateral damage. But that assumption would be wrong, if one judges by the reporting and analysis from the New York Times and Washington Post.
Here’s how the New York Times reports the incident:
The call came to the cellphone of his brother’s wife, Salah Kaware said on Tuesday. Mr. Kaware lives in Khan Younis, in southeast Gaza, and the caller said that everyone in the house must leave in five minutes, because it was going to be bombed.
A further warning came as they were leaving, he said in a telephone interview, when an Israeli drone apparently fired a flare at the roof of the three-story home. “Our neighbors came in to form a human shield,” he said, with some even going to the roof to try to prevent a bombing. Others were in the stairway when the house was bombed not long afterward.
Israel warned the residents and people went into the building. The casualties here occurred because Gaza residents because people intentionally put themselves in danger. The New York Times then informs us:
The Israeli military said that targeted houses belonged to Hamas members involved in launching rockets or other military activity, and that they had been used as operations rooms.
As the Washington Post also reported the story we have an indication that in this case, the Israeli military was 100% correct. After describing the warning call, the “knock on the roof,” and the entry of neighbors into the building, the Post reports:
Ahmed Kawarea said he ran home when he heard about the first rocket. The second missile hit when he was in the stairwell on his way to the roof.
“We are civilians,” he said. “We don’t have anyone who lives in the house who works in the resistance.”
But neighbors suggested that one of the occupants was a member of the military wing of Hamas. Soon after the house was hit, a man pulled a sidearm out of his waistband and scurried into the gutted building, saying he had been sent to retrieve a laptop computer from the debris.
That last incident is very telling. I’m guessing that no civilian would risk his life by going into a bombed out building looking for a computer. And I would assume that an average computer would’t be of much interest, but one full of organizational information would be.
Regarding the neighbors who headed to the building, Elder of Ziyon observes:
Also, if there was only a five minute period between the warning and the human shields assembling, the targets in the house must have been the people calling their neighbors to act as human shields.
It’s also possible that the neighbors weren’t given a choice. Elder further points out that according to international law, “‘The presence of a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.’ That is exactly what the Hamas human shields are doing.”
The New York Times article is troubling not from its reporting but for how it frames Israel’s policy of warning civilians of imminent danger. Here’s how the reporters describe the policy.
But the events on Tuesday were another example of a contentious Israeli policy in which occupants of a building about to be bombed or shelled are given a brief warning in Arabic to evacuate. The Israelis have used such telephone calls and leaflets for years now, in a stated effort to reduce civilian casualties and avoid charges of indiscriminate killings or even of crimes against the rules of war.
The policy itself is not contentious. It is humane. There are those who criticize it like purported human rights organizations quoted in the report who “argue that such leaflets do not protect Israel from allegations of the indiscriminate killing of civilians.” But they’re the ones being contentious. By using the word “contentious,” the reporters (one of whom is Steven Erlanger, who, in the past, has been one of the most biased Jerusalem bureau chiefs the Times has employed) are showing which side they’re on.
But the New York Times wasn’t alone in criticizing Israel’s effort to warn innocents to stay out of harm’s way. Adam Taylor who took over the job of anti-Israel blogger at the Washington Post from Max Fisher wrote, ‘Roof knocking’: The Israeli military’s tactic of phoning Palestinians it is about to bomb. Here’s how Taylor describes the warnings:
The phone call warning is part of a broader strategy. For years, the Israeli military has been using cellphone calls and small “warning rockets” — usually sent from drones — to tell people which buildings it is targeting and give them time to get out. It’s a time-tested strategy for the Israeli military, and it even has a name: “roof knocking.” Even if its intentions are good, however, it is a controversial tactic.
Controversial? Taylor concludes.
Some critics say the tactic amounts to psychological warfare. There are reports of “warnings” that are given but no bombing following. There are also instances in which a bombing is not preceded by a warning, or, worse still, the attack may mistakenly destroy the wrong target or produce wider collateral damage – always a risk in cramped areas such as Khan Younis. Human rights groups have argued that targeting the homes of militia members violates international humanitarian law, whether warnings are made or not.
Either way, the warnings are not always heeded. According to Kawarea, after the “warning rocket” hit her house, a group of young men ran inside. It was unclear whether they thought their presence would stop the bombing or whether they wanted to be martyrs.
Taylor offers no in depth reasoning for his conclusions he just appeals to “critics” and “human rights groups.”
If Israel gave a warning and then there was no bomb, how is that psychological warfare? Israel gave up the element of surprise and the terrorist had an opportunity to surround himself with human shields. So Israel held back. Similar to what happened in the video below.
The problem with the New York Times finding Israel’s efforts to minimize casualties as “contentious” or the Washington Post’s characterization of the tactic as “controversial,” is that they’re missing the big story.
As Elder of Ziyon pointed out Hamas is engaged in a war crime: bringing innocents into the line of fire. This is a major story that important newspapers are reporting but their analysts are missing this and, instead, faulting Israel!
Hamas using human shields and brags about it as MEMRI shows here.
Also see the video below, especially from 5:10 to 5:40.
It’s exactly as Elder of Ziyon surmised. This isn’t an accident or voluntary. It is a policy practiced by Hamas to bring civilians into harm’s way.
In most cases, prior to the attacks, residents have been warned to leave, either via phone calls by the Israel military or by the firing of warning missiles.”
A large share of the casualties in Gaza during Protective Edge, maybe even a majority of them, are the result of Gaza residents ignoring Israeli warning and heeding the siren calls of Hamas.
William Saletan in Slate, has the right idea. For him “roof knocks” aren’t “contentious” or “controversial,” they’re “exemplary.” He writes in The Gaza Rules:
According to many critics, Israel is slaughtering civilians in Gaza. It’s “purposefully wiping out entire families,” says an Arab member of Israel’s parliament. It’s committing “genocide—the murder of entire families,” says Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority. Iran says Israel has committed “massacres against the defenseless Palestinians.”
The charges are false. By the standards of war, Israel’s efforts to spare civilians have been exemplary.
Yet writers for the New York ‘Times and Washington Post ignore the obvious and look for reasons to fault Israel. This isn’t reporting. It is advocacy. Worse, it advocacy for terrorism.
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