Destructive Edge

In a previous post on ‘The Death Zone‘, I suggested readers compare Israel’s extended ‘buffer zone’ in Gaza by following the line of the main highway, Saladin Street.  Hugh Naylor has followed that route on the ground – what he calls ‘Desolation Road’ – and his report is accompanied by an interactive map showing some of the vast panorama of destruction:

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I’ll have more to say about the caption – about the Israeli military’s targeting in Gaza – shortly.  The Guardian has just published a graphic by Nadja Popovich showing the UNRWA-run schools sheltering refugees (many of them from the expanded ‘buffer zone’) that were struck by the Israeli military:

Gaza schools hit by Israeli military

 Amnesty International reports growing evidence that health facilities and workers were deliberately targeted by the Israeli military:

Testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance workers who have spoken to Amnesty International paint a disturbing picture of hospitals and health professionals coming under attack by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, where at least six medics have been killed. There is growing evidence that health facilities or professionals have been targeted in some cases.

Since Israel launched Operation “Protective Edge” on 8 July, the Gaza Strip has been under intensive bombardment from the air, land and sea, severely affecting the civilian population there. As of 5 August, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1,814 Palestinians had been killed in the Gaza Strip, 86 per cent of them civilians. More than 9,400 people have been injured, many of them seriously. An estimated 485,000 people across the Gaza Strip have been displaced, and many of them are taking refuge in hospitals and schools.

Amnesty International has received reports that the Israeli army has repeatedly fired at clearly marked ambulances with flashing emergency lights and paramedics wearing recognizable fluorescent vests while carrying out their duties. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, at least six ambulance workers, and at least 13 other aid workers, have been killed as they attempted to rescue the wounded and collect the dead. At least 49 doctors, nurses and paramedics have been injured by such attacks; at least 33 other aid workers were also injured. At least five hospitals and 34 clinics have been forced to shut down due to damage from Israeli fire or continuing hostilities in the immediate area.

Hospitals across the Gaza Strip suffer from fuel and power shortages (worsened by the Israeli attack on Gaza’s only power plant on 29 July), inadequate water supply, and shortages of essential drugs and medical equipment. The situation was acute before the current hostilities, due to Israel’s seven-year blockade of Gaza, but have been seriously exacerbated since…

Amnesty International is aware of reports that Palestinian armed groups have fired indiscriminate rockets from near hospitals or health facilities, or otherwise used these facilities or areas for military purposes. Amnesty International has not been able to confirm any of these reports. While the use of medical facilities for military purposes is a severe violation of international humanitarian law, hospitals, ambulances and medical facilities are protected and their civilian status must be presumed. Israeli attacks near such facilities – like all other attacks during the hostilities – must comply with all relevant rules of international humanitarian law, including the obligation to distinguish between civilians and civilian objects and military targets, the obligation that attacks must be proportional and the obligation to give effective warning. Hospitals and medical facilities must never be forced to evacuate patients under fire.

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The report includes detailed testimony from Palestinian paramedics and ambulance crews who describe the extraordinary difficulty and danger they faced in attending to casualties from Israeli shelling (see also my post on ‘Gaza 101‘, the emergency number for Gaza, and the update here).  Not surprisingly, Israel has rejected Amnesty’s claims and denied targeting hospitals, but when Netanyahu’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, explained that ‘What we’ve had to do on a number of occasions is to hit terrorist targets in the immediate vicinity of hospitals and things like that, where they’ve abused them,’ he failed to address the violations of international law summarised in the last paragraph above.

There’s more.  B’Tselem, now back on line, is also providing detailed testimony from Gaza, including (so far) two ambulance drivers, Rami ‘Abd al-Haj ‘Ali and Ahmad Sabah.  Here is an extract from the first statement (all testimonies are linked to B’Tselem’s interactive map):

B'Tselem map Beit HanounOn Friday afternoon, 25 July 2014, I was working at the medical emergency call center in Beit Hanoun. At around 4:30 P.M., we received a call reporting injured people in al-Masriyin Street in Beit Hanoun. We asked the International Red Cross to coordinate our going there. About 15 minutes after we received the call, we got authorization and an ambulance headed over there with paramedics ‘Aaed al-Bura’i, 25, Hatem Shahin, 38, and driver Jawad Bdeir, 52. The team didn’t make it to the wounded people. Soon after they reached the street, they reported back that a tank had fired at them and they were injured. They asked for another team to come and rescue them.

The call center coordinated the arrival of another team with the International Red Cross and got authorization to go rescue the injured team. I drove the second ambulance, and there were two medics with me – Muhammad Harb, 31, and Yusri al-Masri, 54. The street is only about 200-300 meters from the call center, so we were there within minutes. When we reached the entrance to the street, we were surprised to see three tanks and a military bulldozer in the street, about 100 meters away.

Suddenly, with no warning, they opened heavy machine-gun fire at us. The bullets penetrated the ambulance. I tried to turn the ambulance around to get out of there, but the steering wheel must have been hit. Suddenly, I felt sharp pain in my leg and realized I’d been hit by a bullet or shrapnel. Then the windshield shattered. Because I couldn’t turn the ambulance around, I decided to try reversing. They kept firing as I backed up, until we got far enough away. When they stopped, I managed to turn us around and head back to the center.

On the way there we met Hatem Shahin, one of the paramedics from the first ambulance. He’d been hit by shrapnel in his shoulder and leg. He told us that a shell fired from a tank had hit the front part of the ambulance. He said he’d managed to get away but the other paramedic, ‘Aaed, had been hit. He told us that after he ran away from there, he saw the tank fire another shell at the ambulance, completely destroying it. He thought ‘Aaed must have been killed, but we didn’t know for sure.

