The exercise of power is determined by thousands of interactions between the world of the powerful and that of the powerless, all the more so because these worlds are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both - Vaclav Havel
Friday, August 08, 2014
IDF soldier: Artillery fire in Gaza is like Russian roulette
During Operation Protective Edge
the IDF has shot thousands of artillery shells into Gaza, the impact location
of which are uncontrollable. As an ex-combat soldier in the artillery corps, I
feel obligated to explain how artillery fire on a civilian population can be
both dangerous and lethal.
By Idan Barir (translated by Hadas
Amid the stream of terrible reports from
Operation Protective Edge, two especially painful events captured my attention:
The bombardment of an UNRWA school in Jabaliya
that served as a shelter for families that had fled their homes due to the
fighting, which resulted in the deaths of at least 20 people and injured dozens
more; and the bombardment of a crowded market in Shejaiya
that killed 17 people and injured roughly 160.
In response to fierce criticism directed
at Israel following the school’s bombardment, Israeli spokespeople claimed, as
usual, that the strike was directed at an area from which shooting was directed
at IDF forces. Against reports that hundreds of the casualties in Gaza are
innocent civilians, Israel repeatedly argues that it is doing all it can to avoid
harming innocent civilians.
During my military service in the
Israeli army I served in the artillery corps, and thus learned a thing or two
about using shells. From the testimonies I have read and heard from the school
and the marketplace bombardment, I am not sure if these were mortar or
artillery shells that struck, but what’s clear from the photos and reports
published by the IDF is that there was massive use of artillery fire. Artillery
fire is statistical fire. It is the absolute opposite of precise sniper fire.
The power of the sniper lies in the accuracy that his weapon provides him,
while the power of the artillery shells being used in Gaza is based on
both the extent and possibility of causing damage (impact).
As someone who served as a
combat soldier in the IDF I feel obligated to explain what is behind the
numbers we hear about regarding the military operation in Gaza. A standard
high-explosive shell weighs about 40 kg and is nothing but a large
fragmentation grenade, which, at the time of explosion, is meant to kill
everyone within a 50-meter radius and injure people located in an additional
radius of 100 meters. It is impossible to aim the shells in an accurate manner
and they are not meant to hit specific targets. Different factors such as the
humidity of the air, the amount of heat in the barrel and the direction of the
wind may determine whether the shell falls 30 or even 100 meters from the spot
at which it was aimed. For that reason, a multi-barrel artillery battery fires
a barrage of shells in a certain direction knowing that statistics will work
their course, and that due to the scatter and the amount of damage caused by
many shells, the target will indeed be hit.
There’s no way of knowing who is hit.
As a result of the inaccuracy of this
weapon, the safety ranges used during war require us to aim at least 250 meters
away from our troops while they are behind cover. In 2006 when the IDF first
fired artillery shells into Gaza, I was surprised by the choice to use such an
inaccurate weapon in such a densely populated region.
At the time, firing guidelines were
changed so that the safety distance from Palestinian houses was reduced from
300 meters to 100 meters. Shortly thereafter, a shell hit the house of the Ghaben family in
Beit Lahiya, killing 9-year-old Hadil and injuring 12 of her family members. Following
the incident and several others related to artillery fire, human rights
organizations appealed to the Israeli High Court to stop this lethal practice.
In response, Israel stated that artillery fire would no longer be used in the
Only three years later, in Operation
Cast Lead, artillery fire was used once again, even more extensively than
before. Nowadays, since the launch of Operation Protective Edge, the IDF has
already shot thousands of artillery shells at different parts of the Gaza Strip.
The shells have caused unbearable damage to human life and tremendous
destruction to infrastructure, the full scale of which will only be revealed
when the fighting is over.
In some of the cases during
this round of violence, the IDF notified the civilian population that it was
going to attack a certain region and instructed people to evacuate the area.
Announcements such as these and firing on densely populated neighborhoods has
reportedly displaced one-third of Gaza’s population in recent weeks. The
families hit in the UNRWA school attack in Jabaliya are one such example.
I write this with great sorrow: great
sorrow for the civilians who were hurt on both sides, great sorrow for our
soldiers who died in the operation, and sorrow for the future of my country and
of the entire region. I know that right now soldiers like myself are firing
shells into Gaza, and they have no way of knowing who or what they’ll hit. The
statistics that this type of fire relies upon maintain that in a densely
populated region innocent civilians will be harmed. As a soldier and as an
Israeli citizen, I feel obligated to ask: Have we not crossed a line?
Today, when the number of Palestinian
casualties has climbed above 1,800 men, woman and children – most of whom are
innocent civilians – it is time to say in plane language: The use of a
statistical weapon is like a game of Russian roulette. Those who use artillery
weapons in Gaza cannot honestly say that they are doing all they can to avoid
harming innocent civilians.
Idan Barir served in the artillery corps
during the Second Intifada. Today he is a Ph.D candidate in history, and an
activist with Breaking the