Controversial, illegal, and documented: Israeli military strategies in Gaza

Israel commenced its invasion of the Gaza Strip with air strikes on more than 200 sites, killing 24 Palestinians on the first day. Above, an Israeli missile hits a building just south of Gaza City on July 8, 2014. Photo credit: Mohammed Saber, EPA

As Israel rolls deeper into its military offensive against the Gaza Strip, its tactics against the territory’s densely-packed civilian population are becoming more and more clear. Over the last 17 days, the death toll has risen to at least 797 Palestinians, most of whom were civilians and nearly two hundred of whom were children. Despite near-global condemnation, Israel has not dialed down the brutality. The following is a list of ten documented Israeli military strategies that are responsible for the disturbingly high casualty count.

1. Israel is one of the best equipped militaries in the world and its weapons industry is responsible for many technological advancements in modern warfare. It should come as no surprise, then, that Israel has the capacity to strike its targets with extreme precision. In the past, Israel has assassinated Hamas members so precisely that others riding with them in their cars or walking alongside them have survived. This has not been the modus operandi for Israel’s last three major offensives against the Gaza Strip, particularly this latest one. Even U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry commented on Israel’s military strategy, sarcastically calling it one “hell of a pinpoint operation”.

2. Israel contends that it warns Gaza residents of imminent air strikes and shelling campaigns and instructs them to flee. However, the crippling siege and total blockade that Israel has imposed on the territory means that Palestinians have no place to go. This allows Israel to kill two birds with one stone, as the saying goes. It can publicly claim that it works to minimize civilian casualties while at the same time killing Palestinians wantonly and with impunity.

3. One of Israel’s methods of warning families in Gaza of an imminent strike is through a “knock on the roof,” a missile that does not contain an explosive warhead. The missile is intended to hit the target and to underline the seriousness of the warning. However, the warning missile strikes its target at about the same forceful velocity as the explosive missile that comes next, collapsing walls and roofs over families attempting to flee. Many Palestinians have been killed by the warning missiles that were allegedly employed to save their lives, including a group of children who were feeding ducks on their roof, CNN reports. In another recorded instance, the explosive missile came only 58 seconds after the “knock,” which is barely enough time for residents to clear the area.

4. Israel strikes buildings that are very clearly sheltering civilians. Palestinians who are able to heed the warnings and flee are not necessarily any safer. On Monday, July 21, Israel launched an air strike against an eight-story building in downtown Gaza City that Israeli military officials had previously urged Palestinians to seek refugee in. Over a dozen were killed. On Sunday, just one day earlier, an Israeli air strike took the lives of Hassan Al-Hallaq’s mother, two children, and wife who happened to be nine months pregnant. Hassan had relocated his family from their apartment outside of Gaza City into the city center, distancing themselves from the border and Israel’s buffer zone and expecting his family’s chances of survival to jump. But an air strike was still ordered against his parents’ home and much of the family was killed.

5. Israel frequently launches air strikes at around sunset when families are most likely to be together, indoors, and breaking their Ramadan fasts.

6. Israel contends that Hamas forcibly puts Palestinian civilians in the line of fire, specifically by keeping them in buildings from which Hamas fighters operate. Although this has never once been supported with conclusive evidence, the Israeli government touts it as the primary reason for the high civilian death toll. But Palestinians rarely have any place to flee, especially when more than a third of the Gaza Strip falls under a military buffer that Israel strikes regularly and without warning. United Nations shelters are at maximum capacity and Israel has no qualms about attacking these buildings either, which is what happened on Thursday, July 24, killing at least 16 and injuring more than 200 in a United Nations school in Beit Hanoun. Palestinians who refuse to leave their homes or surrounding areas do not automatically become legitimate targets. As Mohammed Suliman said under intense shelling in Gaza City, “I look forward to surviving. If I don’t, remember that I wasn’t Hamas or a militant, nor was I used as a human shield. I was at home.”

7. Israel uses flechette shells, banned DIME weapons, and U.S.-manufactured M107 shells in the Gaza Strip. Flechette shells, typically fired from a tank, explode above their targets and release thousands of miniature metal darts that piercingly cover a wide range. DIME weapons, which produce small and compact explosions, are densely packed with tungsten powder which acts like shrapnel but dissolves in human tissue, making it very difficult for physicians and investigators to determine the cause of the injuries. M107 shells explode into nearly two thousand metal fragments that rain on the areas surrounding their immediate targets. Not only has Israel chosen against striking its targets with careful precision, it also employs the use of weapons that cause maximal damage to anyone within the blast radius.

8. Many of the homes that have been targeted belonged to former Hamas fighters who had retired and transitioned back into civilian life — upon encouragement from the international community, no less — as government security guards charged with maintaining order on the streets or guarding important government structures, such as passport offices and ministry buildings. Israel still considers these former fighters as legitimate targets and has repeatedly launched strikes against them and their families. The logic that former Hamas fighters are legitimate targets suggests that former Israeli soldiers could also be legitimate targets. The logic that members of a government security force are legitimate targets suggests that Israeli reservists could also be legitimate targets. Israel disagrees and instead maintains a double standard that ultimately punishes the people of Gaza.

9. Israel has launched a rather bizarre public relations campaign to justify its offensive against Gaza. Social media accounts linked to the Israeli military frequently upload and circulate cartoons that allegedly explain Israel’s motive for the assault. One of the more notable ones was published during the latter period of Israel’s intense shelling of the Shuja’iyya neighborhood in east Gaza City which killed an estimated 72 Palestinians within the first twenty-four hours. The cartoon, which depicts Hamas fighters placing weapons in tunnels underneath civilian homes, gave Israel the legitimacy it felt it needed to continue striking the neighborhood. At least 17 children were among the victims.

10. Israel frequently launches follow-up strikes against targets it just hit. Commonly referred to as “double tap” strikes, the general purpose of the tactic is to kill other fighters who return to the scene to retrieve the remains of their partners. But the use of this tactic has drawn ire from the international community especially because the victims tend to be rescue workers and other civilians who rush to the scene. In Israel’s case, the “double tap” is much more discrete. The follow-up strikes typically hit locations in the close vicinity of the previous strike. On July 16, Israel fired a shell at a Gaza City beach where a group of boys had just been playing football. The boys ran away from the initial blast but a second shell struck them moments later. Witnesses to the tragic scene said that it seemed as though the Israeli military was chasing the boys with shells. Four children were killed and a fifth was critically wounded.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has launched an independent investigation into various allegations of war crimes committed by Israel in the occupied Gaza Strip. The Council agreed to investigate by a vote of 29 countries in favor, 17 abstaining, and one — the United States — voting against the measure.


There is one comment

  1. skywalkerstoryteller

    The US government and the US UN representative do not represent me. I am appalled at their lack of compassion, intelligence, and cowardice. The disproportionate amount of Palestinian casualties negates any excuse Israel uses for its aggression. If this was any other group of people their assault would be called the genocide that it is.

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