There’s a demonstration tomorrow, 9th August, in central London – details are below. Let’s turn out in huge numbers.
As you’d expect, the ceasefire negotiations have produced nothing. Hamas, the legitimate elected government of Gaza, has said that a ceasefire which leaves Israel’s control as tight as it was is no ceasefire worth having – to go back to where we were a few months ago means constant shortages of medicine, constant threat of power shutdowns, constant drones flying overhead, frequent assassinations, continued destruction of the tunnels which are vital for getting food, animals, medicines and resistance weapons in (because, as Obama said, no country would tolerate missiles railing down on it, and would have the right to defend itself).
Israel and Egypt won’t give any ground. Literally, they are taking ground. Israel has snatched several more kilometres more of Gaza as a “buffer zone”.
As I write this, Israel’s slaughter campaign has restarted. Friends in Gaza are once again hearing the screams of children in their homes.
Memories of his service along the Gaza border two years ago have been streaming through the mind of Shai Davidovich this week as he hears news from the crowded coastal enclave of heavy Palestinian civilian casualties from the devastating Israeli military campaign there.
Mr Davidovich, 27, the educational director for an ex-soldiers’ group Breaking the Silence, served in field intelligence during Operation Pillar of Cloud, a previous Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza in 2012. He says he was repeatedly ordered to help prepare for the firing of artillery during the hostilities but that he thought it was “crazy’’ to use artillery in a crowded area, in this case the town of Beit Hanoun.
“The news is bringing me back to when we were there and we got orders every day that at 5pm we will shoot artillery. We prepared all day for this, but in the end it didn’t happen. It was surrealistic to see kids playing in Beit Hanoun. With the binoculars we saw a lot of civilians, but I don’t remember that anyone ever spoke about the civilian population. I thought to myself, ‘how can you fire without harming civilians?’
“Artillery is an imprecise weapon. Artillery fire to an area inhabited by civilians cannot be moral, we trained on open areas.’’
Mr Davidovich’s memories fuse with the images of large-scale carnage in the current conflict, which he unequivocally opposes, unlike the near consensus of Israelis who view this as a just war of self-defence against rocket fire and tunnel infiltrations, and blame Hamas for all the civilian casualties. “Any campaign in which the civilian population is harmed on a large scale cannot be moral,’’ he says. “Israel has a right to defend itself, but not like this.’’
Mr Davidovich’s colleagues in Breaking the Silence, which collects soldiers’ secret testimonies to try to enlighten the Israeli public as to the true nature of the army’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza. This week, alarmed at the civilian deaths in Gaza, it took testimonies from soldiers who served in previous Israeli operations in the region, including Mr Davidovich.
They made the testimonies available to The Independent to make a statement against the current fighting. Operation Rainbow in 2004 is the earliest of the campaigns covered while Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 also feature. They do not include anything from the current conflict.
“If you look at all the recent operations continuing into the current operation you see a moral descent that doesn’t stop and a military aggressiveness that only increases,’’ says Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence.
“The level of destruction, the death toll of civilians and the practices teach us that it gets worse and worse.’’ He takes issue with the use of artillery and the bombing of family homes of Hamas personalities, which the army says are used for command and are, therefore, legitimate targets.
Mr Shaul says that even if Israel warns civilians to vacate areas to be targeted, that does not absolve it of moral responsibility for their fate. “If they don’t leave do they deserve to die?’’, he asked.
“One of the biggest lies of this operation and Cast Lead is that we’re doing everything to avoid civilian casualties. When you use artillery in a place like Gaza you can’t say you are taking every precaution. It’s not the case that generals are looking to kill more civilians, far from that. But we are far away from the official line that everything is being done to avoid civilian casualties.’’
While Breaking the Silence views the testimonies from the past as a way to understand the present, the army believes the group is rehashing old claims to embarrass it at a sensitive time. Asked about the allegations, Col (res.) Shaul Shay, former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council and a scholar at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, told The Independent that the army “kept, is keeping and will keep high moral standards in all its Gaza operations.
“To our sorrow, the approach of Hamas is to use civilians as a human shield and to war against our civilian population. The army adheres in an exceptional manner almost to the point of endangering our soldiers in order to try to have war with minimum civilian casualties. The more Hamas shelling builds shooting positions, tunnels and attack positions in built-up areas, the more the army is forced to fight there and from this there are [civilian] casualties”.
He says steps to warn civilians to leave their homes go beyond anything the US or UK militaries have done. “Breaking the Silence has no case. It saddens me that Israelis make such claims at such a time, claims that serve the propaganda and psychological warfare of the enemy,’’ Mr Shay said.
‘We open fire and don’t ask questions’
Sgt Major Amir Marmor
Unit Armoured Corps
Operation Cast Lead
Area Gaza Strip
Sgt Major Amir Marmor
We began a week of practice on the ground, during which we talked with the officers commanding the operation. Pretty soon we realised that the idea was not just a campaign, but an actual war in which gloves were to be taken off.
