The Israeli Defence Force has subjected Gaza to a savage bombardment during the past three weeks. In addition to ‘traditional’ ordnance fired from tanks and artillery, Israel has used Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs) – so-called smart bombs and rockets – which are touted as being much more accurate that normal munitions, with the capacity to ‘take out’ small targets. In a densely-populated area like Gaza City, it would seem that PGMs would be useful for killing individuals, like Hamas leaders moving around the city in cars and on foot, destroying safe houses, caches of rockets and so forth. Innocent civilians will be spared because the munitions are pinpoint accurate, so the story goes. However, matters have not turned out this way. The majority of those killed in the assault have been innocent people, including children, not Hamas military. Not only this, but UN schools, supposedly safe refugees, have been hit at least three times. Yet Israel denies that it ever targets civilians, so what do we make of this apparent inconsistency?
There is in fact no inconsistency because for Israel to deny that it intentionally targets civilians does not mean that Israel does not know that it will kill civilians as a result of its actions. The glib Israeli spokespeople from Netanyahu down blame Hamas for the civilian causalities, saying that their military operatives shelter in schools or in people’s homes, and that therefore that it is their fault when Israeli ordnance kills them. If a Hamas military operative shelters in a school and if Israel knows this and targets the school with a PGM, which then kills the operative together with a number of children, it is clear that Israel has chosen to kill all of them, ‘terrorists’ and civilians, rather than kill none. To say that it does not intentionally target children means that, all other things being equal, it prefers not to kill children. It evidently does not mean that if it knows children will be ‘collateral damage’ in such a case, it will refrain from launching its missile.
This scenario is not one that I have simply made up. Two days ago Israel fired a PGM at three Hamas fighters on a motorcycle outside a UN school. This was said to be a ‘target of opportunity’, a fortuitous sighting of the enemy that had to be taken advantage of quickly. The opportunity was taken and the Hamas fighters killed, along with ten civilians. Israel did in fact target civilians here, in any literal sense of the word “target”. They fired a missile at given place and a given time. There were three Hamas operatives there at the time and lots of civilians. The former could not be separated from the latter, given this opportunity. It makes no difference to the people of Gaza that Israel would prefer not to kill civilians, because they go on killing civilians regardless. It is clear that Israel knows that civilians will be killed by its actions, but does not care enough about this to stop. To say that they do not target civilians is empty rhetoric at best; to many it will sound like a lie.