Before and after Eilat: Israeli air strikes are no different than militant rocket attacks

Photo by Mahmud Hams, AFP

How are Israel’s air strikes any different from the militant rocket attacks it so boldly denounces? This is sure to spark a poisoned debate — mostly because the general public is informed only to the extent that Fox News, for example, informs them, but ultimately because the more vocal individuals, the ones who hide behind a charade of objectivity, are just too intolerant and too one-sided to even consider the possibility that there really is another side to the coin, a side that can only be explored if the double standards are dropped and the context is expanded beyond Israel’s immediate borders.

Misinformed retaliation

In the wake of the Eilat attacks that killed upwards of eight Israelis on Thursday, August 19, Israeli politicians and their backers quickly issued statements of appeal, citing both their unshakable defense of Israel as well as their intent to, essentially, make “them” pay.

But who is “them”?

Within hours of the Eilat attacks, the government of Israel announced that it had discovered who was behind the attacks and that it would proceed with a timely and justified response. Here is Israel, a beacon of proper self-investigation (see: Goldstone), putting forth the effort to carefully and positively identify those responsible for the damage before retaliating. The United States Congress felt a fatherly goodness for having cultivated such a well-intentioned military machine.

According to the Israeli government (and only the Israeli government), the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) organized the coordinated operations. Their headquarters and training bases would consequently be the prime targets in any forthcoming attack. Moments later, Rafah was bombed. At least six died, dozens injured, and millions more deceived.

According to both Haaretz and Ynet, Israel’s two most prominent daily news agencies, the Eilat attackers were chased down but not apprehended and in the short three hour span between the bus shooting in Israel and the air strikes in Rafah, Israel had no conclusive evidence to link the PRC to the attacks. Its strategy to surgically remove the PRC from the Gaza Strip was based solely on speculation.

Immediately following the Rafah bombings, the stunned PRC declared it played no role in the Eilat attacks and Hamas did the same. Still, armored personnel carriers and infantry units mobilized along the borders of the Gaza Strip and Israeli F-16s and drones loudly took to the skies.

Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, at least thirty Grad and Qassam rockets landed on the Israeli side of the border leading to seven confirmed injuries but no deaths. The Israeli air force continued operations over Gazan skies and, in one particular air strike, killed the commander of the PRC. So far, at least fifteen Palestinians have been confirmed dead.

All in all, Israel’s actions appear to the unconscious observer to be well-mannered responses to constant Palestinian aggression. The details, however, reveal otherwise and again raise the question: How are Israel’s air strikes any different from rocket fire it seeks to eliminate?

The right of retaliation
To be clear, this is not an attempt at justifying or elevating rocket attacks. Rather, this is to show that Israeli “counter” attacks are just as inexcusable, if not more.

One question to be asked is whether Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza was nothing more than a necessary retaliatory response to an unprovoked Palestinian attack. The answer is simply: no.

On Tuesday, two days before the Eilat attacks, the Israeli air force launched a series of night bombing raids that targeted civilian population centers in Rafah, Khan Younis, and Gaza City — three of the five largest cities in the Gaza Strip. Six Palestinians were confirmed dead. Some were attached to Hamas, although none of them were engaging in any hostile or threatening activity. Others were, as Israel’s defensemen regularly term, “collateral damage”.

Assume for the sake of the Israeli government’s argument that the Eilat attacks were indeed carried out by the most ‘vile of Palestinian creatures’. This raises a very fair question: could the coordinated Eilat attacks in fact be a response to the seemingly unprovoked Gaza Strip bombings two days ago? After all, if Israel has a right to retaliate, so does everyone else.

Before I could even ask myself that question, Israel responded to the Eilat attacks with a series of lightning fast air raids on Gazan residents. One Palestinian boy, age one, was among the dead.

Militants responded with homemade rockets.

Israel responded with more air strikes.

Militants responded with even more rockets. And this still goes on today.

It is clear that this a matter of “responses”. It is also clear that these “responses” aren’t all judged the same. So let’s break them down.

Both are indiscriminate
Comparing Israel’s bombing campaigns in the Gaza Strip with Gazan rockets hitting Israeli fields, the two tactics share more similarities than anything else. For one thing, both are indiscriminate. Militant rockets are indiscriminate in the sense that they’re aimed without any distinct target. It isn’t necessarily an issue of random firing but because the rockets are so crude, one can never be sure where exactly the missile will hit. This should not imply that Palestinians are recklessly set to kill any and every Israeli. The tools — in this case the crude rockets — are questionable but the Palestinian right to armed resistance against an occupying entity is not questionable. In fact, it is explicitly outlined in the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Nevertheless, Israeli air strikes, bombings, and shellings are just as indiscriminate in the sense that they over-target. Collateral damage has virtually become a distinct factor in Israeli strategy. Although the missiles are accurately guided to a calculated GPS point, the weapons are used to destroy the targeted location and everything around it. Unfortunately, “everything around it”, especially within Gaza’s densely-packed populace, includes children, cats, grocery stores, water taps, and everything else related to peaceful civilian life.

