BBC: “‘Phosphorus wounds’ alarm Gazans

Sabah herself has suffered terrible burns on her arms, legs and torso and is considerable pain.

“There was fire, and so much white smoke,” she says. “The missile melted my children. My daughter-in-law melted in front of my eyes.”


After initially denying that white phosphorus shells were fired in Gaza, some Israeli military officials have now acknowledged its use.

The army says it has started an internal investigation, the insistence being until now that no weapons were used illegally.

Israel’s democratic polity will at least debate this. But it is worth thinking about for those who have been eager defenders of the Olmert government’s policies. Was it justified to unleash such a horror on the civilian population? And they should also ask whether creating such fear — and such animosity — will be in the long-run interests of the Israeli people. They need to do some deep thinking and soul searching about the suffering imposed on the innocents in Gaza. And the apologists for Hamas, who deliberately provoked such a horrifying response with their rockets, should also ask whether it was all worth it. They should talk to the mother who saw her children melt before her eyes and justify their rockets to her. Unfortunately for the decent population of Israel and for the decent population of Gaza, now that the response has come and the children have been killed, that mother’s grief may turn into a thirst for revenge. And then Hamas will have won another round of death for the Palestinian people. There is so much grief, and so much shame, to be shared in the region.

18 Responses to “Justified?”

  1. I admit that I do not lend my ear to Palestinians’ complaints not only because they have proven on so many previous occasions to have little touch with the truth but also because of the strategy of Hamas (and also Hizbullah, Fatah and other anti-Israel paramilitaries) to use civilian victims in order to mount pressure against Israel to stop any military activity. This is in fact the only way they can (and do) achieve victory over Israel because military victory is out of their scope, at least until they acquire nuclear weapons. Israelis cannot respond with the same weapon because they aren’t as inclined to use their killed and maimed babies as propaganda tools, and even when they do, the victims, no matter how many they are, are always considered by the world as too few to bother and never pass some mysterious threshold beyond which the right of Israel to defend itself by military force against anti-civilian rocket and mortar fire would be recognized. So I do not listen to the Palestinians and I think this attitude, if more widely used, would not only minimize Israeli victims but, in the long run, would also minimize Palestinian victims because it would demotivate Palestinian combatants from hiding behind the prams of their babies. I do not wish to be involved in their game.
    I disagree with you that Palestinian victims would motivate revenge actions. My opinion is that ideology is far more important than personal revenge in motivating attack against other people; and when such attacks do happen, they must be countered and prevented not by convincing people that we are good and they should also be good (this is to no avail) but by force, as police keeps internal order. As far as I know, none of the men who carried out Sept. 11 had any personal grievances against the USA; and the US operations in Afghanistan and Iraq that have presumably led to such grievances haven’t resulted in more attacks. Let’s remember also how piece was established after World War II. Nobody cared whether Germans and Japanese would feel wronged and wish revenge after the Dresden and Hiroshima bombings, respectively. It was just made clear to both populations that any attempt to seek revenge would be disastrous to them. I think that the same approach should be used against those who make their living by attacking Israelis.

  2. Maya Markova:”Nobody cared whether Germans and Japanese would feel wronged and wish revenge after the Dresden and Hiroshima bombings, respectively. It was just made clear to both populations that any attempt to seek revenge would be disastrous to them. I think that the same approach should be used against those who make their living by attacking Israelis.”

    I have only overflown the above ramblings, but IMHO this is utter nonsense. Both attacks were criminal acts (and would have landed the responsible person in prison IF they would have lost the war; or put another way: only the side losing the war commits war criminals…). Much worse than the acts of the Israelis which are also reprehensible. And certainly not a model for future behaviour of any state in the region ( be it Israel, Iran, Turkey et al).

    Bottom line: Dropping nukes and firebombing civilian tragets is never legal and I do hope that only a few confused radicals think of this as a solution.

