Wednesday, January 07, 2009
The IDF's initial justification for the attack on the Al-Fakhura school was that Hamas had used the building to fire mortars from, and its tanks had responded. Implicit in this was an admission that they had targeted the school on purpose. The tank shells, presumably shot from quite nearby, were fired by soldiers operating under orders from command centres equipped with detailed targeting intelligence. As is now known, the Israeli military had the GPS coordinates not only of this UN school but of the other UN schools that it attacked. We also know that the UN told Israeli forces that the schools were being used as refuges for those driven out of their houses by Israel. And the first thing the IDF let us know is that it was done on purpose. Their excuse was barbaric, of course. The idea that an invading force may attack a building filled with hundreds of terrorised civilians just in order to kill two of those resisting the invasion is nothing short of grotesque. But the fact that it was barbaric was part of the point: rather than bluntly condemning a war crime, you were invited to focus on whether Hamas would be so evil as to attack Israel's brave boys from within a civilian building. Because it is so frequently repeated you might be predisposed to assume that Hamas did indeed position its 'infrastructure of terror' among unsuspecting citizens but, whether you are so predisposed or not, you are already drawn into the macabre calculus of the murderer if you even get involved in that argument. You have tacitly accepted the logic in which war crimes are not merely acceptable, but actually appropriate, if the enemy really is as evil as Israel says. The usual suspects, of course, immediately embraced Israel's excuse: Israel's killing, they expostulated, merely demonstrates the ruthless, diabolical genius of Hamas. If anything, they added, the IDF was admirably restrained in its action. But it is doubtful that many others were taken in.
The second thing that the IDF claimed was that there were Hamas troops hiding inside the building, nestling among the refugees, thereby forcing the Israelis to slaughter the innocent. This is quite a different claim, and the first thing that would occur to any reasonable observer would be that the sudden embellishment reflected some sort of dishonesty ('the elaborations of a bad liar', as Hannibal Lecter would put it). Or perhaps there had been a failure by everyone to get their stories straight and stick to them. At any rate, the logic of the astounding claim that Israel acted in self-defense remained as tortuous as it had been. But Israel claimed to have identified the bodies of Hamas members, and even fed two names to the media, (so once again you were invited to get bogged down in the merits of Israel's claim rather than decide on an appropriate response to the slaughter).
The next part of the story is the most interesting. In order to get around the absurd idea that Hamas military operatives had sneaked into the building and launched mortars without anyone in the school noticing, Israel's spokespeople claimed that Hamas gunmen had taken over the UN building, taken the civilians hostage and used the base to fire mortars at Israeli soldiers. Mark Regev said it was a "very extreme example of how Hamas operates". Such a claim was obviously checkable in a matter of minutes. Any UN personnel present in the school at the time could easily say whether in fact they had all been suffering under Hamas captivity until Israel 'liberated' the building. The UN produced an emphatic denial, based on its own investigations, that there was ever any Hamas fighter in the building. By now, the fact that Israel has never provided any real evidence for its claims, which continue to shapeshift, comes into sharp focus. Moreover, since Israeli troops didn't visit the building or have access to the records of the deceased, it would be highly improbable that they would be able to not only name two of the dead, but also gather intelligence that proved they were members of Hamas' military wing, within such a short space of time.
So, the Israeli government topped that brazenness with a stroke of effrontery that is somehow not adequately captured by the word 'chutzpah'. Israel announced that as it was lodging a complaint with the UN for allowing the building to be secretly used by Hamas. Now it appears that Israeli diplomats admit that no rockets were fired from the school. They are now briefing that there was some mortar fire, but that it came from outside the school. Now, there is no evidence that there was any mortar fire at all, but perhaps you aren't really supposed to believe it. Actually, you were never supposed to believe any of it. There was no way that you were ever expected to be taken in by this pitiful subterfuge. They didn't even present a very convincing lie, or a very good case. What they did was tell you up front that they attacked a clearly marked UN school building filled with civilians on purpose, and then follow it up with a flimsy cover-story followed by an even more flimsy revised cover story and an outlandish allegation against the UN that they have dropped in a matter of hours in such a way as to undermine their previous cover-stories. This is obviously contemptuous, but it isn't just a sensational flip-off to 'world opinion'. They are saying they killed civilians on purpose, that nowhere in Gaza is safe, and that they reserve their right to do it again and offer the same risible mitigations and alibis as before.