Summary : Israel’s story about every civilian killed being the fault of their enemies is shown false by neutral investigations into every war it has ever fought. While some civilian deaths are collateral damage, evidence from every human rights groups' investigations shows Israeli forces also often target unarmed civilians, even when no fighting is going on.
Over three thousand Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli forces since 2000, but only 6 Israeli soldiers jailed for killing civilians since 2000, the longest sentence being 7 months.
History shows that “hiding among civilians” is not the tactic of the morally worse side but the worse armed one. The Zionist militias that later became the IDF used it against the British military in the 1920s to 1940s and two of the three main Zionist militias also targeted civilians in terrorist bombings.
There’s an endless repetition by Israeli government and military spokesmen that Hamas are responsible for the death of every civilian killed by Israeli forces in Gaza because they are “cowards” who “hide behind civilians”, using them as “human shields”, while Israeli forces supposedly “do all they can to avoid civilian casualties”.
In fact Israeli forces have always done a fair amount of targeting civilians during wars and even when there is no fighting going on – just as much as their enemies have targeted Israeli civilians.
The 1948 War
In the 1948 Israeli “War of Independence” Israeli forces operated Plan D, which involved massacring Palestinian fighters and civilians alike in towns across the former Mandate of Palestine in order to terrify as many of them as possible into fleeing into neighbouring countries, before refusing to allow them to re-enter the country.
The historical evidence for this has been given in great detail by Israeli historian Ilan Pappe in his book ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’, by Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi in his book ‘The Iron Cage’ and by American academic Norman Finkelstein, both of whose parents were holocaust survivors, in his book ‘Beyond Chutzpah’.
Operation Defensive Shield 2002
The propaganda line about Israel’s enemies causing all civilian deaths was used in 2002 in ‘Operation Defensive Shield’ when Israeli forces carried out an offensive in Jenin and Nablus in the West Bank. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Israeli human rights group B’TSelem found many of the 497 civilians, including 70 children, killed, were killed by Israeli bulldozers destroying their homes, or shot in the street by Israeli forces, including firing on ambulances and ambulance crews and killing a disabled man in a wheelchair. Israeli soldiers also used Palestinian civilians as human shields by forcing them to walk ahead of them (1) – (6).
The 2006 Lebanon War and parallels with Gaza today
After the 2006 Lebanon War, Human Rights Watch found Hezbollah hadn’t fired rockets from villages Israel attacked, as Israeli spokesmen had claimed, but from hills several miles away. It also found Israeli forces targeted clearly marked ambulances across the country (7) – (8).
In the Lebanon War, as in Gaza today, the Israelis made a great show of warning civilians to leave areas where “terrorists were operating”. Leaflets were dropped across the whole of Southern Lebanon ordering the entire population to leave for Northern Lebanon. Many had no cars to travel the distance fast enough. Many of those who did have cars were too scared to use them since Israeli forces were already bombing civilian vehicles, roads and bridges.
After this Israel’s Justice minister Haim Ramon announced that “All those now in south Lebanon are terrorists who are related in some way to Hezbollah”. More intense bombing and drone strikes began, resulting in many civilian deaths, including the 2006 Qana massacre, which bore great similarities to the 1996 Qana massacre also committed by Israeli forces (9) – (11).
In Gaza today the same warning propaganda is used. Leaflets are dropped ordering civilians to leave one area, but wherever they go there are Israeli attacks. They can’t leave Gaza as Israeli forces prevent anyone leaving into Israel or by sea.
The border with Egypt is closed, as Hamas are allies of the elected Muslim Brotherhood government which the Egyptian military overthrew.
Israeli forces also target the family homes of members of Palestinian militant groups for destruction (often killing entire families in the process). This makes many Gazans scared to leave their own neighbourhood, in case they end up being killed in an Israeli strike on the home of a militant who they didn’t know lived there (12) – (16).
The 2008/2009 Gaza “War” – Operation Cast Lead
The “human shields” propaganda was recycled by Israeli spokespeople again in the 2008 to 2009 Gaza war (‘Operation Cast Lead) , which, like the current war, was more of a one-sided massacre. Amnesty found Israeli forces killed hundreds of civilians, many where there was no fighting, some in their homes, others ambulance crews. It said many couldn’t be “collateral damage”. Human Rights Watch found multiple cases of unarmed civilians waving white flags shot where no fighting was happening (17) – (19).
