Israel-Palestine : Not a conflict of good versus evil, or democrats versus terrorists


“Nor is the theory of preventive violence acceptable: from violence is born only violence, following a pendular action that becomes frenzied as time goes by rather than slowing down....” Primo Levi, Italian Holocaust survivor,‘The Drowned and the Saved’,conclusion


Terrorism and War Crimes

Photo - Rescue workers try to help Israeli civilians killed and wounded by a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, Israel. Palestinian terrorists' deliberate attacks on civilians are widely known of - but Israeli war crimes including deliberate killing of Palestinian civilians are not , despite the mountain of evidence of them. ----------------------------------------------(Photo from the One Family Fund website)


The Israeli government have repeatedly said that one elected Palestinian government after another can’t be negotiated with as they are all involved in terrorism.

That Palestinians have carried out many terrorist attacks targeting and murdering Israeli civilians in suicide bombings and rocket attacks is uncontroversial (as are the links between Fatah and the Al Aqsa brigades and between Hamas and the Al Qassam brigade) so I won’t bother providing all the evidence of this.

However there is plenty of evidence (which follows below with all claims sourced) of Israeli governments right up to the present have been involved in war crimes such as deliberately killing civilians and making no attempt to avoid killing civilians, crimes morally identical to terrorism, with the only difference from Palestinian terrorism being the range of weapons used, the level of organisation of the killers - and the fact that Israeli forces, due to having much more heavy weaponry, have killed vastly more people.


The mountain of evidence that the deliberate killing of unarmed Palestinian civilians by the Israeli military sometimes takes place

Photo - UN aid worker Tom Hurndall lies dying after being shot in the head by an Israeli sniper. There is copious evidence that such killings of Palestinians, Israeli-Arabs and even some UN staff and foreign Palestinian rights campaigners by the Israeli military are often deliberate and done under orders from superiors. (Photo from the excellent If Americans Knew website)


In some cases killings of civilians are exactly what the Israeli army say they are – accidents or people caught in crossfire with armed Palestinians.

However Israeli snipers and other soldiers over decades have deliberately targeted and killed unarmed Palestinians including many children with the approval of their superiors. The victims are usually killed by a shot to the head This is reported by British and Israeli journalists and doctors who have travelled to the occupied territories , Palestinians, Israeli human rights groups and Israeli soldiers (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8), (9), (10).

Dr. Derek Summerfield writing in the British Medical Journal in October 2004 wrote :

“Two thirds of the 621 children (two thirds under 15 years) killed at checkpoints, in the street, on the way to school, in their homes, died from small arms fire, directed in over half of cases to the head, neck and chest—the sniper's wound. Clearly, soldiers are routinely authorised to shoot to kill children in situations of minimal or no threat. These statistics attract far less publicity than suicide bombings, atrocious though these are too.” (11)

Despite being denied vehemently by the Israeli government and its supporters Dr. Summerfield’s claimed are backed up by the testimonies of many Israeli soldiers and veterans of the IDF including members of the “Breaking the Silence” group who say they were often ordered to “fire on anything that moved”. These soldiers and veterans also say that in practice there are orders to shoot to kill Palestinian civilians in the Israeli military despite these orders violating both Israeli and international law.. (12), (13), (14), (15)

Killings of unarmed Palestinian civilians at checkpoints and at the edge of security zones are also common. This is partly because Israeli soldiers are under orders to open fire on any person entering even the edge of a security zone and partly because Israeli courts almost never convict Israelis of killing Palestinians under any circumstances.


Unarmed Arab citizens of Israel also killed deliberately

Photo - Aseel Asleh - an Israeli Arab peace campaigner - was shot dead by Israeli units in October 2000 (Photo from Seeds of Peace website)


The Al Aqsa intifida began in December 2000 with Israeli snipers firing live ammunition at Palestinian demonstrators and rioters, none of whom were armed with more than stones or bottles – and who were protesting against Ariel Sharon’s attempt to claim the Temple Mount solely for Israeli Jews (a claim not even made by most Israeli religious leaders) (16).