  3. white phosphorus is lawful as illumination. maybe if the palestinian terrorists wouldn’t make a habit of attacking from behind civilians, it wouldn’t be necessary, and neither would other arms.

    that having been said, israel is investigating whether any white phosphorus shells were fired for other purposes. there is recognition that in war, shit happens, and a responsible army investigates and tries to make sure any errors do not repeat themselves.

    any investigations by hamas about why they were firing rockets and mortars at civilians, or using civilians as human shields, or looting relief supplies, or whether their holding of gilad shalit comports with the geneva conventions, or….

    you get the idea. it is absurd to harangue a law-abiding, moral and decent military coping with a uniquely difficult terrorist threat over possible errors given the context of what the terrorists are doing. if white phosphorus landed on civilians, it was a mistake. unlike hiroshima or dresden, in intent and scope. although, i would argue that hiroshima and dresden were overwhelmingly justified — indeed, demanded by the situation.

  4. Alan Gura: “although, i would argue that hiroshima and dresden were overwhelmingly justified — indeed, demanded by the situation.”

    NO, as a lawyer you may be aware that hiroschima and dresden were not justified. It’s never legal to bomb civilian targets. Just to give an example: General Löhr (Germany) was executed for the bombing of Belgrade in which “only” a few thousand died. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_L%C3%B6hr

    How can the wholesale slaughter of houndreds of thousands of civilians at Hiroschima, Dresden and Nagasaki be “overwhelmingly justified” (especially when compared with the above ruling against Löhr and others)? I am really puzzled about the stuff I am reading on this otherwise very interesting blog….

  5. “Austrian” (and numerous other critics of the Israeli response) seem to find it unacceptable that in the course of their attacks on Hamas, Israelis kill civilians. Would that these critics were capable of recognizing the difference between this, and Hamas, which explicitly and directly attacks civilians, with the avowed goal of exterminating them.

    The critics’ advocacy of “tit for tat” and “a pox on all their houses” fails to note this crucial difference between the IDF and Hamas…or for that matter between Fatah and Hamas.

  6. Mr. Palmer: The type of ordnance specifically cited in the article to which you link is a _smoke_bomb_. It is not an incendiary round. It is used to produce smoke to cover troop movements, and is thus considered safe enough to allow one’s own troops to pass through the smoke that it produces. Palestinians wage war against truth just as they target civilians, and this seems to be a typical bit of “Pallywood” propaganda which you seem to have rather uncritically swallowed.

    Austrian: Bombing cities in WWII was not in itself a war crime. Dresden, Hamburg, Leipzig, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, etc., were military targets, not civilian, being centers of war production and military transport. General Lohr’s prosecution (by the Yugoslavian Commies, not by the Western Allies) was because the bombing of Belgrade was a special case:

    ‘German Field Marshal von Kleist said during his trial after the war: “The air raid on Belgrade in 1941 had a primarily political-terrorist character and had nothing to do with the war. That air bombing was a matter of Hitler’s vanity, his personal revenge.” The bombing without a declaration of war become one of the prosecution’s charges which led to the execution of the commander of the Luftwaffe formations involved, General Löhr.’

    So, yes, air raids on cities without any strategic value, and without any prior declaration of war, were indeed considered a war crime in WWII, and rightly so. However, the Allied bombings of Axis cities were _after_ declarations of war by the Allies, and were only of cities with militarily strategic value to the Allied war effort. Even then, some cities like Kyoto were spared by the Allies because of their high cultural value, even though they also had great strategic value.

  7. There is no point in re-arguing the debates over Hiroshima and Dresden here. But to sum up the pro-bombing arguments very succinctly:

    Bombing Hiroshima and Dresden greatly hastened the end of the war and therefore saved many ALLIED lives, and at least in the case of Hiroshima, given the behavior of the Japanese in those days (and on the islands leading up to the Japanese home islands), saved many Japanese lives as well. The point was not to kill lots and lots of people, the point was to end the enemy’s ability to resist.

    In the words of Sir Harris, speaking of Dresden:
    “I do not personally regard the whole of the remaining cities of Germany as worth the bones of one British Grenadier. The feeling, such as there is, over Dresden, could be easily explained by any psychiatrist. It is connected with German bands and Dresden shepherdesses. Actually Dresden was a mass of munitions works, an intact government centre, and a key transportation point to the East. It is now none of these things.”

    Good for him.

