Posts Tagged ‘Amira Hass’

Amira Haas: Who will be punished for killing civilians in the Gaza war?

June 22, 2010

The decision to indict Staff Sgt. S. for killing two women during last year’s war in Gaza has caused a stir. But his lawyer will rightly ask, Why him, and not all the others who killed civilians?

By Amira Hass, Haaretz/Israel, June 21, 2010

Why was Staff Sgt. S., out of all the Israel Defense Forces’ soldiers and officers, chosen to stand trial for killing two women in the Gaza Strip on January 4, 2009, the first day of Israel’s ground incursion there? The IDF killed 34 armed men that same day. Was S. chosen because he was the only one who killed civilians?

Gaza war A cloud of smoke billows over Gaza after an Israel Defense Forces strike during the 2009 war.
Photo by: AP / Archive

Should his lawyer argue that he is being scapegoated, he can safely rely on the following statistics: The IDF also killed 80 other civilians that day  by close-range shooting, artillery fire, aerial fire and naval fire. Among them were six women and 29 children under the age of 16. Just go to B’Tselem’s website and read the list: a 7-year-old boy, a 1-year-old girl, another 1-year-old girl, a 3-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl.

B’Tselem is careful to differentiate between Palestinians who “took part in the hostilities” and Palestinians who “did not take part in the hostilities.” Its list of fatalities states: “Farah Amar Fuad al-Hilu, 1-year-old resident of Gaza City, killed on 04.01.2009 in Gaza City, by live ammunition. Did not participate in hostilities. Additional information: Killed while she fled from her house with her family after her grandfather (Fuad al-Hilu, 62) was shot by soldiers who entered the house.” The grandfather also did not participate in hostilities.

Or perhaps S. was chosen because Riyeh Abu Hajaj, 64, and Majda Abu Hajaj, 37, a mother and daughter, were the only ones killed while carrying a white flag that January 4? No. Matar, 17, and Mohammed, 16, were also killed. They were shot from an IDF position in a nearby house as they pushed a cart carrying the wounded and dead of the Abu Halima family, who were hit by a white phosphorous bomb that penetrated their home in northern
Beit Lahiya. Five members of the family were killed on the spot, including a 1-year-old girl. Another young woman would die of her injuries a few weeks later.

The news that Staff Sgt. S. would stand trial created something of a stir  for a day. The military advocate general was praised. So was B’Tselem, and rightly so, for giving the army testimony about the Abu Hajaj killings that its field investigators, Palestinian residents of Gaza, had gathered. Palestinian organizations gathered similar
material, while Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch both published detailed reports about slain civilians. Everything is accessible on their websites. But we in Israel do not believe the gentiles, so let us focus only on B’Tselem.

B’Tselem also gave the army dozens of statements about the killing of other civilians who “did not take part in the hostilities.” So why was Staff Sgt. S. chosen, rather than any of the others? Did someone from his unit violate the code of solidarity among soldiers for the sake of a higher code? This is indeed most likely to happen
in the ground forces: All the witnesses who spoke to Breaking the Silence activists  i.e., those who were shaken by something that happened  came from the ground troops; they were the ones who saw the destruction, and the human beings, with their own eyes.

“The amount of destruction there was incomprehensible,” said one soldier. “You go through the neighborhoods there and you can’t identify anything. No stone is left unturned. You see rows of fields, hothouses, orchards, and it’s all in ruins. Everything is completely destroyed. You see a pink room with a poster of Barbie, and a shell that went through a meter and a half below it.”

But the breakdown of casualties shows that those killed by direct fire  where the soldier who shoots sees those he is shooting with his own eyes  are a tiny minority. At the request of Haaretz, the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza analyzed the breakdown of casualties according to the type of fire. It found that 80 were killed by rifle fire, 13 by machine guns and 134 by artillery fire. It is unclear whether the 11 killed by flechette shells (shells filled with metal darts) are or are not included in the latter figure.

Undoubtedly, these are estimates, with margins of error. Around 1,400 Palestinians were killed in Operation Cast Lead; at least 1,000  most of them civilians  were killed from the air, by bombs dropped from planes or missiles fired from other airborne
vehicles. To the soldiers responsible for the launches, they looked like characters prancing around on a computer screen.

B’Tselem and Haaretz, as well as the gentile organizations that need not be considered, all documented incidents of aerial killing. The IDF acknowledged two errors (the killing of 22 members of the a-Diya family in Zeitun with a single bomb, and the killing of seven people who were removing oxygen tanks from a metalworking shop, which on the computer screens looked like Grad missiles).

