Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Findings From Gaza

The IDF today presented the findings from its investigations of the Gaza operation. I've looked for the reports themselves, but if they've been put online I can't find them - and it's not likely they'd have been put online in the first place, if you think about it. And if you don't, I'll come to it in a moment. Until then, however, bear in mind that none of the people who will be making utterances about this subject will have read the reports themselves (which are anyway in Hebrew). Like myself, they'll all be responding to other reports in the media. As an historian who is required to relate to documents not hearsay, I recognize the problem.

The investigations themselves seem to have been serious and unhurried. The allegation in the Guardian, say, that Israel wasn't even investigating, seems to have been disproved.

The findings themselves seem about as acceptable as such things can be. The investigators didn't find a single case where IDF troops consciously shot civilians with the intent to kill. So much for that allegation, published in Haaretz and quoted the world over. Which is important, because the entire case for war crimes is severely undermined if there was no intent. Of course, the myriads of hypocrites who care about the laws of war only if they can be used against Israel will be unmoved by the fact that there's no legal case to answer - the folks in Norway who are trying to indict Olmert, Livni, Barak and others, for example.

The findings didn't dispute that Palestinian civilians were killed by the hundreds - an unknowable number between 295 and 457, out of 1,157. In the single worst incident, 21 members of the al-Dahiyeh family in Zeitun were killed when their house was rocketed instead of the intended target nearby. That's what war is about, and if there was no intention to hit civilians, and measures were made not to hit them - successful in thousands of cases and unsuccessful in dozens - it's hard to see where the criminality lies.

The White Phosphorous allegations seem to have been refuted: what use was made of such ordinance was in accordance with international law, say the investigators, and on the 7th of January an order was sent to the units to desist completely from using such shells as the PR damage was felt to be greater than the value of using them.

So much for the facts. Now to the discussion about them.

Israeli Left-wing organizations who haven't read the reports any more than I have are loudly rejecting the findings. If they were serious they would at least have waited a day or to to give appearance they'd read the reports, assuming the army will grant such access, but their actions demonstrate they're not serious. Which is regrettable, because the army - like any organization in the democratic world - is more likely to be careful with what it says if knowledgeable skeptics will be reading its reports and responding to them. That's why democracy is ultimately such a fine system. If, sometime down the line, people with access to the findings begin to tell us what faults they've found in them, I'll be listening, and so will our media, which never misses an opportunity to bash the powers that be and especially the politicians (remember the aftermath of the war in Lebanon in 2006?). But that will be next week, or next month. Not 3 minutes after the findings are first cited.

Some of the critics, in Israel and of course everywhere else, reject the findings automatically because they're the findings of the IDF. Case closed. To which there are a number of responses. One, if the IDF is automatically regarded as lying, there isn't much to discuss, is there. That's an ideological position, not a rational statement. Second, if it's facts you're interested in, there isn't much choice but to listen to the IDF. The people doing the shooting, after all, were Israeli soldiers and Hamas; if it's the Israelis you're trying to convict, there isn't much choice but to ask them what they were doing, what they thought they were doing, what their orders where, what information they had, what conditions they were in when they acted, and myriads of additional very specific questions.

Which brings us to the matter of IDF investigators versus international ones. The assumption of international impartiality in matters of Israel is, of course, so vacuous as to be comic. Yet even if, against decades of experience, it were possible to appoint a commission of Martians to investigate the matter impartially, what sovereign country would allow foreigners free run of its military to carry out the investigation? In order to reach meaningful results, you'd have to know almost everything about the inner workings of the IDF - a condition no army would allow, and certainly not one still at war. The demand that Israel enable foreigners to investigate the minutiae of its army's combat behavior is a demand that it weaken itself dramatically; an Israeli politician who would allow such a thing would rightfully be drummed out of town.

Which brings me to the comparison with any other army. I don't claim to know everything, and am willing to be corrected - as you all know, I don't block comments. So far as I know, however, most armies never have investigations of the sort the IDF just had, in which each and every incident of a war is investigated; painstaking efforts are made to name every single person killed; and at the end of the process, the results are partially made public, while being fully open to parliamentary oversight which includes representatives of the opposition. I'll retract this statement if anyone shows me this is actually standard practice; until then: Israel is more meticulous in investigating its failures than any other army in the world.

The Guardian editorial said Israel has a case to answer? Here's the answer. Now let's see the Guardian admit it, or even acknowledge its existence.


Anonymous said...

My country, the US, certainly hasn't investigated the civilian casualties it has caused in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. It doesn't even bother to try to count them.

Could you imagine the reaction here if anyone even suggested there should be an international inquiry?


Anonymous said...

What a headline - even if the following text should be fair that headline kills it
Israel backs down over white phosphorus

I wish all those writers (naseweise Besserwisser - nosewise betterknowers) should for once just for once get in a life threatening situation where they have to take a decision about enhancing their chances of survival or playing by the rules invented in armchairs (being driven around as an embed protected like a precious diva does not count)

Dimitry said...

Neither I expect anybody in the western media to pick up on disparities in the PCHR casualty counts