It's quite extraordinary. One day they blow up a family peacefully touring in their new car; killing 3 generations with one mighty blast, and then a few days later they wipe out 7 members of another family by shelling a beach in Gaza. Both incidents would have passed unnoticed if someone hadn't kept the video running. Now the world has a visual account of a traumatized 12 year old girl running around hysterically while the limp bodies of her parents are carted off to the morgue.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's response to the tragedy was predictably unsympathetic:
"The IDF is the most moral military in the world. There has never been, and there isn't now, a policy of attacking civilians."
Nonsense. The IDF is no more "moral" than any other "organized killing-machine"; they simply reflect the prevailing ethos of the Israeli leadership, a leadership steeped in arrogance and racism. If we look at the recent American massacre in Iraq, we see that there's a straight line between the "execution-style" killing of women and children in Haditha and the Bush administration's promiscuous attitude towards torture and cruelty. The same rule applies to the IDF. A fish rots from the head. The culture of impunity begins at the leadership level, not with a few "bad apples".
This explains why Israel has refused to stop its attacks even though civilians keep getting killed. In fact, the day after the incident on the beach, Israel fired another 3 rockets into Gaza which killed 9 more Palestinians including three children and two medics. The policy hasn't changed a lick. The only difference is that the Gaza massacre has become such a political hot-potato that it's been handed over to an Israeli public relations team.
According to the Jerusalem Post, "The Israeli Foreign Ministry has launched an information campaign to change the minds of the world that has already blamed Israel".Israel's message is simple: The Palestinians are responsible".
Israel is invoking the familiar "blame the victim" strategy. Fortunately, forensic evidence has already proved that the shrapnel came from a "155 millimeter howitzer shell from a land-based Israeli firing device". On top of that, the last surviving member of the family, 12 year old Huda Ghalia, has provided a vivid account of the Israeli shelling of the beach.
"We were sitting and all of a sudden the shells just started falling on our heads," she said.
There's no doubt that Israel is responsible. The PR blitz is a pure sham.
The nonstop coverage of the bloodbath in Gaza on Arab TV has refocused attention on Israel's practice of targeted assassinations. The broader question is whether the strategy implicitly justifies the killing of innocent civilians as well?
Here's a statement by the Foreign Ministry which articulates Israel's position on the issue:
"Israel does not target innocents, yet must fight terrorists who willingly shield themselves behind their own population in their ongoing campaign to kill and maim Israeli civilians".
The Israeli statement is somewhat misleading, but it clearly puts the fight against terrorism above the wellbeing of civilians. It suggests that Israel has the right to kill "terror suspects" whether innocent people are put at risk or not. This is a radical idea and a real departure from long-held precedents regarding public safety and the right to life.
So, what is the legal argument for targeted assassinations?
Government officials are required to comply with the law and yet, targeted assassinations are clearly "extra-judicial". The state never has the authority to intentionally kill someone without charging them with a crime. State sponsored assassinations deprive the victim of all due process making it impossible for him to defend himself against completely arbitrary allegations. In Israel's case, the decision for these summary executions is placed in the hands of unreliable militarists, like Sharon, who have a long pedigree of lying and war crimes.
Can these people really be trusted to mete out the death sentences on suspicion alone?
Targeted assassination is premeditated slaughter; it has no place in civilized societies. There's no link between justice and murder; the two are polar opposites.
Still, targeted assassination is a central part of Israeli policy and, as a result, incidents like the one on the beach in Gaza are occurring with greater frequency. Whether the "collateral damage" is intentional or not makes no difference. The question is whether Israel knows that civilians will "predictably" be killed in their operations.
We assume that they do know. We assume that Israel knows that from 2001, 552 Palestinians were killed in Israeli assassinations, and that, 181 of those were people who just happened to be in the vicinity or tried to help the victims when other missiles were fired. These figures prove that Israel knows exactly what the consequences of its policy are, but goes ahead anyway. Therefore, we can say with certainty that the killing of innocent people is a elementary part of Israel's calculation; whether it is intentional or not, makes no difference.
In Nigel Parry's "Does Israel have a Policy of Killing Palestinian Civilians?" the author digs into the larger issues surrounding targeted assassinations.
"After you see someone kill a child, you perceive humans very differently after that. We like to assume that when such a completely inexcusable event takes place that the deaths happened by some kind of "accident" or "error".
"Crossfire" was perhaps Israel's most successful lie at the onset of the Second Intifada, and no amount of statistics showing otherwise really seemed to penetrate our consciousness and make a difference.
It made no difference because inside we desperately want to believe that the murderers and serial killers of this world are aberrations, rare, that they are sick or somehow different. This conclusion is not possible when you witness a common, recurring pattern with your own eyes, across an entire army. At some point something gives way inside, and your fantasies about basic human decency crumble." (Electronic Intifada)
Parry draws from his years of first-hand experience living in the occupied territories and witnessing the violent reaction of the IOF to Palestinians protests. In the many cases when he saw young Palestinians shot dead by Israeli soldiers, he never remembers an incident when any of the soldiers were in a life-threatening situation. Parry continues:
"Out of nowhere, when the energy of the clashes seemed to be dissipating, a soldier would suddenly shoot a child or teenager, 100 feet away from them or more ".
Parry's description is revealing on many levels. The violence against Palestinians is oftentimes gratuitous, vicious, and steeped in racism. No one was punished in the confrontations he witnessed, and no one will be held accountable for the deaths of 8 family members on the beach in Gaza. It is all part of a culture of impunity which has saturated the Israeli leadership and trickled down to the soldiers in the field.
Israel will not change its lethal policy until its leaders are forced to conform to internationally-accepted standards of justice. Targeted assassination is never acceptable. It violates the most fundamental of human rights; the right to life. No amount of public-relations wizardry can justify firing missiles into crowded areas or excuse the random killing of civilians. Everyone deserves protection from disasters like the tragedy in Gaza, where an entire family was snuffed out by an errant mortar-round. If the law had been followed, young Huda's life would not have been ruined.
The law is our only refuge from the terror of the state. We should make sure our leaders comply.