Considerations we were accustomed to hearing in briefings, like rules of engagement and attempts not to hurt innocents and the like, were not made this time. On the contrary, the attitude was, war is war.
To paraphrase the brigade commander who spoke to us one day in the field… we were sitting around the campfire one evening, and he came and spoke with us about events in Gaza.
Among other things, he told us what we should expect and how we were supposed to behave – he even brought up people who asked him about morality and innocents.
His reply to them, and to us, in this regard was that this time it was war and we should have no second thoughts about damaging anything – including mosques, including any threat we feel, real or imagined. The approach is to open fire and to try not to consider the repercussions. At any obstacle – any problem – we open fire and don’t ask questions. Even if it’s firing in the dark, aiming at an unknown target – firing when we can’t see, deterrent fire – no problem with that.
A vehicle that’s in the way – crush it. A building in the way – shell it. This was the spirit of things that was repeated throughout the training.
‘I don’t remember being told about civilians’
Staff Sgt Shai Davidovich
Unit Field intelligence
Operation Pillar of Defence
Area Northern Gaza StripStaff Sgt Shai Davidovich
We were positioned east of Beit Hanoun [north Gaza]. People are walking around in the streets with lots of children hanging about. I see kids on bicycles in a street where shells are falling and the children run around free.
Not far from the houses was a major hit. And I see this kid riding his bike as if nothing happened, two meters away from him now. I don’t remember having been told about civilians there.
Our mission was to shoot at sources of fire. It was very intense in both directions: the IDF strikes, I recall the shots. Crazy blasts. You keep seeing all of Gaza up in the air. The light it created, it was insane. There were combat helicopters up in the air constantly.
There were drones with which we worked. There was gunfire from Gaza at all times – there was so much gunfire. We were working with X, giving the open-fire orders. We told him “we detect” – no one was actually firing.
I don’t remember seeing a group of combatants, just flashes of rockets fired all the time. You see houses but it’s very difficult to detect a target. You can’t be precise – you can’t really aim.
‘I’m asked why I’m not killing anyone’
Captain Oded Kimron
Unit Shaldag airforce commandos
During Rainbow Operation, we sent two squads. The mission was to take over a house for stake outs. I commanded one of the squads; a friend of mine commanded the second squad. At the beginning of the briefing we are told that we have to divide Rafah from Tel-Sultan.
A few days before the operation a Golani [infantry] force entered Tel-Sultan, did some job there and went out. The idea, as I understood, was that since Giv’ati [infantry] had to enter Rafah, and since they didn’t want the (Golani) operation in Tel-Sultan to have been for nothing, we had to enter and create a buffer zone.
At the end of the briefing, the brigade commander gets up; he bangs on the podium, and says: ‘Guys, the bottom line is that the mission is to kill as many armed men as possible.’ This had its effect on the mission. On the first day we shot no one; we actually did nothing, while from time to time – every one or two hours – a message from the commander and his commanding crew arrived: ‘What’s going on guys? Why have you not started killing yet? What’s going on there?’
All around us there was destruction on a scale I had not seen before – of houses, greenhouses, and roads. Everything there just became a bunch of sand dunes. All the while, I am repeatedly asked by the force commander: ‘Why aren’t you shooting? What is going on? Why aren’t you killing anybody?’ Non-stop pressure.
‘Don’t check the weight and you hit a school’
Operation Cast Lead
Area Gaza Strip
The problem with artillery fighting in an urban area is that one tries to be as precise as possible, but there are a million parameters at play: weather, the weight of the shell. I might have a high-explosive squash head that blows up and destroys a lot with that kind of weight, and then another shell of a different weight.
If you don’t check the weight, you can have a 200-300m difference in range that may end up hitting a school instead of the target.
Many people are under the misconception that Hamas turned down the offer of “peace” by rejecting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, influenced by the Middle East peace envoy himself – Tony Blair. It is therefore vital to understand why this so-called ceasefire is bogus
The Sisi-led junta in Egypt has been murdering, imprisoning and torturing Hamas’s political allies. They are no friends of Hamas. They have, however, been in discussions with Israel over military co-operation. Hamas has no reason to trust Egypt.
Egypt did not even contact Hamas before announcing the ceasefire offer. It wasn’t a serious offer. If you were in dispute with someone, and someone else simply announced to the world “I want them to both stop fighting, and I’m not going to even discuss it with them”, you wouldn’t take them seriously.
A ceasefire is not some magical potion. Israel routinely and regularly breaks ceasefires. One thing the Palestinians are good at is meticulously documenting Israeli attacks. All this time when you hear about rockets from Gaza, the documented truth is that Israel has drones in the sky firing missiles at people it doesn’t like. This goes back decades. The invasion of Lebanon by Israel in 1982 happened because the PLO adhered to the ceasefire and Israel created pretexts for breaking it.