Only two Israeli soldiers have ever been charged, prosecuted and jailed for their actions in Operation Cast Lead and neither on charges of deliberately killing civilians. One was given 45 days for “illegal discharge of a weapon” (into a Palestinian civilian woman and her daughter, killing her). Another got 7 months for stealing a credit card. (20) – (22).
Targeting civilians Even When There’s No Fighting
Even when there’s no fighting anywhere, Israeli soldiers regularly kill Palestinian children and teenagers who are unarmed, some in their own homes, playing in the street, or throwing stones when protesting against the occupation in the West Bank as much as in Gaza.
This included two 16 year olds killed in May by Israeli forces. Another Palestinian teenager was among the eight Palestinians killed so far in West Bank protests against Israeli killings of civilians in Gaza. In the case of the first two the Israeli military came out with three different stories to try to deny the facts – that Israeli forces had not fired live ammunition (disproven by the autopsy), that CCTV video of the shootings showing Israeli forces fire on them had been edited (disproven by Israeli human rights group B’TSelem’s analysis of the video), and that Palestinian gunmen had shot the two boys (with zero evidence whatsoever) (23) – (28).
For a list of Palestinians killed in the West Bank in the last 5 years and the circumstances see this page from Israeli human rights group B’TSelem (currently offline to people outside Israel due to a cyber-attack on its website, almost certainly by the Israeli government or military) (29).
From 2004 to 2005 British and Palestinian doctors and journalists in Israel and the occupied territories, along with B’TSelem, found a disturbing number of Palestinian children being killed by Israeli sniper fire to their heads and chests in their homes, in school or playing in the street (30) – (34).
Israeli soldiers later confirmed they had often been given orders to fire on any Palestinian they saw in the occupied territories, armed or unarmed, in their own homes or outside them (35) – (36).
Not one Israeli soldier has been jailed or even discharged from the army over any of these killings.
Human Rights Watch reports that “Since September 2000, Israeli forces have killed more than 3,000 Palestinians who did not participate in hostilities in the West Bank and Gaza, according to B’Tselem’s data. But the military justice system has convicted only six Israeli soldiers for unlawfully killing Palestinians, with seven-and-a-half months as the longest jail sentence, according to Yesh Din, another rights group.” (37).
Gaza Today - Operation Protective Edge
By 3.00 pm Israeli time on the 1st of august Palestinian armed groups had killed 3 Israeli civilians and 59 soldiers (all the soldiers having died since the Israeli ground offensive into Gaza began), while Israeli forces had killed around 500 armed Palestinians and over 900 civilians including 286 children (38).
There have been attacks on civilian targets including strikes on over 100 UN buildings, including schools and aid depots, several attacks on every hospital in Gaza, hundreds of attacks on the family homes of members of Palestinian armed groups, as well as the family homes of Palestinian doctors with no links to any armed group (e.g Dr Nasser El Tatar), TV stations, and Gaza’s only power station (39) – (41).
A reporter from the UN’s Channel 4 news in Gaza saw Israeli forces open fire with small arms and artillery on Palestinian civilians during the short-lived 7th July ceasefire when the civilians attempted to return to their homes and farms to check on them (42).
If an isolated Israel was genuinely fighting for its survival against heavily armed Palestinian forces, or had suffered many deaths from rocket fire, at least some of the civilian casualties caused in Gaza, those which were the result of collateral damage and not deliberate targeting, might be more understandable.
But in fact Israel has thousands of the most advanced tanks, fighter jets, armoured personnel carriers, drones and helicopters in the world, while the Palestinian armed groups have some light arms including rocket propelled grenades and mortars. They also have some inaccurate rockets – mostly pretty much “home made”, but some longer ranged Chinese or Iranian made ones.
Israel also has the whole of NATO plus Egypt and Jordan as allies. The Palestinians have only Iran.
History shows hiding among civilians is the tactic of the worse armed side,
not the morally worse side
Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto wore no uniforms and hid in the middle of a city, because they had only light arms against a heavily armed military – and because, much like Gaza under blockade, there was nowhere else they could go.
The Zionist militias during the British Mandate of Palestine in the 1920 to 1940s, like the Irgun and Lehi, whose members later became part of the Israeli military, used not only the urban guerrilla tactics used by the Haganah, but also terrorist attacks against both British and Arab civilians. These initially poorly armed militias were fighting the much better armed British military.