Recognizing the double standard
But there is a very explicit difference between the two, one that cannot be ignored for any respectable reason. It is that Israel’s attacks are legitimized by its powerful backers. They are seen solely as strategic responses while Palestinian attacks, no matter how similar or effective, are seen solely as unstrategic, unprovoked, and unnecessary terrorist attacks meant to destabilize any hope for peace.

Just because Israeli attacks are carried out in an organized fashion doesn’t legitimize or justify their destructiveness. Just because the Israeli military operates under a hierarchy that is publicly known and recognized, just because Israeli weapons are generally manufactured or designed in American laboratories thousands of miles away, just because the Israeli military is recognized as a national entity doesn’t give Israel a free pass to use the military in operations that share every resemblance with al-Qaeda attacks, for example.

It is high time for the international community to leave behind its double standards. If the world labels rocket fire as an act of terrorism, fine, but the same label must be used to describe the actions of the Israeli military, especially when they result in deaths of innocents or destroy the already-crippled civil infrastructure of a besieged territory.

Remember, Israel employs some of the most advanced military technology available and implements plans based on the decisions of high ranking military consultants. If the Israeli military really want to target someone, I’m sure it could use one of the dozens of piercing projectiles at its disposal instead of firing volleys of flachette shells that spray metal shrapnel into surrounding homes, schools, and hospitals.

I don’t see how the flaming streaks of white phosphorus spewing from spent missile casings are any less “random” than rockets launched from Gazan militants. Really, I don’t see why Israel’s attacks are acceptable while Palestinian attacks are not. To whoever falls for the deceptive claims that Israel kills militants while Palestinians kill civilians, read the statistics, read the history, identify the dead among both the pre- and post-Eilat bombing missions in Gaza, something I’m sure Fox News wouldn’t encourage you to do.

Most importantly, identify yourself and what you stand for. If you condemn the rocket fire, than you must condemn Israel’s indiscriminate military activity. Double standardism and hypocrisy are both beneath you.

Edited for clarity.

Update: IDF Spokesperson Lt. Colonel Avital Leibovitz backtracked the Israeli government’s previous assertions that the PRC was behind the Eilat attacks. “We did not say that this group [the PRC] was responsible for the terror attack. We based this on intelligence information as well as some facts that [we] actually presented an hour ago to some wires and journalists. Some of the findings that were from the bodies of the terrorists, and they are using, for example, Kalashnikov bullets and Kalashnikov rifles [which] are very common in Gaza.” In other words, Israel’s military “response” was baseless and indiscriminate in the most obvious sense. Read more here.

Sami Kishawi

There are 5 comments

  1. max ajl

    I have a double standard and I am not ashamed: I have one standard for the rocket that the Israeli military complex profits from producing, that maintains Israel in a state of heightened militarism so as to maintain its model Keynesian war economy, that will without question kill someone whose only crime was being born the wrong religion, and which is launched by someone with tons of other options. I have another standard for the desperate violence of refugees.

    1. Sami Kishawi

      Good point Max. Armed resistance against a militarist, occupying entity is definitely not invalidated. And because, as you correctly state, the Israeli rocket is launched by someone with other options, they (the Israeli government and military, so advanced yet so reckless) must be held accountable. There are blatant double standards that exist — ones that permit Israel to continue doing what it’s doing — and these are the double standards that must be recalibrated for the sake of legality, objectivism, and general moral ethic. I was never a fan of rocket attacks; I find it to be an ineffective form of armed resistance. The Fourth Geneva Convention permits resistance and so do I, but with different tools. That said, I don’t think the debate is about whether or not Palestinians have a right to resist. They do. The issue is that Palestinian resistance is equated to “unprovoked terror” by default while Israeli attacks are “defensive maneuvers”. A paradigm shift is needed, and it’s needed fast before more Israeli “responses” lead to more refugee deaths.

      Thanks for the link and the heads up

  2. Chase

    Personally I think the recent Israeli raids on Gaza are unnecessary escalation, because there is no real evidence linking Hamas or the PRC to the horrible Eilat attacks. But the broader question of equating targeted Israeli strikes to indiscriminate rockets attacks is much more complex. The first one sometimes, but not always, violates the law of proportionality; the second one is much more serious and constitutes collective punishment. I left a longer comment on your facebook

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