  8. I didn’t state that the Dresden and Hiroshima bombings were legally or morally justified, only that they did not trigger revenge, which would be expected if today’s proponents of non-violent approach to Islamism were correct.
    My personal opinion, based on my quite modest knowledge about WWII, is that the Dresden bombing wasn’t justified, while the Hiroshima one was. It is easy to talk today about cruelty but let’s imagine Pres. Truman explaining to parents of US soldiers tortured to death in Japanese camps that, eh well, we possibly could end the war sooner and save your sons, but it required using a new and not properly tested weapon that we feared would be too devastating for the Japanese. Doesn’t sound very sane, does it?

  9. Maya:”My personal opinion, based on my quite modest knowledge about WWII, is that the Dresden bombing wasn’t justified, while the Hiroshima one was. It is easy to talk today about cruelty but let’s imagine Pres. Truman explaining to parents of US soldiers tortured to death in Japanese camps that, eh well, we possibly could end the war sooner and save your sons, but it required using a new and not properly tested weapon that we feared would be too devastating for the Japanese.”

    The Nazis tortured millions of Jews, Russian soldiers and civilians and political prisoners to death. Even using industrial means (gas chambers) for this goal. In other words I find it rather puzzling that it was more OK to drop an atomic bomb (=worse than the firebombing of Dresden) on the Japanese as opposed to firebombing Dresden. Very strange, but this confirms my view that quite a few of the cheerleaders of the Israeli onslaught on Gaza have a “logic” which is not easy to be understood by a normal person.

  10. Alan, Harris would have been hanged if he would have been a German general. See above for the example of Löhr.

    Nonetheless I find it very interesting what humanitarian views people like Maya and Alan espouse. In light of this, It’s not suprising that they also have such onesided views on the war in Gaza. Quod erat demonstradum.

  11. As far as I know, the bombing of Dresden, unlike that of Hiroshima, hadn’t significant military grounds and wasn’t expected to accelerate the end of the war. However, as I have admitted, I have too little knowledge about WWII to have a reliable judgement in this case, so I quite may be wrong.
    “Harris would have been hanged if he would have been a German general”
    So what? I think that quite a few Hamas leaders, as well as many other figures on the Mideast chestboard who have made killing Israelis an industry, would have been hanged if they had been German generals. Instead, they and the people who vote for them enjoy the world’s support. If I agree with you on anything, it is that moral judgements are much influenced by whether the person judged has won or lost.

  12. May I also cite an opinion why the decent population of Gaza is so small?
    “With a lot of effort, the free world may be able to stop individual terrorists or small terrorist groups. But it is entirely incapable of combating terrorist enclaves, such as those controlled by Hamas.
    The greatest strength of these organizations lies in their ability to turn the entire local populations into accomplices. Ask a poor Palestinian who the Jews are, and he’ll tell you they are subhuman, terrible people who killed his cousin who was on his way to blow himself up in an Israeli kindergarten.”
    Quote from “Turning Russia into a terrorist enclave” by Yulia Latynina

  13. Maya, I have the feeling that this is getting repetitive and rather useless – we have different views. Your picture of the Palestinians as some kind of bloodthirsty band of jew haters who only wish to murder jewish children is very troubling – if you really believe this. But then your one-sided views on the conflict in Palestine make perfect sence behind the backdrop of such ideas. As a liberal I do not subscribe to such collectivist approaches, i.e. the Palestians are basically the bad guys and the Israelis are the good guys.

    Funny that you also speak about “subhuman” in this context. This week Mr. Strache (arrested twice at neonazi marches in Germany) the leader of the extreme right-wing Freedom Party ( a party which was founded to accomodate former members of the Nazi party and the SS) has announced his support/understanding for the Israeli attack. He is the first Austrian politician to do this. This makes perfectly good sense because this party got strong (20% now) agitating against “subhumans”, i.e. Muslims, foreigners and Jews. Though they hate jews and still like the SS (“examples for today’s youth”), they are quick to find another group of “subhumans”. Yesterday the jews, today the muslims.

