They call this avoiding casualties?

July 21, 2014

Independent columnist Mark Steel has some questions about Israel's claims that it is doing everything it can to avoid civilian deaths in its war on Gaza.

HERE'S A way to make life safer in the Middle East. As the Israelis insist they're "making huge efforts to avoid civilian casualties," we should improve the standard of "avoiding civilian casualties" lessons in the Israeli region.

Presumably, at the moment, a teacher says, "Can anyone give me one way of making a huge effort to avoid civilian casualties?" Then a student, eager to impress, says, "What about bombing a block of flats, sir?" Then the teacher says, "Excellent. But to make extra sure, you need to reduce the entire block to a heap of smoking rubble, and demolish the nearby hospital as well. I don't see how anyone could make a huger effort than that."

Their standards don't seem all that high on this issue, as I know several people who have had no training at all in avoiding civilian casualties, but still manage to go several weeks without blasting a hole through a school or dismembering 15 people in a family.

One of their methods was described by military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, who said: "We phone up our enemies and tell them that we are going to blow up the building." Some people, you feel, show TOO much compassion, and need to think of themselves sometimes for a change.

Wreckage in Gaza left behind by Israeli airstrikes
Wreckage in Gaza left behind by Israeli airstrikes

But this strategy raises other questions. For example, do the Israelis really have the phone numbers of everyone they bomb? Are their commanders sat in a control room, getting flustered as they give their orders to the pilot of an F-16 bomber, spluttering, "Hang on, I must have deleted his number? We can't explode him without a warning, so instead, I've got the number of the garden center up the road from there. I'll call them and you can obliterate that instead."

And what happens when someone answers? Does Lt. Col. Lerner ask them a series of security questions, such as, "What is your mother's maiden name?" to confirm that the Israel Defense Forces isn't warning the wrong person?

They have also, according to Lt. Col. Lerner, sent text messages to their targets, in an unprecedented display of chivalry. I should think that as you're crawling out of a heap of burning plasterboard that used to be your living room, it makes all the difference to hear a beep and see you've got a message saying: "Hi, set 4 gr8 boom 2 mins OMG too la8 soz xxx."

ANOTHER POINT made consistently by the Israeli government is that it's the Palestinian authorities, especially Hamas, that's to blame for the civilian casualties. This is because they "put civilians in places that are targets."

These targets seem to be any built-up area in Gaza, and it's certainly true that Palestinians bring this on themselves, by insisting on living in the built-up areas. If Hamas had any sense of responsibility, they'd ensure that most of the population lived in areas where no one lived, and then they wouldn't be in the target areas. But there's no helping some people is there?

One Israeli newspaper commented on how avoiding civilian casualties has become even harder, because of the trend of "terrorists working from home." You can understand terrorists wanting to work from home, as it's stressful enough organizing a Jihad without having to sit in traffic all morning to get to the basement where you film your videos, as well as the impact on carbon emissions--but this happens without a thought for the extra effort it causes to be blown up, as well as the cost of a text and a phone call.

The effort to avoid casualties has been so huge they've managed to keep the number of children they bombed on a beach down to four. The beach was obviously a legitimate military target, as surveillance photos must have showed a series of miniature castles along the beach, each constructed with alarming speed with a bucket and spade, creating fortresses that comprised a terrifying threat to the people of Israel, so what could any reasonable army do but kill some children there?

Similarly, it was reported that "Sahar al-Masri, 40, and her 14-year-old son, Ibrahim, were sitting beneath a shaded tree in the garden when two rockets struck. The second one killed them both."

That would be Hamas to blame for that, then, deliberately placing women and their children behind trees. Because that tree could one day become a desk on which militants plan their rocket launching deeds, especially now that they're working from home.

One global concern must be that anyone accused of murder adopts this strategy, so a maniac who goes berserk with a gun in America can say he made a huge effort to avoid casualties by sending a text first, and in any case, those schoolboys were probably put in that choir deliberately by Hamas.

Everyone agrees there's no solution without compromise, so maybe the international community should tell Israel it will accept they're trying to not kill civilians, as long as they accept they've not mastered that skill.

So from now on their lessons on avoiding casualties should be scrutinized by the Ofsted school inspectors, and if there isn't a marked improvement over the next few months, the Israel Defense Forces will be put down for special measures, with Benjamin Netanyahu replaced by some stern-looking ex-head of a school in Barnsley, and a dour man in a suit with a clipboard watching over every lieutenant colonel sending a text, until the results on slaughtering people show a considerable improvement.

First published in the Independent.

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