What would this proposed ceasefire mean in practice? It would mean the existing air attacks by Israel would stop. But in the few weeks before it started, Israel was still shooting Palestinian children, Gaza fishermen etc. Israel has just arrested 6,000 Palestinians and re-arrested all those who had been freed during previous ceasefires. This is what Israel, the Egyptian government, and Tony Blair expects the people of Gaza to revert to. It would not be a ceasefire under the commonly understood meaning of it. It would be “a slight reduction in how many children Israel kills”. Why would Hamas accept it? Any negotiation, even negotiations while children are being killed, has to be serious. Not just “we’ll agree to anything if you’ll just stop killing us!”
It would not provide Hamas any diplomatic room in which to improve a status quo of siege, embargo, and immiseration. The brutal truth is Israel will only stop killing Palestinians with impunity when it is forced to. We are talking here about a state that is already in massive violation of the UN Charter, chemical weapons conventions and the Geneva Conventions.
Just a few days ago, Netanyahu announced that Israel has no interest in a ceasefire. That was about 12 hours before Egypt offered it and Israel accepted it. What changed? Did Netanyahu receive assurances from Sisi and Blair that the ceasefire on offer gives Hamas nothing in return but is more an exercise in alleviating the growing international condemnation of Israel’s brutal military assault whilst ending the rockets being fired from Gaza in a pitiful and desperate attempt at resistance?
Rather than concoct a bogus ceasefire, why hasn’t the Egyptian government opened the Rafah crossing? Their refusal to do so, except to allow Egyptians and other foreigners to leave Gaza, makes them complicit in Israel’s assault. lf they expect Hamas to take them seriously, they would have opened the Rafah crossing to allow people to escape and the injured to be evacuated by now.
THERE WAS ALREADY A CEASEFIRE. Israel is violating it right now. I know enough about Hamas to be able to say with confidence that if Israel offered to adhere to the original ceasefire, Hamas would be willing to talk. What they actually want is a ceasefire that means something, that starts negotiation on prisoner release and on the loosening/ending of the siege – so that medicines can flow in, cement can be imported etc. Israel doesn’t allow these ‘luxuries’, leaving resistance as the only option.
Hamas is a social organisation as well as a political one. It has roots in every part of Gaza society. I am not a supporter of Hamas. But Hamas has a better idea of what Israel’s aims and motives are, and what the people of Gaza want it to do to resist them than anybody looking on from the safety and privilege of the West ever could.
The reality is that Egypt wants to carry on crushing the Muslim Brotherhood, which Hamas is a part of. This ceasefire was a diplomatic gift from Egypt to Israel. Israel always intended to carry on attacking Gaza – but they wanted the diplomatic victory which this fraudulent ceasefire gives it.
On SU we don’t publicise a lot of events – it’s a full-time job to keep track of the amazing array of events in the fight for social justice, against racism, against attacks on the disabled, the elderly, the young, Muslims and so on.
This one’s vital though. The mainstream media is complicit in Israel’s crimes against the people of Gaza, as is the government. The silence is part of Israel’s power. We have almost no power to do anything to stop this, but one thing we can do is take to the streets in huge numbers, to try to break through the wall of silence, to try to shame our government – and to show our sisters and brothers in Gaza that the people of the world are with them.
With that in mind, please, please try to get to this demo. It’s on Saturday, the weather looks like it’ll be amazing. It’s our chance to show our anger at our government, which gives diplomatic and military support to Israel no matter what crimes it commits. William Hague has given full support to Israel. But as we’ve asked, and had no reply to, how many children should the people of Gaza put up with being killed before the British government will make the same statement, declaring that Palestine has the right to defend itself against attack? Click to continue reading →
This is another good article by Gideon Levy, locating things the way any honest journalist would: it’s not ‘Israel the victim’, it’s Israel, pushing again and again and again, and Hamas hitting back.
Following the kidnapping of three teenaged Israelis in the territories and their murders, Israel wildly arrested some 500 Palestinians, including members of parliament and dozens of freed prisoners who had no connection at all to the kidnapping. The army terrorized the entire West Bank with a dragnet and mass arrests, whose declared aim was “to crush Hamas.” A racist campaign raged on the Internet and led to a Palestinian teenager being burned alive. All this followed Israel’s punitive campaign against the effort to establish a Palestinian unity government that the world was prepared to recognize, its violation of its commitment to release prisoners, a halt of the diplomatic process and a refusal to propose any alternate plan or vision.
Did we really think the Palestinians would accept all this submissively, obediently, and calmly, and that peace and quiet would continue to prevail in Israel’s cities? Click to continue reading →