Cross-posted from AlterNet
The following is Max Blumenthal' s latest report from the Gaza Strip.
In the southern city of Rafah in the Gaza Strip, Aug. 1, 2014 is known as Black Friday. This was the day the Israeli military bombarded the city with almost every mode of destruction available to it, from F-16 missiles to Apache rockets to naval shelling to drone strikes and mortars.
Bulldozers ripped down homes at random while tanks barreled through neighborhoods, shelling anything in sight. In a matter of hours, at least 500 artillery shells and hundreds of missiles were dumped on the city, almost entirely in civilian areas. By the end, at least 190 people had been killed, so many that unequipped local hospitals were forced to store their corpses and body parts in ice cream coolers.
The target of the operation was not necessarily Rafah's civilian population, though attacking it was part of the Israeli military's underlying logic. Instead, the army apparently aimed to kill one of its own. Indeed, Israeli forces had invoked the Hannibal Directive, opening up an indiscriminate assault on the entire circumference of the area where one of its soldiers, Lt. Hadar Goldin, was allegedly taken captive by an ambush team from the Hamas military wing known as the Qassam Brigades.
It was one of possibly three instances during Israel's 51-day war with Hamas that it initiated the Hannibal Directive. This is a procedure aimed at preventing a politically painful prisoner swap by killing the captured soldier before he can be spirited away to a safehouse. In each case -- another confirmed instance occurred in the eastern city of Shujaiyah -- the Israeli military deployed massive fire against Gaza's civilian population, massacring hundreds and leaving entire neighborhoods in ruins. And in each instance, it ensured that none of its soldiers were taken alive.
The Hannibal Directive was established in 1986 following the Jibril Agreement, a prisoner exchange in which Israel traded 1,150 Palestinian prisoners for three Israeli soldiers. Amidst the political backlash, the Israeli military drafted a secret field procedure to prevent future kidnappings. The proposed operation drew its name from the Carthaginian general who chose to poison himself rather than be held captive by the enemy. Among those who drafted the doctrine were Asa Kasher, a Tel Aviv University philosophy professor who serves as a house "ethicist" for the Israeli military, and Maj. Gen. Yaakov Amidror, a former National Security Adviser for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Both Kasher and Amidror have denied that the procedure's latest implementation was aimed at killing Israeli soldiers. However, Amidror conceded to Israeli reporter Mitch Ginsburg: "It's a military operation to return a hostage soldier. Soldiers' [lives] can be risked."
When the Israeli army executed the Hannibal Directive in Rafah, it not only targeted the area where Goldin was supposedly captured, it leveled massive firepower against a civilian population over large swaths of a densely populated city of 350,000. After the assault, the White House wrongly blamed Hamas for violating the ceasefire, legitimizing another piece of Israeli disinformation and whitewashing the violence, while only a few Israeli public figures criticized the military's behavior.
Thus there was little fallout for Netanyahu and his inner circle, who could rest assured that they had denied Hamas the leverage it might have gained at the negotiating table with a live soldier in its possession. (Whether Goldin was even alive when the Hannnibal Directive was invoked remains a matter of debate.)
Col. Ofer Winter, the religious nationalist commander of the Givati Brigade who vowed a "holy war" to punish Gaza for the crime of blasphemy, claimed his forces implemented the Hannibal Directive for the sole purpose of battering Goldin's captors. "That's why we used all this force," Winter insisted. "Those who kidnap need to know they will pay a price. This was not revenge. They simply messed with the wrong brigade."
Contrary to Winter's claim, the attack on Rafah extended well beyond the fighters who attacked Goldin's unit. Much of Rafah lay in ruins afterward, and scores lay dead. The Hannibal Directive had spawned a series of grave war crimes, leading to one of the most serious massacres of Israel's 51-day attack on the Gaza Strip.
On August 17, I visited the easternmost area of Rafah where Goldin was allegedly captured and Israel's rampage began.
The Scene of the Crime
On a dusty lane in eastern Rafah lined with ruined homes abutting the arid fields where Gaza's destroyed Yasser Arafat International Airport lay, I met some of the families who endured the worst of Black Friday.
"I've been married for five years and thank god we don't have a kid," 33-year-old Nidal Abu Said told me. "I don't want them to witness what we went through here. We lived through a real-life horror movie."