Analysis

Israeli Intelligence Is Doomed to Err – Because It Doesn’t See Humans

One of the results of Israeli domination over the Palestinians and those who resist it is the attitude of Israelis toward facts, sociological truths and assessments voiced by Palestinians

Palestinians attend the funeral procession of members of the same family who were killed overnight in an Israeli airstrike, on November 14, 2019 in Deir al-Balah.
MAHMUD HAMS / AFP

A series of errors by the Israel Defense Forces led to the killing of eight members of the A-Sawarkah family in Gaza, including five children, aged 2, 3, 7, 12 and 13, while 12 other family members were injured, Haaretz’s Yaniv Kubovich revealed on Friday.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, four missiles from two fighter planes were fired at the family’s tin-shack homes on Thursday, shortly after midnight, creating four deep craters.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 49Haaretz

But a day before Friday’s expose, Haaretz’s Jack Khoury already published a report that negated the announcement by the Israeli military’s Arabic-language spokesperson that the target had been the Islamic Jihad commander of a rocket squadron in the center of the Strip named Rasmi Abu Malhous.

Khoury cited neighbors and acquaintances of the casualties who also said that the family had been living in the shacks that were bombed for a long time. But his information was considered valid – as often happens – only after the army acknowledged its “mistake.”

“This was a very simple, poor family... that lived off herding sheep and goats,” Khoury quoted a neighbor as saying. “Is that how the head of a rocket unit or a senior person in Islamic Jihad lives? Every child in Gaza knows the commanders and high-ranking militants have different conditions. Even if they live in secret, their children and families don’t live in such squalor.”

One of the victims of Israeli domination over Palestinians and those who resist its military and civilian aspects is the attitude of the Israelis toward facts, sociological truths and assessments voiced by the Palestinians. The general tendency is to see them as propaganda, not reporting on reality, even when the speakers are common people, researchers and activists and not boasting, masked spokesmen.

Only information (leaked or issued officially) distributed by official Israeli channels is considered credible by Israelis. It often ends up corroborating what Palestinians said earlier, but that fact is soon intentionally forgotten. What remain as solid information or intelligence assessments that must be taken into account are those released by Israel, the hegemonic party.

That hierarchy is typical of any situation of power relations and subjugation: The information of the subjugated is minimized, dismissed and made to disappear. This situation is not unique to Israeli-Palestinian relations. An essential part of the feminist struggle was and remained the demand for the facts, analyses and insights voiced by women, as individuals and as a collective, to be taken seriously.

The automatic hierarchization of information and insights according to the identity of their source not only shapes the priorities of the Israeli media. It also distorts the way that both civil and military Israeli institutions view reality.

“The IDF still doesn’t understand why the family was in the compound,” an Israeli defense official who spoke on conditions of anonymity told Kubovich. All of the facts known about the Gaza Strip were forgotten here: the housing shortage, desperate poverty, a population density that is among the highest in the world. All this explains why people were “in the compound.”

“Compound” is a term used by bureaucrats and military commanders — who are equipped with aerial images that at high resolution would have shown the tin shacks. Had the anonymous defense official said “tin shacks,” he would have exposed the absurdity of using fighter jets and smart bombs to hit these miserable structures, even had they been empty.

Both the strike itself and the army’s attitude to it show the poverty of the precise intelligence of which Israel is so proud, and not only because this time it turned out that the IDF didn’t even bother re-examining its old targets bank before issuing the order to bomb them.

This poor intelligence primarily stems from the fact that people are forgotten and the historical and sociological contexts of every military flare-up are overlooked. This poverty is incorrigible. Military Intelligence, like the military in general, is meant to serve Israeli politics goals, to sever the Gaza Strip from the enclaves of the West Bank and eliminate the possibility of a Palestinian state.

As a result, Israeli intelligence must categorize the Palestinians in a binary manner – military targets or non-military targets, arrest targets or non-arrest targets, instigating or submissive – and not as human beings and as a nation. That is the fundamental failure, in intelligence and beyond. It feeds the refusal of the majority of Israelis to listen to the lucid Palestinian political messages about the natural, human refusal to living under our foreign rule.

The synchronization between reality (civilians who were killed) and the IDF’s admission of its narrow intelligence failure was very swift this time. In many instances in the past 20 years – since the beginning of the lethal suppression of the demonstrations of the second intifada and in each of the lethal rounds of violence since – the IDF’s admission of “error” comes either late or doesn’t come at all.

Thousands of Palestinian civilians have been killed or wounded by such “errors,” not to mention the thousands of others who were killed or wounded intentionally after the IDF decided that it is proportionate to bomb homes with all of their residents inside because one of them was classified as a member of a Palestinian military organization, or that it’s proportionate to fire at demonstrators with live ammunition.

In any case, the IDF is merciful and understanding to those who make the errors. One example of that is an airstrike ordered by then-Givati Brigade commander Col. Ilan Malka during Operation Cast Lead in 2009, in which 21 members of the Samouni family were killed and dozens more were wounded.

Malka had interpreted the wooden boards the family members had gathered for a fire to heat water as rocket propelled grenades and ordered the shelling of the home, a day after his soldiers had ordered neighborhood residents to stay inside it. Malka is now a chief superintendent in the Israel Prison Service, half of whose inmates are Palestinian.

Thursday’s intelligence error was accompanied by a comic failure on the part of the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit Arabic-language division. Col. Avichay Adraee, the division’s head, posted an anonymous, false report from social media accounts (as the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit later explained), and presented it as credible intelligence about the supposed identity of the people who were targeted. Before Adraee, some anonymous Israeli individual or organization had an interest – not innocent at all – in spreading fake news about the strike and its target. The IDF spokesperson who reposted it showed himself to be a cheap propaganda pawn, which didn’t come as a surprise for Palestinian journalists, who viewed him as such long ago.