As the journalist Jonathan Cook, who has reported from Israel for many years , records this then developed into the systematic use of military sniper teams to target not only rioters and not only Palestinians but also Israeli Arabs – citizens of Israel - including peaceful demonstrators and bystanders, some watching from the balconies of their own homes. Many were killed including 17 year old Aseel Asleh - a member of Seeds of Peace who was peacefully demonstrating against the killing of Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories in October 2000 when an Israeli unit opened fire on him and his friends, shooting him in the back. Some of the bullets used were rubber, but rubber bullets can (and did) kill at short range – and many units used live rounds. The crime these people were killed for was to be of Palestinian descent. Not one of the killers has ever faced trial, nor have the officers or government ministers who gave the orders for military anti-terrorist sniper units to fire on unarmed – and in most cases peaceful – people. No Israeli Jewish rioters were fired on even when they tried to firebomb Israeli Arab cars, drivers and houses. By demanding a state in which Arabs or Palestinians were treated as the equals of Jews the Israeli-Arabs were held to be threatening the security of Israel (17).


Israeli killers never face justice

Photo - October 2004 - Relatives of 13 year old Palestinian girl Iman Al Hams mourn over her body prepared for burial. Her killer was never tried for murder or manslaughter and never jailed. (Photo from WePlanet Middle East News)


One of the most notorious murders of a Palestinian civilian by an Israeli soldier was the repeated shooting of a 13 year old Palestinian girl, Iman Al-Hams, by an Israeli officer in October 2004 as she walked across a security zone , long before she could have harmed them if she had been a suicide bomber (which she wasn’t). After shooting her twice the officer walked up to her and fired his entire rifle clip into her head (18), (19).

An Israeli military court found the officer not guilty on all charges except “conduct unbecoming of an officer” for which the only sentence was removing him from his command for losing the faith of his troops (some of whom testified against him in disgust at his actions) (20).

This was not an isolated case. An investigation by Human rights watch published in 2005 found that in 95% of killings of unarmed Palestinians by Israeli soldiers no charges were ever brought against the killer. In the remaining 5% Human Rights Watch found that the trial did not meet internationally accepted standards and the accused was usually found not guilty of any serious charge. (Israeli Jewish terrorist groups have been jailed for murders of Palestinians though) (21)

This may be related to the fact that Israeli practices and laws are similar in many respects to those of apartheid South Africa, involving racism towards Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. This is the opinion of the South African law Professor John Dugard , the UN’s Special Rapporteur to the Middle East (22).

The killings continue. Ten year old Palestinian girl Abir Aramin was shot in the back of the head and killed by armed Israeli police from their jeep in a street in Anata on the West Bank while she and her sister were buying chocolate. Her father Bassam Aramin was a Fatah fighter or terrorist (depending on your viewpoint) in the past but had long since renounced violence and joined with former Palestinian fighters and Israeli soldiers in 'combatants for peace'. The case of her killing has been closed without anyone being charged by the Israeli authorities like around 800 similar cases since 2000. However the Israeli government has arrested and charged some people - seven Israeli soldiers of 'combatants for peace' who were not Abir's killers but had been demonstrating against the closure of the case by Israeli courts (23).


Other war crimes include killing civilians by indiscriminate fire on entire towns and refugee camps

Photo - November 2006, Beit Hanoun, West Bank - Bodies of Palestinian women and children killed by the indiscriminate shelling of Northern Gaza by Israeli artillery. See last paragraph of this sub-section for more details.(Photo from WePlanet Middle East News)


Then there’s indiscriminate fire on entire towns and refugee camps , again a common practice by Israeli forces over decades. Amnesty International’s 2007 annual report covering 2006 says: “Israeli forces carried out frequent air and artillery bombardments against the Gaza Strip, often into densely populated refugee camps and residential areas. Some 650 Palestinians, half of them unarmed civilians and including some 120 children, were killed by Israeli forces.” (24)

Professor John Dugard, in his report in February this year ,condemned war crimes by Islamic Jihad against Israeli civilians, along with Israeli military attacks on Palestinians in 2006 which were “grossly disproportionate and indiscriminate” involving “multiple war crimes” (25).