Far from being outcasts in the new state of Israel, members of these groups became senior members of the Israeli military and government. Menachim Begin, a former commander in the Irgun, became the Israeli Prime Minister at the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacres. Yitzakh Shamir, a Lehi leader, also went on to become Prime Minister.
So before Israelis had their own state, when they were up against much better armed enemies, they behaved exactly the same way Palestinians do in the same situation, up against the massively better armed Israeli Defence Forces. The supposed moral superiority of Israel’s leaders and military over Palestinian political leaders and armed groups is mythical.
(1) = BBC 18 Apr 2002 ‘Jenin 'massacre evidence growing'’,
(2) = Amnesty International 2002 ‘Israel and the Occupied Territories
Shielded from scrutiny: IDF violations in Jenin and Nablus’,
(3) = Human Rights Watch May 2002 ‘Jenin: IDF Military Operations’,
(4) = UN 2002 ‘Report of the Secretary-General prepared pursuant
to General Assembly resolution ES-10/10’,
http://www.un.org/peace/jenin/index.html ; On the 497 Palestinians killed on the Operation see Paragraph 37 Section E;
For figures from Physicians for Human Rights see Paragraph 57
(5) = B’Tselem 2002 ‘OPERATION DEFENSIVE SHIELD
Palestinian Testimonies , Soldiers’ Testimonies’,
(6) = B’Tselem Mar 2002 ‘Impeding Medical Treatment and Firing at Ambulances
by IDF Soldiers in the Occupied Territories’,
(7) =HRW 06 Dec 2007 ‘Why They Died : Civilian Casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 War’
(8) = HRW 19 Dec 2006 ‘The “Hoax” That Wasn’t : The July 23 Qana Ambulance Attack’,
(9) = BBC News 27 Jul 2006 ‘Israel calls up army reservists’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5219360.stm
(12) = Human Rights Watch 09 Jul 2014 ‘Palestine/Israel: Indiscriminate Palestinian Rocket Attacks - Israeli Airstrikes on Homes Appear to be Collective Punishment’,
(13) = Human Rights Watch 16 Jul 2014 ‘Israel/Palestine: Unlawful Israeli Airstrikes Kill Civilians’, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/15/israelpalestine-unlawful-israeli-airstrikes-kill-civilians
(14) = Amnesty International 11 Jul 2014 ‘Israel/Gaza: UN must impose arms embargo and mandate an international investigation as civilian death toll rises’,
(15) = B’TSelem 09 Jul 2014 ‘Bombing family homes of activists in armed Palestinian groups violates international humanitarian law’, http://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20140709_bobming_of_houses_in_gaza
(17) = Amnesty 02 Jul 2009 ‘Impunity for war crimes in Gaza and southern Israel a recipe for further civilian suffering’, http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/report/impunity-war-crimes-gaza-southern-israel-recipe-further-civilian-suffering-20090702
(18) = Amnesty UK 02 Jul 2009 ‘Gaza conflict: First comprehensive report says both sides committed war crimes’, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=18294
(19) = Human Rights Watch 13 Aug 2009 ‘White Flag Deaths - Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead’, http://www.hrw.org/node/85014
(20) = Ynet news (Israel) 11 Aug 2009 ‘Soldier who stole credit card during Gaza op jailed’, http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3760488,00.html
(21) = BBC News 13 Aug 2012 ‘Israeli ex-soldier cleared of Gaza manslaughter charge’, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-19243246 ‘Court approves plea bargain for soldier charged with ‘Cast Lead’ manslaughter’, ‘Israeli prosecutors have dropped a manslaughter charge against a former soldier in connection with the deaths of a Palestinian woman and her daughter during the offensive on Gaza in 2009. But the sergeant was jailed for 45 days after being convicted of unlawful use of a firearm in a separate incident as part of a plea deal, his lawyer said.’
(22) = Haaretz 12 Aug 2012 ‘IDF soldier sentenced to 45 days for death of mother, daughter in Gaza war’, http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/idf-soldier-sentenced-to-45-days-for-death-of-mother-daughter-in-gaza-war-1.457649
Paul Mason’s blog ‘In the midst of Gaza’s bloody ‘truce’’,http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/deadly-shelling-threatens-gaza-truce/1892 , ‘As we drove back, on the road north to Gaza City, you could see the dust of Israeli tanks in the distance. Three times shell fire came close enough to the main road to smell the cordite…. what I saw followed a fairly consistent pattern: shelling into farmland where Palestinians were trying to return, and aimed small-arms fire at civilians.’