“One characteristic of the recent IDF attack on Gaza is the large number of families that lost many members at one stroke, most of them in their homes, during Israeli bombings: Ba’alousha, Bannar, Sultan, Abu Halima, Salha, Barbakh, Shurrab, Abu Eisha,
Ghayan, al-Najjar, Abed-Rabo, Azzam, Jebara, El Astel, Haddad, Quran, Nasser, al-Alul, Dib, Samouni,” Haaretz wrote in February 2009. Are there no sergeants involved in those cases who ought to be investigated? Or is it that in these cases, an investigation would
have to target people of higher rank than a mere staff sergeant?

The disclosure that Staff Sgt. S. will be tried created something of a stir. The military advocate general won praise. But S.’s attorney will rightly ask: Out of all the testimonies and reports, he is the only one you found?

And what of the commanders’ attitudes, as described by those interviewed by Breaking the Silence: “When the company commander and the battalion commander tell you ‘yalla,
shoot,’ soldiers will not restrain themselves. They wait for this day  to have the fun of shooting and feeling the power in your hands.” What of the battalion commander’s speech “the night before the ground incursion”: “He said that it’s not going to be easy.
He defined the goals of the operation: 2,000 dead terrorists.”

And if this was the operation’s objective, perhaps we should investigate the supreme commander  Defense Minister Ehud Barak  about the gap between the objective and the result?

Family who lost 29 members in Gaza War: We envy the dead

October 19, 2009

By Amira Hass, Haaretz/Israel, Oct 18, 2009

Richard Goldstone visited the Gaza City neighborhood of Zaytoun in late June to tour the compound of the extended Samouni family, the subject of coverage here in recent weeks (“‘I fed him like a baby bird,'” September 17; “Death in the Samouni compound,” September 25). Twenty-nine members of the family, all of them civilians, were killed in the Israel Defense Force’s winter assault – 21 during the shelling of a house where IDF soldiers had gathered some 100 members of the family a day earlier.

Continues >>

Gazans: IDF used us as ‘human shields’ during offensive

February 21, 2009

By Amira Hass | Haaretz, Israel, Feb 20, 2009
GAZA – The question “Who is it?” was answered with: “The Israel Defense Forces.” Majdi Abed Rabbo, 39, who is a Palestinian Authority (Ramallah) employee and a member of its intelligence apparatus, went down to open the door. Standing there was the son of his neighbors, Mahmoud Daher, and behind him a soldier whose rifle was jammed into Daher’s back. The soldier pushed Daher aside and aimed the rifle at Abed Rabbo.

“He ordered me to pull down my pants. I pulled them down. He demanded that I raise my shirt. I raised it. That I turn around. I turned around,” Abed Rabbo related. And then the room filled up with soldiers. “Twelve, or something like that.”

This was in the morning of Monday, January 5, 2009, about 40 hours after the start of the Israeli ground offensive in Gaza.

The soldiers had already taken over Daher’s house on Sunday evening, located in I’zbet Abed Rabbo, an eastern neighborhood of Jabaliya city. First they gathered the family on the ground floor. Gunfire rang out around the house. Then they moved the family up to the first floor. The family wondered why the soldiers had taken them upstairs, to the cold, uncomfortable room – parents, children, two infants and an elderly mother. But they could not refuse, and they did not yet know that the move upstairs brought them closer to the range of fire. Only later did they learn about the three fighters from Iz al-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’ military wing, positioned in the empty house to the northeast of them. The regular occupants of the house, owned by their neighbor Abu Hatem, had long since gone abroad. Abed Rabbo’s tall house stood next to Abu Hatem’s narrow, empty one.

At about 7 A.M. on Monday, the soldiers took Shafiq Daher – a 53-year-old financial manager who gets his salary from the PA in Ramallah – as well as Mahmoud and two other sons from their home, and then separated them from each other.

The soldiers took the elder Daher to the house of his neighbor to the east, Jaber Zeydan. The door had already been broken, and the neighbors were huddled in one room. The search here, as in the four other homes Daher was forced to enter that day, was conducted in the same way: He entered first, with the soldiers behind him. One soldier placed his rifle on Daher’s right shoulder, and pressed down on his left shoulder. The members of the Zeydan family were taken into the adjacent house, owned by Tawfiq Katari. The hands of all the men, including boys of 14 and 16, were tied, some behind the back, some in front.