His summary states : “Persons responsible for committing war crimes by the firing of shells and rockets into civilian areas without any apparent military advantage should be apprehended or prosecuted. This applies to Palestinians who fire Qassam rockets into Israel; and more so to members of the IDF who have committed such crimes on a much greater scale. While individual criminal accountability is important, the responsibility of the State of Israel for the violation of peremptory norms of international law in its actions against the Palestinian people should not be overlooked.”(26), (27)

This has continued since. For instance in November 2006 eighteen Palestinians from one family, mostly women and children, were killed by Israeli artillery fire on Beit Hanoun in the Gaza strip. This was supposedly counter-fire to try to hit Palestinians who had fired rockets across the border into Israel. Yet even the Israeli military admitted the house hit was no-where near the co-ordinates the rocket fire came from. As usual the Israeli military claimed Palestinian terrorists, by firing from built-up areas, were forcing them to fire on areas containing civilians (28). Yet if this argument was accepted it would be equally wrong for the Israeli military to have bases in Israeli cities and fire from near them – as it routinely does.


Kidnapping , Hostages and Torture

There was massive news coverage of the kidnapping of the 19 year old Israeli Corporal Gilad Shalit. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch rightly called for his release. However the media has given much less coverage to the thousands of Palestinians, including children and human rights activists, taken hostage by the Israeli military and held for long periods without trial under the euphemistic term " administrative detention". Many have been tortured by methods which have included beatings and forcing victims to maintain positions that cause extreme pain over long periods. Indeed Israeli military intelligence has even tortured Israeli conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the occupied territories (29), (30), (31), (32), (33).


So the Israeli government has no moral high ground - and neither do its allies : It's time for negotiations with Hamas

Photo - June 2007, Tel Aviv, Israel: Israelis and Palestinians including 'Combatants for Peace' march together for peace negotiations and against the Israeli military occupation (Photo from Combatants for Peace website)


So the Israeli government have no moral high-ground from which they can refuse to negotiate with “the terrorists”. Every Israeli government as much as every Palestinian government has been involved in acts of murder whether we describe them as “terrorism”, “resistance”, “war crimes” or “legitimate military action”. War crimes by a military controlled by a democratically elected government are not morally superior to terrorism. Both can have noble sounding attempts at justification – whether “defending democracy against terrorism” or “resistance to brutal occupation”. Both sides’ governments were democratically elected. Being elected does not make murder not murder or war crime not war crimes though.

Since governments across the world are involved in placing sanctions on Gaza and in trading with, arming and giving political support to one side or the other washing our hands of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and saying we aren’t involved is not an option.

This is particularly so for the US government which has increased its already massive funding and arms sales to the Israeli government by 25% this year , creating an even greater power imbalance in favour of that government and so making the Israeli government unwilling to negotiate since it can take more land by force without any negotiations– and constantly does so. Political support and trade deals with the EU, Canada and others – who are also sanctioning Gaza – are also significant in making peace unattainable (34)


copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007

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Sources and Footnotes

(1) =BT'Selem testimonies Feb 2002,'IDF shoots Palestinian woman in labor while on her way to hospital', February 2002 http://www.btselem.org/english/Testimonies/20020225_Huwwara_Roadblock_Witness_al_Hayek.asp

(2) = 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

(3) = Guardian 28 Jun 2005, ‘Snipers with children in their sights’ http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1516362,00.html

(4) = 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

(5) = 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

(6) = Summerfield, Derek ‘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 cited in Pilger, John (2006) , ‘Freedom Next Time’ , Bantam, London, 2006 , page 118

(7) = Pilger, John (2006) , ‘Freedom Next Time’ , Bantam, London, 2006 , page 126

(8) = 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 cited by Summerfield, Derek (2005) ‘British Medical Journal Debate on Palestine continues : Palestine: the assault on health and other war crimes. Israeli soldiers confirm the shoot-to-kill policy I documented’In British Medical Journal , September 2005 , http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/331/7518/699?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Derek+Summerfield+Palestine&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT

(9) = 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 cited by - as (8) above

(10) = Breaking the Silence , ‘Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories’ http://www.shovrimshtika.org/publications_e.asp

(11) = Summerfield, Derek ‘Palestine – The Assault on Health and Other War Crimes’, British Medical Journal 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 cited in Pilger, John (2006) , ‘Freedom Next Time’ , Bantam, London, 2006 , page 118

