Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lebanese Civilian Deaths: Something is Horribly Wrong...

The mantra of Israeli officials that the IDF does everything to avoid civilian casualties, that it doesn't target civilians and that civilian casualties are mainly due to Hezbollah fighters hiding out amongst the civilian population, is ringing increasingly hollow and contradictory to what we are shown on our TV screens, largely irrespective of the political affiliation of the channel being watched at any given time. Despite Israel's assurances, occasional apology and constant stream of denials, the IDF are causing large numbers of civilian deaths, ironically far more than Hezbollah, despite the latter's indiscriminate and intended targeting of Israeli towns and cities. Hezbollah's rocketfire is nothing more than a fairly primitive and not highly effective form of carpet bombing and no excuse can be made for it but it cannot be denied that far, far more civilians have died on the Lebanese side.

Something is indeed horribly wrong here.

The Observer, via The Guardian:

As international outrage over civilian deaths grows, the spotlight is increasingly turning on Israeli air operations. The Observer has learnt that one senior commander who has been involved in the air attacks in Lebanon has already raised concerns that some of the air force's actions might be considered 'war crimes'.

Yonatan Shapiro, a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot dismissed from reserve duty after signing a 'refusenik' letter in 2004, said he had spoken with Israeli F-16 pilots in recent days and learnt that some had aborted missions because of concerns about the reliability of intelligence information. According to Shapiro, some pilots justified aborting missions out of 'common sense' and in the context of the Israeli Defence Force's moral code of conduct, which says every effort should be made to avoiding harming civilians.

Shapiro said: 'Some pilots told me they have shot at the side of targets because they're afraid people will be there, and they don't trust any more those who give them the coordinates and targets.'

He added: 'One pilot told me he was asked to hit a house on a hill, which was supposed to be a place from where Hizbollah was launching Katyusha missiles. But he was afraid civilians were in the house, so he shot next to the house ...

'Pilots are always being told they will be judged on results, but if the results are hundreds of dead civilians while Hizbollah is still able to fire all these rockets, then something is very wrong.'

So far none of the pilots has publicly refused to fly missions but some are wobbling, according to Shapiro. He said: 'Their target could be a house firing a cannon at Israel and it could be a house full of children, so it's a real dilemma; it's not black and white. But ... I'm calling on them to refuse, in order save our country from self-destruction.'

Meron Rappoport, a former editor at the Israeli daily Haaretz and military analyst, criticised the air force's methods for selecting targets: 'The impression is that information is sometimes lacking. One squadron leader admitted the evidence used to determine attacks on cars is sometimes circumstantial - meaning that if people are in an area after Israeli forces warned them to leave, the assumption is that those left behind must be linked to Hizbollah ... This is problematic, as aid agencies have said many people did not leave ... because they could not, or it was unsafe to travel on the roads thanks to Israel's aerial bombardment.'

These revelations raise further serious questions about the airstrike in Qana last Sunday that left dozens dead, which continues to arouse international outrage. From the outset, the Israeli military's version of events has been shrouded in ambiguity, with the army releasing a video it claims shows Katyusha rockets being fired from Qana, even though the video was dated two days earlier, and claiming that more than 150 rockets had been fired from the location.

Some IDF officials have continued to refer vaguely to Katyushas being launched 'near houses' in the village and to non-specific 'terrorist activity' inside the targeted building. In a statement on Thursday, the IDF said it the air force did not know there were civilians in what they believed was an empty building, yet paradoxically blamed Hizbollah for using those killed as 'human shields'.

Human rights groups have attacked the findings as illogical. Amnesty International described the investigation as a 'whitewash', saying Israeli intelligence must have been aware of the civilians'.

One Israeli commander from a different squadron called the Qana bombing a 'mistake' and was unable to explain the apparent contradiction in the IDF's position, although he insisted there would have been no deliberate targeting of civilians. He said he had seen the video of the attack, and admitted: 'Generally they [Hizbollah] are using human shields ... That specific building - I don't know the reason it was chosen as a target.'

Alex Stein over at has this:

On Friday, the IAF again excelled itself. 33 civilians were killed when four missiles hit a warehouse where farm workers were loading vegetables at Qaa, near the Lebanon-Syria border. In response, the IDF has issued a statement: “The IDF attacked from the air two structures in the Bekaa valley, on suspicions that weapons were being transported there.” There are two extreme responses to mass killings like this. On the left, the assumption is that the Israeli military targets civilians just for the hell of it, as part of a campaign to strike terror into the heart of the Lebanese population. On the right, it is assumed that there are rocket-launchers lurking at the heart of every locale struck, making civilian casualties the responsibility of Hizbollah.


