By Barry Rubin
A group of young Israeli soldiers met to evaluate their experiences in the Gaza war to see what could be learned from them. The next thing you know, there is a global news story about Israel committing war crimes.
Given the eagerness to find Israel evil and guilty, it falls into the category of a “blood libel”, the historic allegation that Jews murder Christian children to use their blood for matzo.
The charges of war crimes and murder rest almost entirely on two stories. First, a Palestinian mother and daughter were being evacuated from their apartment. An Israeli officer told them to go one way; they went another. A sniper shot them, as instructed by the rules of engagement, which were formulated to protect soldiers from attacks by suicide bombers.
In the second story, an officer told soldiers to shoot an old woman — again in the belief she might be a suicide bomber — and an argument broke out among the Israelis over whether or not to do it.
These stories have been used to suggest bloodthirsty war crimes.
In the first case, an Israeli television station interviewed the soldier who had told this story and he stated that he had simply heard it as a rumour.
In the second case, it is not even clear that the woman was shot. And it highlights the caution and humanitarian standards of the Israeli army: enlisted men argued with an officer over obeying an order that soldiers in most armies would have obeyed without hesitation.
While Israel’s soldiers are accused of being “baby-killers,” they are in fact defending their country against those who are conscious and deliberate baby-killers. That is what terrorists like Hamas do.
Hamas deliberately uses civilians as human shields and disguises its fighters as civilians. Suicide bombers so dressed have constantly approached Israeli soldiers. Given such tactics, a wide range of security forces from Western troops in Iraq to British police in London have shot civilians thinking they were acting in self-defence.
This situation creates a genuine dilemma: What do you do if someone who appears innocent keeps walking toward you and refuses to halt? During the Gaza war, officers urged their men not to take risks.
Much of the media has not learned from earlier experiences of being tricked by deliberately concocted stories about Israeli atrocities. These include, for example, the Muhammad al-Dura affair in which charges that Israeli forces murdered a little boy in Gaza a few years ago were shown to be false. Several terrorist attacks were staged and Israeli civilians killed in seeking “revenge” for this media-generated blood libel.
The fact remains that there is not a single documented case of any Israeli soldier violating international law or committing a war crime in Gaza — or Lebanon in 2006. And it isn’t as if a lot of people haven’t tried to find or manufacture such an event. Indeed, things have gone so far that reputable newspapers are repeating the claim that Israel used phosphorus shells in Gaza against international rules when even the UN has already said this accusation is baseless.
On May 8, 1886, a little Christian boy named Stanislav Krasovsky disappeared in my grandparents’ town in Russia. He was later found dead.
One of my ancestors was accused of kidnapping him and draining his blood. One month later, fortified by vodka, a mob, on June 12, came looking for him and the results were rather tragic. It would be tragic today if false media incitement took the part once played by vodka.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.org