Controversial tactics in the Gaza War

Controversial tactics in the Gaza War

Both Israel and Hamas were accused of using controversial military tactics in the course of the 2008-2009 Gaza War.


Controversial tactics allegedly used by Hamas

IDF forces allegedly discover weapons in a mosque during the Gaza War

Use of civilian clothes by Hamas combatants

Several reports stated that Hamas fighters shed their uniforms shortly after the start of the ground incursion.[1][2][3][4][5] Reports said that unwilling to come into the open space, Hamas militants are fighting in civilian clothes; even the police have been reportedly ordered to take off their uniforms.[6] An eyewitness to the only incident investigated by the UN mission that clearly involved Palestinian combatants said that three Palestinian fighters Israeli troops had surrounded in his neighbour's house were, "wearing military camouflage and headbands of the al-Qassam Brigades."[7] The UN Mission did note that reports by other human rights groups indicate that not all members of Palestinians armed groups were always dressed in military uniform.[7] In another instance Hamada Al-Samouni, a survivor of the Zeitoun incident, said he had seen the bodies of eight Hamas fighters dressed in civilian clothing lying in the streets around Zeitoun.[8]

Use of densely populated areas by Hamas combatants

The NY Times quotes a study published by the Israel-based Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, charging Hamas with methodically building its military infrastructure in the heart of population centers. According to the study, Hamas not only hides among the population, but has made a main component of its combat strategy "channeling" the army into the densely populated areas to fight.[9] A source close to Hamas described the movement's use of stealth when firing: "They fired rockets in between the houses and covered the alleys with sheets so they could set the rockets up in five minutes without the planes seeing them. The moment they fired, they escaped, and they are very quick."[10]

Use of medical facilities and uniforms by Hamas combatants

Several testimonies from local Gazan population and from IDF soldiers stated that Hamas operatives donned medic uniforms and commandeered ambulances for fighters transportation.[11][12][13][14] After the Israeli airstrike on the central prison which resulted in prisoners being released into the streets, several of the 115 prisoners accused of collaboration with Israel who had not yet been tried, were executed by Hamas militants in civilian clothes in the Shifa hospital compound.[15] An IDF probe, released on April 22, 2009, stated that an incident occurred where UN vehicle attacked by IDF occurred when a Palestinian anti-tank squad was being unloaded from the vehicle.[12] The Palestinian Authority's Health Ministry accused the Hamas-run government's security services of using several hospitals and clinics in Gaza as interrogation and detention centers, where medical staffers have been expelled, during and after the war.[16] The IDF probe made similar charges and stated that Hamas operated a command and control center inside Shifa Hospital in the Gaza City throughout the War.[17]

Amnesty International rejected the charges by Israel that Hamas had systematically used medical facilities, vehicles and uniforms as a cover, stating that no evidence had been provided proving such actions.[18] Further, Magen David Adom's submission to UN Mission investigating the war stated that, "there was no use of PRCS ambulances for the transport of weapons or ammunition ... [and] there was no misuse of the emblem by PRCS."[19]

Use of Booby Traps

Improvised explosive devices (IED) were a concern for Israeli soldiers.[20] One Israeli commander said that booby traps were found in a mosque and 1/3 of the houses. Some of these traps were intended to distract IDF soldiers for the purpose of taking prisoners. All such attempts failed.[21][22]

The IDF used D9 armored bulldozers to ensure that paths were cleared of IEDs. These bulldozers were also used to destroy tunnels. The unmanned, remote-controlled version of the D9 (called Black Thunder) were also used. Viper miniature robots were deployed by Israeli forces for the first time. These were used for various tasks including the disabling of IEDs. Along with blocking mobile phone communication, the IDF employed electronic jamming equipment to disable remote operated explosives.[23] Among others, The IDF used the new Bull Island system for the first time to identify booby traps in buildings. Bull Island uses a camera shaped like a tennis ball that can be thrown into a building to transfer 360 degree imagery to the troops outside of the structure.[24][25]

Controversial tactics allegedly used by Israel

White phosphorus

Israel used white phosphorus munitions during the conflict[26]

On January 5 the Times reported that telltale smoke associated with white phosphorus had been seen in areas of a shelling. On January 12 it was reported that more than 50 phosphorus burns victims were in Nasser Hospital. On January 16 the UNRWA headquarters was hit with phosphorus munitions.[27] As a result of the hit, the compound was set ablaze.[28]

Israel initially denied using white phosphorus. However, on completion of the three-day Israeli withdrawal (January 21) an Israeli military spokeswoman said that white phosphorus munitions had been used.[27]

Many other observers, including HRW military expert, reported seeing white phosphorus air bursts over Gaza City and the Jabalya refugee camp.[29] The BBC published a photograph of two shells exploding over a densely populated area on 11 January.[30]

