Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Civilians in the Line of Fire

I just read a heartbreaking article in an Israeli newspaper. It was about three Palestinian babies that were recently injured from IDF missiles. One of them died in the hospital last week. The other two are severely wounded. One, a year and a half old baby has lost his eye sight, he may be paralysed as well, no one can tell at this point. The other one is a 3 years old girl that is paralysed from the neck down.

Why am I blogging about this? First of all, because it broke my heart. I have children of the same age here at home and if anything like this should happen to them, my life will be over. I can't even imagine what it feels like to lose your baby or have him severely injured in war time.

Many have asked me over the past few days about the IDF's use of force against civilians. Please, don't think for a minute that we don't think about them, or don't care. As a soldier in the IDF you are taught the value of human life. Not Israelis or Jews, but humans. Every military in the world has a doctrine, but ours also includes ethics. One core values of the IDF's ethics (also known as "The Spirit of the IDF") deals with the importance of human life.

Human Life - The IDF servicemen and women will act in a judicious and safe
manner in all they do, out of recognition of the supreme value of human life.
During combat they will endanger themselves and their comrades only to the
extent required to carry out their mission.

Add to that the next core value -

Purity of Arms - The IDF servicemen and women will use their weapons and force
only for the purpose of their mission, only to the necessary extent and will
maintain their humanity even during combat. IDF soldiers will not use their
weapons and force to harm human beings who are not combatants or prisoners of
war, and will do all in their power to avoid causing harm to their lives,
bodies, dignity and property.
These are not just words. They are taught to every soldier and are a major part of any officer's training. What's more, there are also very practical advantages to avoiding harm to civilians. First, why alieniate the local population even more? I know none of the inhabitants of Gaza or Lebanon are Zionists, but still, no point in giving them even more reasons really. Another reason, is international public opinion. I realize that there too, those who don't like us will always find their reasons, but again, why add to that?

In short, rest assured that the IDF does its very best to avoid harm to civilians.

Which brings us to why then, are so many civilians getting hurt, in Gaza and now in Lebanon? Well, when the Hezbulla and Hammas position their military installations, and even launch the rockets themselves from within civilian population, they essentially put these civilians in the line of fire. And yes, they are doing this on purpose, using civilians as human shields.

But, this only sets the ground. It does not mean that the IDF simply shoots blindly at those civilians. The fact that the Hezbulla/Hammas turned them into human shields does not mean we are treating them as such. So, how come they still get hurt? well, that's war for you. Mistakes happen, and civilians that are caught in the line of fire often get hurt. It's sad, tragic even, but it's a fact of war. When your enemies operate from within civilian population, it happens too often.

Take for example the Palestinian babies from Gaza that I started this post with. This happened to be a well documented incident. The IDF was shooting at a very specific target, a van loaded with missiles that were intended for launching at Israel. The truck was located, it was ascertained that there were no civilians around. The IDF's first missile missed the van, no casualties at that point. A second missile was launched right away. Between the first hit and the second, Palestinian civilians crowded around the scene. When the second missile hit, they were hurt by the blast (a fairly large one, considering the cargo of explosives aboard the van).

Now, as a mom, I can tell you that if I were to hear a blast, I would not be running to the scene with a baby in my arms. The Palestinians are obviousy different in that respect. The IDF spokeperson explained that by the time they noticed that civilians were coming out of the houses and approaching the van, there was no way to stop the missile. Not without sending it into a house and causing even more civilian casualties.

I know for a fact that many operations are put on hold, and many launchers are not being fired at, simply because the IDF knows there are civilians around. They try to operate only when there are no civilians in the area. But, this is a war. Conditions change, literally by the second, and it's impossible to carry out an armed operation when your enemy is located among civilians, without any civilian casualties. We can do all we can to minimize the damage to civilians, but the only way to have it eliminated is by having the Hezbulla and Hammas move their military activities away from the villages and towns where those civilians reside.


Knight of Pan said...

I certainly expect Israel to defend herself against Hamas and Hezbollah fighters. But everyone knows Hezbollah is an Iranian militia that Lebanon is too weak to drive out given its larger source. Israel should have hit the Hezbollah targets and left the rest of Lebanon alone. If they want to punish someone attack Iran! Hitting the airport and ports certainly does not support IDF ethics.

zzzrByte said...

knight of pan - When those airports and sea ports are used to bring in more weapons and armaments, or possibly to take the kidnapped soldiers out of the country, then attacking them supports the goals and ethics of the IDF.
The Israeli blockade on Lebanon is not aimed at stopping those civilians who wish to get out from doing so, it is actually in the IDF's best interest to have as few civilians in those areas as possible. However free traffic between Lebanon and Syria will only prolong the fighting, and serve the Hezbollah's interests.

Knight of Pan said...

Then again I reiterate: Hit the source! Syria & Iran. You can bomb Lebanon's airports & seaports & I'll bet there's hundreds of roads leading out of Lebanon to bring in weapons and sneak out the kidnaped soldiers. Don't get me wrong, Israel needed to respond, but from a non-Israeli perspective, destroying Lebanon is counterproductive in world opinion. Hezbollah should be destroyed, but not at the cost of destroying the country and economy of Lebanon and Israel's reputation.

steve said...

KnightofPan says: Then again I reiterate: Hit the source!

Hitting Iran or Syria is one hell of a large gamble, especially for Israel. The Americans think they could.....Bush salivates nightly over the prospect, including the use of nuclear weapons. Think about that a moment. Incinerating millions. Think again. A just because his military told him it was absurd, does not mean that Cheney did not bring this very issue up again recently, following the onset of the israel/Hezbullah thing. When I say they are itching for another war, I was not kidding.
Hitting them in other ways? yes. Actually, reducing Hezbollah to less than they were would go a long way towards hitting their proxy masters. But you can take to the bank Iran will never face off with either Israel or the US and to consider Syria doing that is a joke.
Casually saying things like you mentioned above, Knight, I think shows a lack of concern about the implications of war, the very same identical posture that landed the US in a place which has wounded 25,000 of it's boys and killed over 2,500 with no discernible result excapt Civl War in Iraq. "You mean we fought so that they could kill each other in more and more awful ways?" The short answer is yes. Some achievement.