  14. Oh, I am not implying in any way that Palestinians are subhuman. Regarding the individual just as a member of a group who is obliged to devote his life to the presumed agenda of this group… This agenda including destruction of another human group… Turning women into meat producers and children into mere tools to accomplish the mission… All these features, and other more generic characteristics of current Palestinian culture (religious fanatism, suppression of free speech, oppression of women up to honor-killing and so on), are pretty human and have been observed in many human populations over millenia. It is civilization that is unique, not very natural and so not quite human.
    I admit I always try to figure out who the good guys and who the bad guys are. To my opinion, not doing so would be a symptom of moral relativism. For me, those neighbours of Israel who vote for Hamas and educate their children on maps without Israel on them are bad guys, and so are those who kill and conspire to kill people in Europe because of books, films and cartoons. I don’t know anything about the political scene in Austria; here in Bulgaria we have a party representing the Muslim population and contributing much to our chronic poverty, corruption and habitat destruction. I don’t find anything wrong if any European politician or voter wants to stop Muslim immigration to his country (or, broadly speaking, demands coherent immigration policy and control). As I have read on many visa applications, permission to enter a country is a priviledge, not a right.
    I agree with you that we have different views and discussion is unlikely to bring them closer. Especially after I used to have views similar to yours but walked away from them.

  15. Maya, have you ever talked to individual Palestinians? You may become aware that Palestians are also just normal people who dream of a peaceful existence and free life (and not crazy murderers who only dream of blowing up kiddergardens as you think). I do not subscribe to the idea that certain (ethnic) groups are inherently antidemocratic and violent. By the way, even Sharon once observed that he would do what the Arabas are doing if he were in their shoes.

    Trust me, both sides would gain if peace is achieved. If the living standard of the Palestinians gets better, they have something to lose – and will opt for peace.

  16. I agree with you that there are no significant inherent (biological) differences between human populations; however, I think that there are significant cultural differences. What we are talking about is culture.
    I have contacted some Palestinians and found them very different – some fitting the stereotype I am describing, others apparently normal people as you say. However, my impression is that the latter ones are much fewer and, moreover, aren’t allowed to express openly their opinions in the Territories. For that reason, while there have been numerous pro-peace rallies in Israel, I do not expect to see one in Gaza in the near future.
    In the long run, Palestinians would gain if peace is achieved. But not in the short run. They are now subsidized by the world as victims of war. As far as I know, there is virtually no economy in Gaza. The population there knows how to survive in a war but lacks crucial life skills such as living on what you earn (to come back to the basic subject of this blog – libertarianism). The average Palestinian hardly knows the ABC of market economy and surely doesn’t know the ABC of family planning. If my sources are correct, the average family in Gaza has 1 breadwinner and 8 children. Such families cannot have great living standard in Gaza, couldn’t have it in Bulgaria, could they have it in Austria? I guess, not. If and when peace is achieved in the Mideast, I think the Palestinian population will face tougher problems than the Roma populations in Europe. I do not say that individual Palestinians (or individual Roma) are all at fault for the mess they are in – they have inherited it from earlier generations, and I guess I would be absolutely the same if I were born in Gaza or in a Roma family. However, I think that until somebody finds realistic, just and lasting solutions, it is absolutely necessary to prevent (by force) such populations from exporting (also by force) their problems to other populations.

  17. Maya, there are quite a lot of pro-peace Palestians (if you consider the conditions under which the Palestinians have to live). Nonetheless, I doubt that even I would be peaceful if I would be treated like the Palestinians……

    On the other point you have raised: I am a bit troubled by your position towards Roma. I, of course, do not deny that Roma are often criminal, but what can they do if the people of their states treat them worse than animals and prevent them from getting any education, even putting them in Ghettos in some cases. You may also be aware that the death rate amongst the millions of Roma in Europe under Nazi rule was wuite often higher than for the other “subhuman race”, the Jews.
    By the way, a few years ago Austria wanted to build special prisons for Bulgarians and Rumanians because of their extremely high crime rate (I did part of my legal clerkship at a criminal court and can confirm that this was true). As a Rumanian or Bulgarian you did not have a real chance before the criminal court – you were deemed to be a criminal.

    I do not think that it’s fair to label Rumanians, Bulgarians, Roma or Albanians as “criminal groups”. That’s a slippery slope to a place wedo not want to revisit.

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