Gaza: weapons that maximize civilian deaths

The death toll in Gaza has shot up since Israel launched its ground assault on Thursday, with at least 565 Palestinians and 25 Israeli soldiers now reported dead. Yesterday’s Israeli assault on the suburb of Shujaeya killed at least 72 people, most of whom were women, children, and old men, and so they were probably among the civilian population that Israel claims it doesn’t want to kill. But the funny thing about claiming that you want to minimize civilian casualties is that sometimes your choice of weapon really gives away the game. The Palestinian Center for Human Rights has found evidence that the IDF is using flechette shells in its attack on Gaza, and the IDF has not disputed it. These are not the kind of weapons you use against a densely populated urban area when you’re trying to minimize civilian casualties.

Via The Guardian, a photo of darts from a flechette round that was allegedly used by Israeli forces in Gaza last week

Flechette shells are designed to explode in midair and spray small metal darts out over a wide area. They are indiscriminate anti-personnel weapons designed for use against massed formations of infantry, and when you shoot them at a city full of people, most of whom are innocent civilians rather than the terrorists you claim to be targeting, chances are you’re going to hit a lot more civilians than terrorists.

Israel’s stated mission in Gaza has crept from retaliating for the murder of the three Jewish teenagers in Hebron to retaliating for Hamas rocket attacks to closing down the massive network of tunnels that Hamas has dug under Gaza, though their actual mission, breaking up the Palestinian unity government, has remained unchanged. Meanwhile, 3600 Gazans have been wounded and 85,000 are now displaced in addition to the 570 who have been killed. “Diplomacy,” which when it involves the Palestinians means “a bunch of people talking to everybody except the Palestinians about how to get the Palestinians to stop fighting,” is ongoing. John Kerry is in Cairo talking to…somebody, the Egyptians I guess despite the fact that Hamas and Egypt don’t like each other that way anymore. Ban Ki-Moon is traveling around the Middle East, also talking to people who aren’t Palestinian. Nobody seems to be spending any time convincing the Israeli government that it’s, well, doing exactly what Hamas wants it to do and killing a whole bunch of innocent people while doing it.

But the IDF is trying real hard not to kill those innocent people, don’t you know. Just ask them. But try not to be anywhere near an exploding flechette shell when you do. I think I’m in agreement with Ed from Gin and Tacos; if you’re really convinced of the righteousness of your cause, then you don’t need to pay hours of lip service to how much you care about protecting civilians, or to how your opponent is callously using people as human shields by, um, having them stay in their own homes, or to play logic games to redefine people as terrorists until proven innocent. If your cause can’t justify the inevitable loss of civilian life, then maybe it’s not a cause worth going to war over.

For the Palestinians, of course, beatings will continue until morale improves. If you’re of a mind and a situation where you’d consider giving to help alleviate the situation, the blog Qifa Nabki (a great read in general, especially if you’re interested in Lebanon) has a list of charities.

4 thoughts on “Gaza: weapons that maximize civilian deaths

  1. First off – what is happening in Gaza is truly a tragedy. Innocent civilians are being killed and the suffering can’t be summed up by words. But – and you knew a “but” was coming, there are always two sides to the coin. I’m not going to try and convince you that the IDF is the most moral army in the world because it isn’t – it’s as moral as any other other army in the world, and probably a bit more than eastern armies such as the Russian and Chinese armies. That is precisely why Israel feels the need to prove its righteousness time and again – because of the claims that the IDF is the most immoral military in the world.
    I was and still am an IDF soldier. I can safely say that while there are tragic accidents in which innocent children and women are killed – as a whole – the IDF tries as much as it can to minimize these accidents. War is a tragedy for all sides involved. Let us hope this one ends as soon as possible.

    1. Talking about the “morality” of an army is a little funny, though I agree with you that the IDF is pretty much on par with any other one in that respect. Armies do a job, hopefully at the direction of a civilian government, and it’s really the government’s job to figure out what conflicts are moral or not. In this case, the IDF is being used by a government that has no desire, no ability really given the hard-right coalition Netanyahu has built, to constructively engage in talks with the Palestinians, so periodically it needs to roll the soldiers out to “mow the lawn” because Rockets, or Tunnels, even though repeated previous stompings haven’t fixed either of those problems. Why keep doing it? Because periodically stomping on Gaza keeps any kind of serious opposition from developing there and channels popular support toward Hamas, which substitutes self-destructive violence for constructive leadership. Hamas’s violence in turn supports the Israeli hard-right by terrifying the Israeli populace into voting for them. Lather, rinse, repeat. The fact is, Netanyahu and Meshal need each other, and the only victims are a thousand or so Gazans every couple of years.

      That said, “accident” is also a funny thing. Dropping ordinance on a group of kids playing soccer on a beach might be an “accident,” but it’s the kind of accident that would be rightly condemned if, say, an American drone had been responsible for it. Dropping flechettes on a populated urban center filled almost entirely with civilians (the bad guys are usually in the tunnels, apparently) is not an “accident,” it’s a tactic, and it’s one that’s hard to justify as anything other than an effort to maximize civilian casualties. All the arguments about whether “knocking on the roof” and/or calling people before bombing them is really humanitarian go out the window when it turns out that this kind of stuff is being dropped on Gaza. Again, this isn’t to single out the IDF as particularly immoral, because all armies commit atrocities in war time. What amplifies it in the case of Gaza is the political failure that leads to this Groundhog Day cycle, plus the constant blockade that never really gives the people in Gaza a chance to live a normal life.

      1. I like your look on how both sides need each other. Natanyahu and Meshal. Extremism feeds itself it seems. In that aspect, Hamas definitely played into Netanyahu’s hands (I don’t believe the abduction of the three boys was planned by the top-echelons though). The subject of flechettes was of special interest to me during my studies since I used them in south Lebanon against Hezbollah. There, we fought a guerrilla war under very different circumstances, in the bush, and mistakes were hardly made. In urban surroundings, like in Gaza, using flechettes is highly controversial. The Supreme Court in Israel was petitioned a number of times on the grounds that this specific weapon is against international war. Needless to say, this is a touchy issue. I have to say though, that Hamas is doing a heck of a job making it even more problematic. Firing from within homes and even mosques, schools and hospitals (not just tunnels) turned innocent civilians into probable casualties. Killing civilians is not Israel’s tactic, but Hamas’. This is the sad reality Palestinians in Gaza have to face. I deal with these issues in my blog:

      2. It still hasn’t been proven that Hamas was actually behind the kidnapping, and you have to define “Hamas” at any rate. The Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades don’t always align with the political leadership, kind of like how the militant elements of the IRA didn’t always coordinate with Sinn Fein, and there are other groups that are only superficially allied with Hamas that also could have been the culprits. Where Hamas really gave Netanyahu what he wanted was in the decision to restart the rocket attacks. That was incredibly dumb if you assume that Hamas’s leadership cares about the population of Gaza, which I grant you there’s not much evidence that they do.

        Flechettes are very effective at what you were using them for, slashing through vegetation to kill light infantry. They’re also very good at killing massed groups of people, as in a refugee camp or an urban area, and I pretty much agree with B’Tselem that their use in those situations is unjustified. It doesn’t suggest a strong desire to minimize civilian casualties.

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