The next day, on Saturday, a ceasefire was declared from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. An ambulance team went to the spot and found ‘Aaed’s body in the burnt ambulance.

To put all of this in context, the BBC has mapped the deaths of 1,890 Palestinians – ‘mostly civilians’, as its accompanying chart shows – killed during the Israeli offensive to 6 August.  As you can see, Palestinians were killed ‘right across Gaza’ – not only in the expanded buffer zone shown on the map, though the carnage in Beit Hanoun and Shejaiya is clearly visible – with high concentrations also produced in the killing grounds of Gaza City and Khan Younis:

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Finally, in case you’re puzzled by the title for this post: Israel’s attack on Gaza is codenamed Tzuk Eitan in Hebrew, meaning ‘Firm Cliff’ or ‘Resolute Cliff’.  According to Yagiv Levy, ‘The operation’s name signals the power, commitment and resilience of the Israeli people.’  But the official English-language version, ‘Protective Edge’, was changed ‘to give it a more defensive connotation’ (really). As Steven Poole explains, ‘the bombing was supposedly “protective”, though not of those bombed’. All of this is of course in line with the designation of the Israeli military as the ‘Israeli Defence Forces’.

I decided I’d prefer to use a version that provides a more accurate rendering of what has happened – in Hebrew, English or Arabic.

Unmanned and unmoored

Robert Greenwald‘s feature-length documentary film Unmanned: America’s drone wars is being released on 30 October: it will be streaming online for a limited time, but if you sign up here you will be able to watch it thanks to Brave New Foundation free of charge (and no, this isn’t piracy).  Thanks to Jorge Amigo and Sara Koopman for the heads-up.

As I noted last summer, Greenwald prepared the video to accompany the Stanford/NYU report Living under Drones, and you can find more about the background to the film in George Zornick‘s article for the Nation here.  Like the crew that made Madiha Tahir‘s Wounds of Waziristan, Greenwald travelled to Pakistan, but the twist here is that Greenwald is bringing some of the witnesses to Capitol Hill this week:

“What we’ve been able to do is put a face to policy. Bring over living, breathing, human beings who can look the camera, or the congresspeople, or reporters, in the eye and say, ‘Yes, my grandmother was in the field. She was killed by a drone,’ ” he explained. “ ‘My mother, who I miss every day, was killed by a drone. How could she possibly, under any set of circumstances, be called a terrorist?’”

For more details on the project to bring them to the United States and the horrors that they witnessed, see Ryan Devereux‘s chilling report here about the murder of Mamana Bibi.

Mamana Bibi

Zubair, now 13, said the sky was clear the day his grandmother died. He had just returned home from school. Everyone had been in high spirits for the holiday, Zubair said, though above their heads aircraft were circling. Not airplanes or helicopters, Zubair said.

“I know the difference,” Zubair said, explaining the different features and sounds the vehicles make. “I am certain that it was a drone.” Zubair recalled a pair of “fireballs” tearing through the clear blue sky, after he stepped outside. After the explosion there was darkness, he said, and a mix of smoke and debris.

“When it first hit, it was like everyone was just going crazy. They didn’t know what to make of it,” Zubair said. “There was madness.” A piece of shrapnel ripped into the boy’s left leg, just above his kneecap. A scar approximately four inches in length remains. “I felt like I was on fire,” he said. The injury would ultimately require a series of costly operations.

Nabeela, the little girl, was collecting okra when the missiles struck. “My grandma was teaching me how you can tell if the okra is ready to be picked,” she said. “All of the sudden there was a big noise. Like a fire had happened.

“I was scared. I noticed that my hand was hurting, that there was something that had hit my hand and so I just started running. When I was running I noticed that there was blood coming out of my hand.”

Nabeela continued running. The bleeding would not stop. She was eventually scooped up by her neighbors. “I had seen my grandmother right before it had happened but I couldn’t see her after. It was just really dark but I could hear [a] scream when it had hit her.”

This is the same attack detailed in Amnesty’s report, Will I be next? last week.  Amnesty’s account of the strike, on Ghundi Kala in North Waziristan on 24 October 2012, included this photograph showing the position of Mamana Bibi‘s family when the drone struck while she was working in the fields:

Ghundi Kala drone killing October 2012

This is exactly that I meant when I said that all these targeted killings – and this was one which surely went hideously wrong (though I’m not sure what going right would look like) – have effects that reach far beyond the individual victim.  The ‘individuation of warfare‘ is never confined to an individual; and in this case, like so many others, it’s not warfare either.

More soon.

UPDATE:  The Independent carries an early report of the testimony of Mamana Bibi’s son here and the Guardian here (‘Bibi’ simply means ‘grandmother’ and is an honorific – the family name is Rehman).

“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rehman said, through a translator. “Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed.”

Instead, he said, only one person was killed that day: “Not a militant but my mother.”

“In urdu we have a saying: aik lari main pro kay rakhna. Literally translated, it means the string that holds the pearls together. That is what my mother was. She was the string that held our family together. Since her death, the string has been broken and life has not been the same. We feel alone and we feel lost.”

In the image below, her grand-daughter is holding her drawing of the attack.

Nabila Rehman

Read this alongside Kenneth Anderson and Benjamin Wittes here – with their double-act doublespeak of Amnesty International’s ‘coyness’ and its ‘blithe claims’ (do they know what these words mean??) – and retch.