Protecting soldiers

The soldiers also took over Katari’s house on Sunday night, January 4. The Kataris, too, were rounded up and taken to the ground floor. There was shooting all around. The soldiers took up positions on one of the upper floors and turned the northeast window, close to the Abu Hatem home, into a firing position. “There was one nice soldier who told us that where we were sitting was dangerous and moved us next to an inner wall,” one of the women related.

At about 9 A.M. on Monday, the soldiers took Katari’s son Jamal from the house. During the next four days Jamal accompanied the soldiers and performed several tasks. He was made to enter what he estimates were 10 houses, going in first and calling on the occupants to come downstairs. He preceded the huge army bulldozer that forced its way through the neighborhood, ripping up the streets. “I am afraid the soldiers will shoot me,” he told a soldier, who replied: “Don’t be afraid.”

In the meantime, that same Monday morning, Shafiq Daher, too, was continuing his mission of protecting Israel Defense Forces soldiers. The second house he was made to check was also empty. It belonged to the Al-Ajarmi family. Daher did not know that his two oldest sons were accompanying other groups of soldiers, and were being forced to smash holes in the walls of houses using sledgehammers. Nor did he know that at that very moment, a soldier was jamming his rifle into the back of his third son, standing at the door of Abed Rabbo’s home.

Abed Rabbo himself, after being forced to smash a hole in the wall that separated his roof from his neighbors’ roof and to accompany the soldiers inside, was made to enter several houses near the mosque, break into a car and then go into the Zeydan house. He was then taken to the Katari family’s home, where he met Shafiq Daher and told him that his son was all right. At about 2 P.M., a soldier took him outside, pointed to the Abu Hatem house and said, according to Abed Rabbo’s testimony: “There were armed people in that house. We killed them. Take off their clothes and take their weapons.” At first he refused and said that was not his job. “Obey orders,” he was told.

Dead or alive?

Abbed Rabbo went to the Abu Hatem house, shouting in Arabic that he was the owner. In the house, he found three very much alive members of Iz al-Din al-Qassam. They told him to leave and threatened him not to come back, “because we will shoot you.” He returned to the soldiers, who made him undress and turn around, and then told them that the three were alive. The officer on hand asked to see his ID card and discovered that Abed Rabbo was a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ intelligence. He was handcuffed and moved aside. He heard shooting. Then he was again sent to check the Abu Hatem house, after being told the three militants were now dead; he found one wounded and the others “all right.” One of them said: “Tell the officer that if he is a man, he can come up here himself.”

The soldiers didn’t like what they heard. One of them cursed, said Abed Rabbo, who was handcuffed again and made to wait. It began to grow dark when he heard a helicopter approaching, followed by the sound of a missile exploding. One of the soldiers said: Now we have killed them, with a missile. Come over here. Abed Rabbo complied and saw, with horror, that the missile had struck his house.

He told the soldier that the missile had missed. “Are you majnoun [nuts]?” the soldier asked him. “No,” Abed Rabbo replied. “The missile hit my house.”

There was a huge mess: Water was bursting out of pipes, pieces of concrete were lying all over. And all around the shooting continued unabated, interspersed with the sounds of many explosions and helicopters flying overhead.

At about midnight, between Monday and Tuesday, Abed Rabbo was forced to go for a third time, to ascertain whether the three Hamas militants were dead. The soldiers lit the way for him. He found two of the gunmen, still alive, but buried under the rubble; the third was still holding his weapon. Abed Rabbo returned to the soldiers, stripped down again and repeated that the three were alive.

“Are you majnoun?” they demanded.

“No, I am not majnoun, I am telling you what I saw,” he replied. Hungry, thirsty and with a throbbing headache, Abbed Rabbo was taken back to the Katari house.

At 6:30 A.M. he was brought out, in front of what was once his house. Soldiers brought a megaphone, he recalled later, and started to shout: “Ya, armed people, you have 15 minutes to turn yourselves in. Come down, remove your clothes, the Red Cross is here, the journalists are here, we will treat the wounded men.”

The soldiers then sent a dog into the house. One of the Hamas fighters shot and killed it. The soldiers again started calling on them to come out. There was no reply. “And then a bulldozer arrived and started to demolish my house, right before my eyes.” Abed Rabbo was sent into the Katari house as the bulldozer started to wreck Abu Hatem’s house. He heard sporadic gunfire shots. When he emerged, two hours later, he found two of the armed men “sprawled on the demolished concrete, dead.” He did not see the third man.

“What kind of army is this, which can’t break into one house where there are armed men?” Abed Rabbo asked himself.

