The Israeli military brass is investigating whether human error or computer malfunction resulted in killing 19 Palestinians in their apartment block in Beit Hanoun, Gaza on Nov. 8. According to Ha’aretz, Nov. 9:
According to the IDF, the “normal” margin of error for an artillery shell under these conditions is about 200 meters, which is why IDF regulations for Gaza state that artillery targets must be at least 200 to 300 meters from civilian houses. But a 450-meter deviation would require only a three-degree deviation in the gun barrel, which is “undetectable by the human eye,” said Brigadier General (reserves) Zvi Fogel, a former senior artillery officer.
Fogel told Haaretz that there are two possible explanations for the error: a problem with the radar, which resulted in the gun’s range being wrongly adjusted Tuesday evening, or a problem with the battery’s computer, which wrongly implemented the correct range settings obtained from the radar.
All this might sound reasonable, but consider the fact that last summer the IDF reduced its “safety” range for firing at densely populated civilian areas from 300 to a mere 100 meters away from civilian targets. Several Israeli human rights organizations petitioned the government to change it back, according to YNet on Nov. 9:
The organizations said “the reduced security range is insufficient, and leads to the death and injury of many civilians uninvolved in the fighting. Thus, this (IDF) order is clearly illegal, and a black flag flies over it.”
A “black flag” means a clearly immoral order, which is illegal to obey.
Gideon Levy reported in Ha’aretz last April 16, when Israel had stepped up its shelling of Gaza to 400 shells a day, after Hamas’ election:
The scenes from Gaza are heartbreaking. Heartbreaking? That’s not for certain. The sight of the Aben family from Beit Lahiya mourning its 12-year-old daughter Hadil last week did not stir any particular shock in Israel. Nor did anyone take to the streets and protest over the sight of her wounded mother and little brother lying in shock on the floor of their shanty in Gaza.
On the day Hadil Aben was killed, Yedioth Aharonoth carried a story about Nelly, the dog from Kibbutz Zikim that died of heart failure from the booming noise of the Israeli artillery firing into Gaza.
Instead of expressions of sorrow at the death of children, the upper echelons of the defense establishment came out with a stream of strident statements. The defense minister said that the only thing to do was step up the pressure on the Palestinians. The deputy chief of staff spoke about a possible invasion of Gaza and the head of army operations added, “what we’ve seen so far are only the previews.” The IDF announced it would further reduce the “safety range” that is designed to avoid shells hitting the civilian population.
It was a chilling, united chorus. Israel is dropping thousands of bombs on towns and villages, on the “the launching pads” of the Qassams – another dubious term created by the defense establishment and blindly adopted by the press – and only the Palestinians, whose Qassam rockets haven’t killed anyone since the disengagement, are called “terrorists.”
Nor was there any substantive debate after a possible slip of the tongue by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview to the BBC, in which she said that there was a difference between attacking civilians and attacking soldiers. Even though she did not resolutely stand by her own words in an interview with Channel 10, Livni dared to speak the truth: If harming civilians is a measure of terror, then Israel is a terror state. With 18 killed in Gaza alone in 12 days, three of them children, the absence of intent cannot suffice for us. Someone who uses artillery to shell population centers and says with horrific indifference that this is “just a preview,” as if it were another reality show on TV, cannot claim that he does not intend to kill children.
Those responsible for such bombings around the world are rightfully considered war criminals. That’s terror – just ask Livni. And when it is done in the name of a state, it is much worse than in those cases when the perpetrators are from rogue organizations.
On Nov. 3, 2005, shortly after artillery started being used to shell Gaza, an Israeli artilleryman issued the following plea:
We must stop the madness! This time you won’t be able to say “I didn’t know”.
This time you would not be able to say that it was a mistake by the gunlayer, the aimer, the battery commander or the Central Fire Control. Mistakes, disasters and murders by the Artillery are facts of the past and a danger for the future!
The Artillery Corps is not an effective tool for the task now imposed on it. At such a thickly-populated area as Gaza, artillery pieces are nothing but a danger to the population – and also a danger to us, to our international image.
Setting an artillery battery to shell targets in the heart of a civilian population will inevitably, sooner or later, lead to a terrible disaster which will hand an enormous victory to the Hamas and Jihad.
Sooner or later, a shell will go off course and kill dozens or even hundreds of Palestinian civilians, most of them completely innocent. Israel will be placed at the pillory and possibly be even subjected to international sanctions.
The Israeli Human Rights group B’tselem has labeled the incident a war crime.