A senior Israeli army spokesman admitted Tuesday that Israel failed to minimize the number of Palestinian casualties during the recent deadly protests on the Gaza border, and that some were hit by mistake. He added that Hamas won the PR war by a "knockout."
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the international spokesman and head of social media for the Israel Defense Forces, made the comments during a Jewish community briefing organized by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA).
The officer fiercely defended the military’s response to the recent protests along the Gaza border, in which more than 100 Palestinians were killed and thousands more wounded, most of them by live fire.
Many commentators have said Hamas won a PR victory following the worldwide media coverage given to the bloody scenes, especially following Monday's juxtaposition of scenes on the Gaza border and the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
Conricus said Israel hasn't been able to explain the situation on the border well enough to the international media.
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“We haven’t been able to get that message out of how it is from our side, what we are defending – and the ‘winning picture’ overwhelmingly, by a knockout, unfortunately, have been the graphics from the Palestinian side. The amount of casualties has done us a tremendous disservice, unfortunately, and it has been very difficult to tell our story.”
Conricus acknowledged that the IDF had failed to minimize the number of casualties. However, he noted that “Hamas wanted the casualties. Hamas wanted people to die. Hamas wanted the pictures of the wounded and the overflowing hospitals ... and they had no problems sending the human shields forward. That is the sad reality of what we have been facing,” he said.
While blaming Hamas for sending “rioters” to the border area and using civilians as human shields, Conricus also conceded that the army snipers didn’t always hit their intended targets.
On the border, he said, the army deploys “combat soldiers, devoted, [who] understand what they are defending,” and are not “trigger-happy, undisciplined.” The soldiers "take orders from their superior officers" and are "executing their missions with discipline, with professionalism and using their weapons proportionately and as they are intented according to the rules of engagement," Conricus said.
“Now, have there been mistakes? Have there been bullets that missed their target and hit people that weren’t the target?" he continued. "Of course they have. But I can tell you that it is a chaotic environment on the border. There is tear gas. There is smoke from the tires. There is screaming. There is loudspeakers, there's the sirens from the ambulances and, most importantly, there's masses of rioters trying to tear down the fence, throwing rocks, throwing molotov cocktails, throwing grenades.”
Conricus said Israel could not afford to let the risk of letting the protesters break through the fence, for fear they might attack kibbutzim and communities that are mere hundreds of meters from the border.
“When the dilemma came to, on one hand, defending the Israeli border and Israeli communities immediately behind the border, or allowing the rioters through and having a lower amount of Palestinian casualties, there's no dilemma,” Conricus said.
“There is no dilemma for soldiers and commanders in the IDF," he added. "On the other hand, we have tried to be as accurate, as deliberate and as specific as possible, using only sniper rifles ... with standard NATO ammunition ... so we have done a lot to try and minimize casualties. Have we been successful at it? Unfortunately, no. ”
Conricus also said a number of IDF investigations into events on the Gaza border were opened in the past few weeks.
“We have a fact-finding mission ... with full authority to investigate and question and to flag events that the commander of that team thinks are problematic. And they also have the authority to recommend criminal investigations against Israeli officers and soldiers,” he explained. “That mechanism has been in place for more than four weeks. It has investigated a few events,” he added.
In response to this article, the IDF spokesperson's unit sent a clarification paragraph saying:
"The things partially quoted were taken out of context , distort the broader context in which they were said and do not reflect the spirit of discourse nor the stance of the IDF. This was a conversation with leaders of Jewish organizations in the U.S., a part of the call to action conducted by IDF spokesperson with different elements around the world."