The Deaths Behind the Lie

More important than the exact type of munitions used by the IDF, is the lethal result. Of what importance is it whether the air force commander fails to tell the truth if he continues to be the chief proponent of the failed policy of targeted assassinations.

It makes no difference to Mohammed Tabaza whether the air force commander, Major General Dan Halutz, lied or didn't lie to Israel's military correspondents. For the past month, Tabaza's son, Mahmoud, who is 14, has been fighting for his life. The boy's body was ripped open by dozens of metal fragments, some of which penetrated his internal organs and tore them apart. One of his legs was shattered and he was also wounded in the head.

It's not easy to look at the wounded boy, his body trembling, his face a pallid yellow, as he lies in bed, crying and begging for his father's help. His father says it's as though pieces of rice made of metal were hurled at the boy. An Israeli physician who showed x-rays of the boy to his colleagues at Sheba Medical Center, Tel Hashomer, said they were convinced he was the victim of flying nails such as suicide bombers unleash when they blow themselves up.

Mahmoud Tabaza was wounded next to his house in the Nusseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in the course of a targeted assassination mounted by the Israel Air Force. His brother, Abdul Halim, a 23-year-old economics student, was killed in the operation. Another two brothers, including 9-year-old Mustafa, were wounded. Their cousin, Ibrahim, was killed. At the end of the week, Israel rewarded the father of the family for killing his loved ones: After 30 years of working in Israel, he was deprived of his entry permit to the country.

On the evening of October 20, the family heard a loud explosion next to their house. Rushing outside, they saw a Peugeot van going up in flames after being struck by a missile. Then another missile landed, killing 10 residents of the camp, among them Dr. Zin a-Din Shahin, who had immediately gone out to help the victims. Dozens of civilians, including children, were wounded by many metal fragments that slammed into their bodies. Horrific scenes ensued. These details are important, because the Israel Defense Forces and the Israel Air Force afterward claimed that not many civilians had been hit and that there were no exceptional wounds caused by metal nails.

On the day after the operation, a senior air force officer played down the events, saying "it's possible a few residents in nearby houses were hit by fragments," as the weapon was "a missile that is like a big hand grenade." There was only a very low probability that many civilians were hurt, he said. Another IDF spokesman lost no time in alleging that the Palestinians had lied about the number of casualties.

The IDF took a similar line in July 2002, following the assassination of a senior Hamas man, Salah Shehadeh, in a Gaza operation that took the lives of about 20 Palestinian civilians. At that time, the IDF tried to claim there had been no way to ascertain that there were civilians in the area, as the place consisted of makeshift huts and it was difficult to know whether they were inhabited. A visit to the site the next day showed the IDF's strange account was a lie: All the victims, including children and infants, had been in apartment buildings in a residential compound of the Daraj neighborhood, where there were no structures that might be considered makeshift huts, apart from one small chicken coop. It would have been difficult not to assume that a large number of civilians would be hurt by the dropping of a bomb weighing half a ton. At both Nusseirat and Daraj, the IDF killed a large number of civilians, but instead of expressing regret and apologizing, its spokesmen tried to evade responsibility by disseminating lies and half-truths. That is very serious, but even more serious is the pointless killing.

A month after the assassination attack in Nusseirat, a public furor suddenly erupted in Israel. Halutz's cover story turned out to be a fabrication. Information that was made available to MK Yossi Sarid (Meretz) - who is considered credible by the defense establishment - about the type of weapon used by the pilots, cast a heavy shadow over the truthfulness of the account provided by Halutz. The military correspondents demanded satisfaction for the way they were treated: The IDF had given them a lying account and they had reported it automatically, as they usually do with the information they get from the IDF.

The only subject of discussion was the IDF's credibility and the feeling of being insulted by the media. The credibility issue is extremely important. On numerous occasions the IDF has put out lying accounts of incidents, and in the end the Palestinian version turned out to be true. This tradition of lying is very dangerous for the resilience of the society, especially if the lies are wrapped in a security cloak.

Nevertheless, this is not the most important aspect of the Nusseirat affair. The public should have been up in arms from the outset over the death of 10 civilians, including two children, at the hands of the IDF, and over the dozens of residents who were wounded, some of them seriously, by mysterious metal fragments. The public should have been agitated because, once again, a targeted assassination turned into a mass attack, which in its results is no different from Palestinian terrorism.

Faced with a lethal outcome of this kind, one cannot but empathize with pilots who refuse to fire missiles, of one kind or another, into refugee camps. If Israeli society was less preoccupied with itself, it would have condemned such operations long before MK Sarid exposed the lie.

More important than the exact type of munitions used by the IDF, is the lethal result. Of what importance is it whether the air force commander fails to tell the truth if he continues to be the chief proponent of the failed policy of targeted assassinations.