Israel's Fatal Negligence

Palestinians mourn over the bodies of the family killed in an Israeli strike, November 14, 2019 in Deir al-Balah

Eight members of one family, including five children and teenagers, were killed on Thursday night in an IDF strike in the southern Gaza Strip. After their death, it became clear that the building where the eight were staying was included in an outdated target database of the army, and it was attacked without prior checks for the presence of civilians at the site.

Later, the bombing was even justified by the Arabic branch of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, saying the target was the commander of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s rocket unit in the central Gaza Strip. The claim, which was supported by rumors on social media, later turned out to be false.

A few hours before the eight were killed, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood in the Knesset during a session on the escalation in the south in the wake of the killing of the commander of the northern brigade of the Islamic Jihad, Baha Abu al-Ata, and his wife, and quibbled over the definition of war crimes: “At the root of the matter of the law of warfare, what is the main principle that defines war crimes in the Geneva Convention: On one side there is the military, soldiers, and on the other side are civilians. It is possible to cross this line by mistake, but it is forbidden to do this deliberately. They attack civilians with premeditation and systematically – this is war crimes.”

There is no disagreement over the fact that intentionally attacking civilians is a war crime. But what about criminal negligence that in the end leads to the killing of eight innocent people? And what about a shameful attempt to cover this up by someone entrusted with providing reliable information on behalf of the army to the public? And because of the fact that warfare is not something sterile, we must make do with the term “inadvertently” to ignore a disaster of such scope?

Just how negligent the intelligence examination was can be understood from a neighbor of the family, who said the family had lived “in this region for over 20 years. They were known as simple people, who lived in shacks and made their living from herding sheep and [growing] a little bit of agricultural crops.”

Even if we start from the assumption that the IDF is not interested in attacking innocent people, the fact that uninvolved Palestinian civilians are killed as a matter of routine in IDF operations teaches that the army still regards human life as cheap and allows itself too flexible a scope of what it calls “collateral damage.” Damage that in the end results in eight deaths is not collateral at all, but just the opposite.

The disaster in Dir al-Balah must not be ignored. A serious and in-depth investigation of the incident is needed, conducted by external and independent bodies. In the end, the full responsibility must be placed on those involved in the chain of failures that led to the superfluous killing, as well as to the attempt to cover it up.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.