The IDF stated on January 13 that it "wishes to reiterate that it uses weapons in compliance with international law, while strictly observing that they be used in accordance with the type of combat and its characteristics."[31]

The Goldstone report accepted that white phosphorus is not illegal under international law but did find that the Israelis were "systematically reckless in determining its use in build-up areas". It also call for serious consideration to be given to the banning of its use as an obscurant.[32]

A British intelligence officer who completed numerous combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan stated that the Israeli Army would have been negligent had it employed anything but white phosphorus to conceal its troop movements. The officer noted, "White phosphorus is used because it provides an instant smokescreen, other munitions can provide a smokescreen but the effect is not instant. Faced with overwhelming enemy fire and wounded comrades, every commander would choose to screen his men instantly, to do otherwise would be negligent."[33]

Colonel Lane, a military expert testifying in front of the fact-finding mission in July 2009, told that white phosphorus is used for smoke generation to hide from the enemy. He stated that "the quality of smoke produced by white phosphorus is superb; if you want real smoke for real coverage, white phosphorus will give it to you".[34] Professor Newton, expert in laws of armed conflict testifying in front of the committee, said that in an urban area, where potential perils are snipers, explosive devices and trip wires, one effective way to mask forces' movement is by white phosphorus. In certain cases, he added, such choice of means would be least harmful for civilian population, provided that the use of white phosphorus withstands the proportionality test. He also stressed that the white phosphorus munition is neither chemical nor incendiary weapon.[34]

An article by Mark Cantora defending the use of white phosphorus munitions by the IDF, published in 2010 in the Gonzaga Journal of International Law, argues that Israel's use of White Phosphorus in Gaza was technically legal under existing international humanitarian laws and "Therefore, it is imperative for the international community to convene a White Phosphorus Convention Conference in order to address these issues and fill this substantial gap in international humanitarian law."[35]

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that during the conflict, Hamas fired a white phosphorus shell into Israel, which exploded in an open area in the Eshkol Area in the Western Negev, causing no damage or casualties.[36]

Dense inert metal explosives

Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) is a type of bomb developed to minimize collateral damage.[37] DIME is a relatively new weapons technology being developed mainly in the United States. Several studies, including the one of Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, indicate that the tungsten residuals of the DIME weapon in the muscles of the laboratory animals result in severe malignant carcinogenesis. It is yet to be seen if this will have the same effect in humans.[38] Because of possible high inclination to develop cancerous tumors in humans, some argue that the use of tungsten in weapons may be more dangerous than depleted uranium.[39]

Norwegian doctors who were one of the few Europeans in Gaza City during the conflict and a military expert working for Human Rights Watch said judging by the nature of the wounds and descriptions given by Gazans made it seem likely that Israel used DIME weapons.[37]

Colonel Lane, military expert testifying in front of the fact-finding mission in July 2009, told the committee that there is no actual proof that DIME rounds were used, but he is of view that some weapons systems used in the conflict had some sort of DIME component, citing evidence of tungsten, iron, and sulfur in samples analyzed in a forensic lab. Colonel Lane explained that the idea behind a Focused Lethality Munition (FLM), which is an example of a DIME munition, is that the fragments produced stay within a safety radius of about 6 meters, so anybody outside that radius is reasonably safe, while those within the area of dispersal will experience catastrophic injuries, possibly leading to multiple amputations. He commented on the documentations where medics described unusual amputations saying that the use of a metal like tungsten and cobalt at short distances would likely had that effect.[34]

The Goldstone Report wrote that the Mission was not in a position to state with certainty that DIME munitions were used by the Israeli armed forces, though it received reports from Palestinian and foreign doctors who had operated in Gaza during the military operations of a high percentage of patients with injuries compatible with their impact. The report added that as it currently stands, DIME weapons and weapons armed with heavy metal are not prohibited under international law, but do raise specific health concerns.[32]

Allegations of misconduct by IDF soldiers

Testimonies from Israeli soldiers allegedly admitting indiscriminate killings of civilians, as well as vandalizing homes, were reported in March 2009.[40][41][42] Soon after the publication of the testimonies, reports implying that the testimonies were based on hearsay and not on the first-hand experience started to circulate.[42] At the same time, another kind of evidence was collected from several soldiers who took part in the fighting, that rebutted claims of immoral conduct on the military's part during Gaza War.[43] Following investigation, the IDF issued an official report, concluding that alleged cases of deliberate shooting at civilians didn't take place.[44] Nine Israeli rights groups reacting to the closure of the investigation issued a joint statement calling for an "independent nonpartisan investigative body to be established in order to look into all Israeli army activity" in Gaza.[44]

