- 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.
- 1 Controversial tactics allegedly used by Hamas
- 2 Controversial tactics allegedly used by Israel
- 3 References
Controversial tactics allegedly used by Hamas
Use of civilian clothes by Hamas combatants
Several reports stated that Hamas fighters shed their uniforms shortly after the start of the ground incursion. 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. 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." 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. 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.
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. 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."
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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."
Use of Booby Traps
Improvised explosive devices (IED) were a concern for Israeli soldiers. 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.
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. 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.
Controversial tactics allegedly used by Israel
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. As a result of the hit, the compound was set ablaze.
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.
Many other observers, including HRW military expert, reported seeing white phosphorus air bursts over Gaza City and the Jabalya refugee camp. The BBC published a photograph of two shells exploding over a densely populated area on 11 January.
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."
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.
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."
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". 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.
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."
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.
Dense inert metal explosives
Dense Inert Metal Explosive (DIME) is a type of bomb developed to minimize collateral damage. 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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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. Following investigation, the IDF issued an official report, concluding that alleged cases of deliberate shooting at civilians didn't take place. 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.
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. 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. 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". 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. An Israeli military spokesperson dismissed the testimonies as anonymous hearsay. 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".
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. 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. During the attack on 15 January 2009 the compound was set ablaze by white phosphorus shells. The officers involved were identified as Gaza Division Commander Brig Gen Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col Ilan Malka. 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. 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. 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.
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.
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