(12) = see (8) above

(13) = see (9) above

(14) = see (10) above

(15) = Summerfield, Derek (2005) ‘British Medical Journal Debate on Palestine continues : Palestine: the assault on health and other war crimes. Israeli soldiers confirm the shoot-to-kill policy I documented’In British Medical Journal , September 2005 , http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/331/7518/699?maxtoshow=&HITS=10&hits=10&RESULTFORMAT=&fulltext=Derek+Summerfield+Palestine&searchid=1&FIRSTINDEX=0&resourcetype=HWCIT

(16) = Cook, Jonathan (2006) ‘Blood and Religion – The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State’ , Pluto Press, London, 2006 , page 34

(17) = Cook, Jonathan (2006) ‘Blood and Religion – The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State’ , Pluto Press, London, 2006 , pages 38-40, 43-44, 51-54, 66-70

(18) = Guardian 21 Oct 2004 , ‘A schoolgirl riddled with bullets. And no one is to blame’, http://education.guardian.co.uk/schoolsworldwide/story/0,,1332220,00.html

(19) = Guardian 24 Nov 2004, ‘Israeli officer: I was right to shoot 13-year-old child’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,1358132,00.html

(20) = Guardian 16 Nov 2005, ‘Not guilty. The Israeli captain who emptied his rifle into a Palestinain schoolgirl’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/israel/Story/0,2763,1643573,00.html

(21) = Human Rights Watch 22 Jun 2005 , ‘Israel: Failure to Probe Civilian Casualties Fuels Impunity’, http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/06/22/isrlpa11148.htm

(22) = BBC News Online 23 Feb 2007 , ‘UN envoy hits Israel 'apartheid'’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6390755.stm

(23) = The Independent 23 August 2007, 'Ex-Fatah fighter in battle for justice after daughter killed by Israeli police', http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article2886413.ece

(24) = Amnesty International Report 2007 ; ISRAEL AND THE OCCUPIED TERRITORIES, http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Regions/Middle-East-and-North-Africa/Israel-and-the-Occupied-Territories

(25) = BBC News Online 23 Feb 2007 , ‘UN envoy hits Israel 'apartheid'’, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/6390755.stm

(26) = UN Human Rights Council 29 Jan 2007 ; Fourth session Item 2 of the provisional agenda ; IMPLEMENTATION OF GENERAL ASSEMBLY RESOLUTION 60/251 OF 15 MARCH 2006 ENTITLED “HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL” ; Advance Edited Version ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard’, page 3 , http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/4session/A.HRC.4.17.pdf

(27) = UN Human Rights Council 8 Jun 2007 ; Fourth session Item 2 of the provisional agenda ; IMPLEMENTATION OF GENERAL ASSEMBLY RESOLUTION 60/251 OF 15 MARCH 2006 ENTITLED “HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL” ; ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, John Dugard’, http://ap.ohchr.org/documents/dpage_e.aspx?m=91 (click on ‘E’ for PDF version of document in English)

(28) = The Independent 09 Nov 2006 , ‘Gaza children cannot escape as Israel mounts its bloodiest attack in months’, http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article1962692.ece

(29) = Amnesty International 13 Jul 2007 , 'Israel and the occupied territories : Administrative Detention', http://web.amnesty.org/pages/isr-action-detention

(30) = BT'Selem (Israeli human rights group) figures on the number of Palestinians held in 'Administrative Detention', http://www.btselem.org/english/Administrative_Detention/Statistics.asp

(31) = BT’Selem also say many Palestinians who have never been involved in any violence are held in ‘administrative detention’ for their political views - See http://www.btselem.org/english/Administrative_Detention/Occupied_Territories.asp

(32) = To quote Amnesty International's 2007 annual report on Israel and the occupied territories (covering 2006) “Trials of Palestinians before military courts often did not meet international fair trial standards, with allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of detainees inadequately investigated. Hundreds of Palestinians were held in administrative detention without charge or trial; more than 700 were being held at the end of the year.” - http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Regions/Middle-East-and-North-Africa/Israel-and-the-Occupied-Territories

(33) = Also see information from the Israeli 'Public Committee against torture' http://www.stoptorture.org.il/eng/background.asp?menu=3&submenu=1

(34) = Guardian Unlimited 16 Aug 2007, 'US offers Israel $30bn in military aid', http://www.guardian.co.uk/international/story/0,,2150248,00.html

copyright©Duncan McFarlane 2007