In July 2009, an Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence published testimony from 26 soldiers (two junior officers and the rest is enlisted personnel) who took part in the Gaza assault and which claimed that the IDF used Gazans as human shields, improperly fired incendiary white phosphorus shells over civilian areas and used overwhelming firepower that caused needless deaths and destruction.[45][46] The report did not represent a cross-section of the army, but rather they were troops who had approached the group or were reached through acquaintances of NGO members.[45] Breaking the Silence state that their methodology includes the verification of all information by cross-referencing the testimonies it collects and that published material has been confirmed by a number of testimonies, from several different points of view. A representative stated "the personal details of the soldiers quoted in the collection, and the exact location of the incidents described in the testimonies, would readily be made available to any official and independent investigation of the events, as long as the identity of the testifiers did not become public".[47] A soldier who described using Gazans as human shields told in an interview to Haaretz that he had not seen Palestinians being used as human shields but had been told by his commanders that this occurred.[48] An Israeli military spokesperson dismissed the testimonies as anonymous hearsay.[49] In response to the report, a dozen English-speaking reservists who served in Gaza delivered signed, on-camera counter-testimonies via the SoldiersSpeakOut group, about Hamas "use of Gazans as human shields and the measures the IDF took to protect Arab civilians".[50][51]

In March 2010 a trial began for two Israel Defense Forces Staff Sergeants suspected of forcing a 9 year-old Palestinian boy to open a number of bags they though might contain explosives. The charges against the soldiers are inappropriate conduct and violation of IDF authority.[52] If convicted, they could face three years in prison.

In the report submitted to UN in January 2010, IDF acknowledged that two senior officers were subject to disciplinary proceedings for authorising an artillery attack which hit a UN compound in Tel El Hawa.[53][54] During the attack on 15 January 2009 the compound was set ablaze by white phosphorus shells.[32] The officers involved were identified as Gaza Division Commander Brig Gen Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col Ilan Malka.[28] IDF internal investigation concluded that the firing of the shells violated the IDF orders limiting the use of artillery fire near populated areas and endangered human life.[54] IDF sources added later that the shells had been fired to create cover to assist in the extrication of IDF troops, some of whom were wounded, from a position where Hamas had superior position.[53] Israeli Government spokesman stated that in this particular case they had found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and so had not referred the case to criminal investigation.[28]

In June 2010, Israeli Advocate-General Avichai Mandelblit summoned a recently discharged soldier for a special hearing. The soldier was suspected of opening fire on Palestinian civilians waving a white flag, killing a mother and daughter. The soldier had been previously interrogated about the incident, and had claimed that he felt he was in danger, as he was in the middle of a battle. After the hearing, it will be decided whether to prosecute the soldier, and on what counts, possibly manslaughter.[55]