(23) = AP 15 May 2014 ‘Two Palestinians shot dead by Israeli troops in West Bank’,
(24) = Guardian 21 May 2014 ‘Video footage indicates killed Palestinian youths posed no threat’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/20/video-indicates-killed-palestinian-youths-no-threat-israeli-forces
(25) = Guardian 13 Jun 2014 ‘Palestinian boy's autopsy: wounds consistent with live ammunition’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/12/autopsy-palestinian-teenager-wounds-consistent-live-ammunition
(26) = Guardian 23 May 2014 ‘Footage of Palestinian boys being shot is genuine, says Israeli rights group’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/may/22/footage-palestinian-boys-shot-genuine-btselem
(27) = Guardian 26 Jul 2014 ‘Gaza violence spreads to West Bank with six Palestinians reportedly killed’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/25/palestinian-protests-continue-israel-considers-ground-operation-ceasefire
(28) = Sydney Morning Herald 28 Jul 2014 ‘Palestinian toll tops 1000 as Israel ceasefire called to recover Gaza dead’, http://www.smh.com.au/world/palestinian-toll-tops-1000-as-israel-ceasefire-called-to-recover-gaza-dead-20140727-zxcdw.html (see last two paragraphs on 8 Palestinian protesters killed and 250 wounded by Israeli forces in West Bank)
(29) = B’TSelem ‘Palestinians killed in the West Bank since the end of Operation Cast Lead’
(30) = Guardian 20 May 2004 , ‘Palestinian doctors despair at rising toll of children shot dead by army snipers’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,,4928224-103552,00.html
(31) = Guardian 28 Jun 2005, ‘Snipers with children in their sights’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1516362,00.html
(32) = Derek Summerfield ‘Palestine – The Assault on Health and Other War Crimes’, British Medical Journal 16 October 2004 http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/329/7471/924?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Derek+Summerfield+Palestine&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT
(33) = BT’Selem eyewitness testimonies – IDF soldier shoots and kills a 14 year-old boy playing with his friends, in Tubas, north of Nablus, January 2005 - witness Abu Muhsen - http://www.btselem.org/english/Testimonies/20050120_Salah_Abu_Muhsen_Shot_to_Death_in_Tubas_witness_Abu_Muhsen.asp
(34) = BT'Selem eyewitness testimonies - IDF soldier shoots and kills a 14 year-old boy playing with his friends, in Tubas, north of Nablus, January 2005 - witness Daragmeh - http://www.btselem.org/english/Testimonies/20050120_Salah_Abu_Muhsen_Shot_to_Death_in_Tubas_witness_Daraghmeh.asp
(35) = Guardian 6 Sep 2005, ‘Israeli troops say they were given shoot-to-kill order’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1563476,00.html
(36) = Guardian 6 Sep 2005, ‘Israeli soldiers tell of indiscriminate killings by army and a culture of impunity’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1563255,00.html
(37) = Human Rights Watch 03 Aug 2014, ‘Israel: Shooting Deaths after West Bank Protest - Evidence Points to Unlawful Killings by Israeli Forces ’, http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/08/03/israel-shooting-deaths-after-west-bank-protest
(38) = UNocHA Occupied Palestinian Territory: Gaza Emergency Situation Report (as of 1 august 2014, 1500 hrs), http://www.ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_sitrep_02_08_2014.pdf
(39) = UN News Centre 31 jul 2014 ‘UN, US announce Gaza parties agree to 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire’, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=48381#.U90o22Oq_Nw
(40) = Guardian 14 Jul 2014 ‘A knock on the roof, then another Gaza home destroyed by Israeli missile’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/14/gaza-home-destroyed-israel-shati , ‘A mile or so from Alaa Hadeedi's house…Dr Nasser Tatar, director general of Gaza's largest medical facility, the Shifa hospital, is examining the ruins of his own house …"The IDF called my nephew with a 10-minute warning saying that they planned to destroy my house... I got my family out …they hit my house with a rocket and then a second’
(41) = Guardian 30 Jul 2014 ‘Gaza's only power plant destroyed in Israel's most intense air strike yet’, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/29/gaza-power-plant-destroyed-israeli-airstrike-100-palestinians-dead(42) = Channel 4 News Blogs – Paul Mason 01 Aug 2014 ‘In the midst of Gaza’s bloody ‘truce’’, http://blogs.channel4.com/paul-mason-blog/deadly-shelling-threatens-gaza-truce/1892