I would like to suggest that there are three possibilities for understanding the reasons behind Qana and Qaa, each with different implications for how we should react – tragedy, murder and manslaughter.


The second explanation is murder. According to this theory, a pilot decides to deliberately target civilians. While this is the least likely explanation, it cannot be ruled out. In a famous psychology experiment, Stanley Milgram investigated obedience to authority. The ‘teacher’ had to teach the ‘learner’ a series of word pairs. If the ‘learner’ failed to give the correct answer, the ‘teacher’ was to give out a 45-volt electric shock. In reality, the shock was faked, but it was remarkable to note how willing the participants were to mete out the punishment. For our purposes, though, the most interesting aspect of the experiment was its variations. In this, Milgram discovered that compliance decreased exponentially to the distance of the victim [see blogowner's note at the bottom of this post]. The ‘teacher’ was less likely to use the shock if the victim was nearer to him.

I have heard it said that the camaraderie that manifests itself among soldiers worldwide, a camaraderie that often transcends borders, does not always extend to fighter pilots. One Israeli, for example, recalls taking part in manoeuvres in America in which armed servicemen from Arab countries also took part. One of these soldiers mistook the Israeli’s badge for that of an air-force pilot, and was hostile. When the Israeli informed him that he was actually a member of the Sayeret Matkal, the Israeli Special Forces, the Arab soldier was reassured. His reasoning was that he has full respect for soldiers on the ground that have to look their enemy in the eye. Air force pilots who bomb their targets from up in the sky, however, were nothing but cowards to him.

The point of these two anecdotes is to demonstrate that circumstances are much more primed for fighter pilots to commit atrocities than ground troops. Their distance from the action means they never truly see their target. In 2002 Dan Halutz, who was then IAF Commander in Chief, was asked what the feelings of a pilot were when they dropped a bomb. He replied “if you nevertheless want to know what I feel when I realise a bomb, I will tell you: I feel a light bump to the plane as a result of the bomb’s release. A second later it’s gone, and that’s all. That is what I feel.” Fighter pilots may as well be playing a video game. The possibility of murder most foul, then, cannot be ruled out.

A final explanation is manslaughter. Somewhere along the line a mistake is made. Someone selects the wrong target, or interprets the intelligence incorrectly. In the best of faith, a building is thought to be a Hizbollah stronghold, and it turns out to be purely civilian. It is not enough to justify this by the ‘pressures of war’. If I am driving my car, and I accidentally run someone over, I will be held responsible. Whether I meant it or not, or whether I was stressed at the time, is irrelevant. Being in the army does not absolve you from these responsibilities. If being a fighter pilot is such a prestigious position, all those who aspire to be one should be very clear that they will be held responsible for any mistakes they make. Be totally sure that the target you have selected or that you are bombing is the correct one. For if civilians unnecessarily die you will be held responsible.

Blogowner's note: where the author states: "In this, Milgram discovered that compliance decreased exponentially to the distance of the victim." he clearly has his wires crossed (as indicated by his follow-up sentence).
Here's how Wikipedia describes the "immediacy-variant" of the experiment:

"Milgram describes 19 variations of the experiment that he conducted in Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. In general, he found that when the immediacy of the victim was increased, compliance decreased, and when immediacy of the authority increased, compliance increased (Experiments 1–4). For instance, in one variation where participants received instructions from the experimenter only by telephone (Experiment 2), compliance decreased to 21 percent; interestingly, a number of participants deceived the experimenter by pretending to continue the experiment. In the variation where immediacy of the "learner" was closest, participants had to physically hold the learner's arm onto a shock plate, which decreased compliance. In this latter condition, 30 percent completed the experiment."


At 4:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apparently you don't mind the fact that Hizbulla uses civilians as shields. That they MOVE their launchers next to civilian inhabited buildings to try and protect them from the Israelis.

That they have built command and control facilities in Hospitals and Apartment buildings. That they lure people around their installations by building schools, hospitals, community centers and subsidise housing??

I would point out that the Geneva Convention blames Hizbulla for these deaths as they are responsible for the civilians being around their facilities.


Then there are the obvious manufactured atrocities such as Qana to consider.

Why aren't you condemning the vermin???


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