The IDF responds

Haaretz spoke with eight residents of I’zbet Abed Rabbo neighborhood, who testified that they were made to accompany IDF soldiers on missions involving breaking into and searching houses – not to mention the family members who remained in the houses the army took over, which were used as firing positions. The eight estimated that about 20 local people were made to carry out “escort and protection” missions of various kinds, as described here, between January 5 and January 12.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit stated in response: “The IDF is a moral army and its soldiers operate according to the spirit and values of the IDF, and we suggest a thorough examination of the allegations of Palestinian elements with vested interests. The IDF troops were instructed unequivocally not to make use of the civilian population within the combat framework for any purpose whatsoever, certainly not as ‘human shields.’

“Following an examination with the commanders of the forces that were in the area in question, no evidence was found of the cases mentioned. Anyone who tries to accuse the IDF of actions of this kind creates a mistaken and misleading impression of the IDF and its fighters, who operate according to moral criteria and international law.”


November 27, 2008

Image by David, November 27, 2008This is Gaza
Amira Hass

If it`s not the power getting cut, leaving entire neighborhoods in darkness, then it`s the water not reaching the top floors or the cooking gas running out. If you have an electric generator, some small part of it is bound to be broken and unfixable, because even before the hermetic three-week siege, Israel prohibited bringing in any spare parts for cars, machines and household electric appliances.

And if you somehow manage to find the money for a generator that was smuggled through the tunnels (its price has doubled or tripled since last month), it`s at the expense of buying a heater (not electric, of course), English lessons, clothes for the children and visits to the doctor.

This is Gaza in November 2008. Just as Gaza is the emptying of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency storehouses and the farmers who sowed and watered, but cannot market, their tomatoes, guavas and strawberries out of the Gaza Strip because Israel forbids it, it is also the calmness with which people receive the sudden darkness and the jokes that there is not much food in the refrigerator to spoil anyway.

Gaza is the ability to tell jokes in any situation, and the burning insult of having no running water for three or four days. And yet, the children go clean and neat to school.

Gaza is the long Nasser Street which has been blocked to traffic for over a year. Its asphalt is torn out and it is riddled with potholes and mounds of sand. When Israel forbade bringing any construction materials and raw materials into the strip, the renovation work stopped on this thoroughfare, the main access to three hospitals, which are always in danger of equipment failure if some part breaks down.

But Gaza is also parents leaving their children alone at home, without fear, or letting them go to a playground far from home, or go by themselves to their grandmother in the Jabaliya refugee camp (in the streets parallel to Nasser Street).

Gaza is reports of policemen attacking Fatah supporters at a university, or the police closing a restaurant for one night because its owners didn`t report in advance about a symposium that was held in the restaurant`s hall, in which Hamas speakers participated and was organized by a research center associated with Ramallah authorities.

Gaza is the teacher who forces school girls to cover their heads, although senior officials assert that this is not the education ministry`s policy. It is exaggerations and false rumors, and it is also the Fatah detainees` report that cameras were installed in the interrogation room to ensure that the interrogators act within the boundaries of the law. It is the surprise when `Hamas` police restore stolen property, even before it has been reported stolen.

Gaza is the feeling among Fatah supporters that the power has been stolen from them, and their fear of the security apparatus, as it is Hamas` self confidence. It is the comparisons made with the intimidation methods in Yasser Arafat`s era and exchanging information about the suppression of Hamas activity in the West Bank.

Gaza is the anger of the entire public, including Fatah members, for what appears to be Ramallah`s deliberate neglect and indifference toward the strip and its residents` fate.

Gaza is those dreaming to leave it, and those who left years ago for school and work and miss it. Gaza is the people who cannot return to their families here, because even if they could find a crack and enter through the border crossings blocked by Israel, they would remain imprisoned here, and would have to renounce their freedom of movement and choice completely.

Everything is so intense here.

`We measure our lives in minutes, not in days or weeks,` a Fatah man said. His life has been turned upside down since June 2007, and is turned upside down every day due to the political rupture. He was referring to Fatah men like himself, convinced that Hamas people in the West Bank also `measure their lives in minutes.`

But his description suits everyone. The changes are so sudden, violent, swift and frequent that the individual has no control over them – whether it is high politics or laundry times.

Gaza is people`s constant attempt to cling to a normal life, although Israel foists on them abnormal terms of imprisonment, isolation from the rest of the world and deterioration to a state of humiliating dependence on international charity programs.


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