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Opinion: In the name of 'defence' we are attacking civilians already under Israeli control

The rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians should not be justified. It threatens the lives of men, women and children.

Yehuda Shaul

IN NOVEMBER 2012, Israel launched a military operation in the Gaza Strip called “Amud Anan”. The literal English translation is “Pillar of Clouds”, although the official name in English was “Pillar of Defence”.

A few days ago we launched another operation named “Mighty Cliff”, which is officially called “Protective Edge”.

Both chosen titles are highly defensive in their essence. When I hear the names given to military operations in Gaza – especially the versions chosen for an international audience – I am reminded of my military service as a combatant in the Israeli army, whose full name (both in Hebrew and English) is the “Israel Defence Forces” (IDF).

These days, I am reminded of the gap I discovered during my military service between the ethos represented by the name of the IDF and the actual military operations that we carried out.

Officially, the task before us was defensive. We performed “preventative” operations. But my friends and I learned that “prevention” was nothing but a code name for a bunch of actions, many of which were offensive operations.

Bogui Ya’alon, then Chief of Staff and today the Defense Minister, called on us to “burn the Palestinian consciousness”. In the spirit of this call, we were sent to intimidate and punish an entire civilian community systematically. This was grounded in the assumption that its members would refrain from revolting if they were hurt, oppressed and scared enough.

Collective punishment

My friends and I learned to look at every Palestinian as an enemy and, as such, a legitimate target for attack. Our objective was to frighten the civilian population in order to make them understand that they are always under our control. We achieved this objective through patrols on city streets and through entering homes randomly, at all hours of the day and night. No actual intelligence information guided us during these operations.

We “prevented” terror through the collective punishment of innocent Palestinians. When a little Israeli girl from the Adora settlement was murdered, we laid siege to the nearby Palestinian village of Tufach. For an entire day we entered, one after the other, every single house in the village. We raided the houses and sent all the men in the village for questioning at the local school, which became our interrogation facility. We did not find anything, but looking back, that was not the objective.

Through mass arrests and invasion of the houses, we sowed fear and “punished” the community of Adora. The logic that guided us was that if we punish everyone now, they will be afraid to do something in the future.

This cannot be justified 

The rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli civilians should not be justified. It threatens the lives of men, women and children.

But the shooting of rockets does not turn all of the residents of Gaza into legitimate targets for mass destruction, just as the murder of the child should not have turned all of the residents of Tufach into legitimate targets for arrest and indiscriminate searches.

Over 570 Palestinians have been killed thus far as a result of the Israeli attacks, most of them civilians. On the first day of the operation, the attack on the Kwara family’s home (one of whose sons is a Hamas activist) killed eight family members who were in the house – six of whom were children.

In the name of defence, we are even attacking a civilian population who are already under Israeli control. Even after the disengagement in 2005, we still control the airspace and territorial waters of Gaza, buffer zones inside the Gaza strip, and the movement of people and goods to and from Gaza – almost completely. Gaza’s population registry is controlled by Israel, and in order to obtain an ID card at the age of 16, Israel’s approval is required.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, of course. One of the characteristics of such control is seen in periodic military operations, causing terrible damage not only to the paramilitary infrastructure, but also to civilians, men, women and children that live in Gaza.

The constant exercise of force

This reality was not forced upon us. It is the product of choices made by our leadership every day, to maintain control over the Palestinian territories and the population that resides there. I know the consequences of this choice well because as a soldier and commander I took part in its implementation. I learned that the preservation of such control requires the constant exercise of force. I learned that is impossible to ethically enforce a foreign government’s rule on a population of millions of people for decades.

Designating the repeated attacks on Gaza with defensive names will not change the nature of the operations. Significant change will come only on the day the occupation ends.

If nothing changes, we are all condemned to undergo another bloody operation, similar to the current one, in a year or two. Semantics will not change this reality, in which Israel is not only defending itself but also attacking – not only during these difficult days, but every day. Instead of trying to explain and justify it, we must act to change it.

These are the days when we have to say: it’s time to end the occupation.

Yehuda Shaul served as an infantry combat soldier and commander in the IDF, and is a founding member of Breaking the Silence, a partner organisation of Trocaire.#

Read: World pushes for Israel-Palestine ceasefire as seven more killed in Gaza

Read: Ireland is providing €500k in humanitarian aid to Gaza

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Yehuda Shaul

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