  1. ^ Keshawi, Azmi (2009-01-12). "Gaza's tunnels, traps and martyrs". London: Times. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  2. ^ "Cracks in Hamas". Jerusalem Post. 2009-01-18. 
  3. ^ "Hamas Aims To Look Sharp". Strategy Page. 2009-04-27. 
  4. ^ In Gaza, Hamas Struggles To Restore Order, AP, January 19, 2009
  5. ^ Battered by Israel, Hamas faces tough choice, LA Times, January 12, 2009
  6. ^ Erlanger, Steven (January 10, 2009). "Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery". The NY Times. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  7. ^ a b [1], pp. 146, 283.
  8. ^ Warnings Not Enough for Gaza Families, January 5, 2009
  9. ^ El-Khodary, Taghreed; Kershner, Isabel (January 5, 2009). "Warnings Not Enough for Gaza Families". New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  10. ^ Ethan Bronner, Parsing Gains of Gaza War, New York Times 18-01-2009
  11. ^ "Maximum 600 Palestinians died in Gaza". Jerusalem Post. 2009-01-22. 
  12. ^ a b Katz, Yaakov (2009-04-22). "'Haniyeh hid in hospital during Gaza op'". JPost. Retrieved 2009-04-22. 
  13. ^ "Hamas tried to hijack ambulances during Gaza war". SMH. 2009-01-29. 
  14. ^ Erlanger, Steven (2009-01-16). "Weighing Crimes and Ethics in the Fog of Urban Warfare". The NY Times. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  15. ^ No Early End Seen to ‘All-Out War’ on Hamas in Gaza NY Times, December 29, 2008
  16. ^ PA Health Ministry: Hamas using hospitals as detention centers. Ma'an, February 7, 2009
  17. ^ 'Haniyeh hid in hospital during Gaza op', JPost, April 22, 2009]
  18. ^ "Amnesty accuses Israel of reckless use of weapons". JPost. 2009-02-02. 
  19. ^ "Report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, 2009, p. 144." (PDF). The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  20. ^ Macintrye, Donald (February 4, 2010). "Israeli commander: 'We rewrote rules of war for Gaza conflict'". The Belfast Telegraph (Jerusalem). Retrieved March 6, 2010. 
  21. ^ Spyer, Jonathan. "Hamas seeks new doctrine after Gaza War failures". Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  22. ^ Bronner, Ethan (January 16, 2009). "Israel Lets Reporters See Devastated Gaza Site and Image of a Confident Militrary". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2010. 
  23. ^ Esposito, Michele K. (Spring 2000). "Isreali Arsenal Deployed Against Gaza During Operation Cast Lead". Journal of Palestine Studies (Institute for Palestine Studies) XXXVIII (3): 175–191. ISSN 1533-8614. Retrieved March 6, 2010. 
  24. ^ Esposito, Michele K. (Spring 2009). "Military Dimensions: The Israeli Arsenal Deployed against Gaza". Journal of Palestine Studies (Journal of Palestine Studies) 38 (3): p. 175–191.. doi:10.1525/jps.2009.XXXVIII.3.175. ISSN 1533-8614. 
  25. ^ Wall, Robert (February 23, 2009). "Israel unleashed Bulls and Matadors on Gaza". Aviation Week. Retrieved May 5, 2010. 
  26. ^ "Gaza White Phosphorus". Al Jazeera. 2009-01-11. Retrieved 19 February 2010. [dead link]
  27. ^ a b "Israel admits using white phosphorus in attacks on Gaza" The Times January 24, 2009.
  28. ^ a b c Israel reprimands top officers over UN compound strike, BBC, February 1, 2010
  29. ^ "The Incendiary IDF" The Israel Defense Forces use phosphorus shells—and forfeit credibility. HRW report. 22nd January 2009.
  30. ^ "Israel denies banned weapons use" BBC 11th January 2009.
  31. ^ Press, Associated. "'IDF white phosphorus use not illegal'". Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  32. ^ a b c Goldstone report, Goldstone report, UNHRC, para. 49
  33. ^ "A British soldier's view of Operation Cast Lead". Retrieved 2010-06-05. 
  34. ^ a b c Public hearings – Geneva, Afternoon Session of 7 July 2009, UNHRC
  35. ^ Mark Cantora, Israel and White Phosphorus During Operation Cast Lead: A Case Study in Adherence to Inadequate Humanitarian Laws, 13:1 Gonzaga Journal of International Law (2010), available at
  36. ^ Service, Haaretz. "For the first time, Gaza militants fire phosphorus shell at Israel - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News". Retrieved 2010-05-08. 
  37. ^ a b Israel used new type of weapon in Gaza, Haaretz, January 20, 2009
  38. ^ Tungsten-Alloy Shrapnel Causes Tumors, Cancer in Rats Environmental Health Perspectives Website 2005-02-16 Retrieved 2010-02-24
  39. ^ Depleted uranium ammo may be replaced New Scientist Website 2005-02-26 Retrieved 2010-02-24
  40. ^ "BBC: Israel troops admit Gaza abuses". BBC News. 2009-03-19. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  41. ^ Times on Line Israeli soldiers admit to deliberate killing of Gaza civilians by James Hider
  42. ^ a b Bronner, Ethan (March 27, 2009). "Israel Disputes Soldiers’ Accounts of Gaza Abuses". The NY Times. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  43. ^ "Israel IDF soldiers rebut claims of immoral conduct in Gaza". Ynet. March 19, 2009.,7340,L-3689388,00.html. 
  44. ^ a b Pidd, Helen (March 31, 2009). "Gaza offensive: Israeli military says no war crimes committed". London: Guardian. Retrieved 2010-04-02. 
  45. ^ a b Europeans funding 'Breaking the Silence', Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2009
  46. ^ Soldiers' Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2009, Breaking the Silence, 2009-07-15
  47. ^ Na'aman, Oded (2009-07-17). "Israel needs the truth about Cast Lead". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  48. ^ "Barak: Criticism of IDF should be directed at me, Haaretz, July 15, 2009". Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  49. ^ "Breaking silence on Gaza abuses". BBC. 2009-07-15. Retrieved 2009-07-18. 
  50. ^ IDF soldiers give testimonies to counter Gaza war crimes claims, Haaretz, July 16, 2009
  51. ^ 'Breaking the Silence' vs. 'Soldiers Speak Out' on Cast Lead, Arutz 7, July 23, 2009
  52. ^ "'I was stabbed in the back,' says soldier who used human shield in Gaza". Haaretz Service. 2010-03-24. Retrieved 26 March 2010. 
  53. ^ a b IDF downplays action against officers, Haaretz, February 3, 2010
  54. ^ a b GAZA OPERATION INVESTIGATIONS: AN UPDATE, IMFA, para. 100, page 29
  55. ^

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