Israel says that its recent military operations in Gaza were meant to stop Palestinian militants from firing Kassam rockets into southern Israeli settlements.
According to the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Palestinians have launched hundreds of rockets in the past eight years. Hardest hit is the town of Sderot, whose homes and shops now resemble bunkers due to concrete reinforcements built over the years.
The right of Israel to self-defence is not in doubt. However, by any measure, the deaths of 1,300 Palestinians in the Gaza strip within three weeks is totally out of proportion to the less than 20 Israelis who died in the operation. The inordinately large number of civilian casualties has irredeemably tarnished Israel’s reputation worldwide.
As horrific as the Hamas rockets had been, the violence in Gaza was much worse. The F-16s, Apache helicopters and tanks that moved into Gaza from the north were firing into the towns of Beit Lahiya, Beit Hanoun, and the refugee town of Jebalya. The explosions were terrifying. Eventually, tens of thousands of houses inside the Gaza Strip were destroyed by air strikes and artillery.
The deaths of mostly women and children was worsened by the use of controversial tactics by the Israeli military. Already, new information has emerged about the bombing of the United Nations school where 45 civilians were killed. Israel has now retracted its initial claim that the school was being used by Hamas to fire rockets into Israel. The military is admitting that instead it was a bomb that missed its target. The U.N. is drawing up a report on this to submit as possible evidence of a war crime.
There is evidence that white phosphorous has been used in Gaza, contrary to Geneva Conventions regarding fighting in civilian areas. It is also suspected that Israel has used radioactive uranium weapons in Gaza, putting at risk both Palestinians and its own IDF soldiers.
Amnesty International’s fact-finding team found still-burning wedges of phosphorous from Israeli tank shells around buildings in Gaza City. These were similar to the ones that destroyed tons of humanitarian aid in the attack on the UN Relief and Works Agency Headquarters. In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, the Israeli army insists that it “does not use white phosphorus.”
Explosions of white phosphorous inflict hideous wounds consisting of many tiny holes, often invisible to X-rays. When phosphorous comes into contact with human skin, it burns so intensely that many victims require amputation because of the extensive injury. Palestinian doctors have reported seeing smoke coming out of the wounds several days later.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) confirmed that its researchers had seen multiple air-bursts of white phosphorus over Gaza city. “I’ve been on the border for the last few days watching the Israeli artillery firing white phosphorus shells into refugee camps,” Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at HRW told France TV channel 24.
This is not the first time Israel has been accused of using phosphorus bombs in crowded civilian areas in Gaza. Several years ago, doctors in Gaza reported seeing strange wounds on those injured during attacks by Israeli drones, which constantly monitor Gaza from the air.
Though fighting has ended, drones still fly over Gaza, promising more attacks. Many residents who live near the border fear that if they are spotted carrying anything – even a stick, the drones overhead will spot them and mistake them for someone carrying a rocket and they will be attacked.
The stature of Arab governments in the region has fallen in the eyes of ordinary people. Arab leaders were so complacent that Israeli Airforce jets violated Egyptian airspace in order to bomb the Gaza Strip, with little protest from President Hosni Mubarak.
Meanwhile, some high profile US military analysts have taken Israel to task for its behavior in its war on the Gaza Strip. Not for all those people they killed, but rather for all those people they left alive.
“I think you were too restrained and could have gone deeper into Gaza,” retired Lt-Gen Thomas McInerney, a military analyst for Fox News noted. McInerney also chided Israel’s leadership, saying they are “too sensitive about world opinion.”
Photos by Shareef Sarhan. Click here for more his Gaza photos on Flickr.
Filed under: News Tagged: | ehud olmert, gaza, hamas, hosni mubarak, IDF, ismail haniya, israel, israeli defence forces, kassam rockets, Lt-Gen Thomas McInerney, mahmoud abbas, palestinians, phosphorous in civilian areas, phosphorus, rafah, sderot, tzipi livni