To Sarit Michaeli,
B'Tselem Communications Director
Dear Ms. Michaeli,
for responding to my open letter and for taking the trouble to send a transcript of the interview. I appreciate it. I will
certainly accede to your request to publish the transcript on my web site, together with copies of our correspondence.
I gain the
impression that you did not read my letter correctly. I did not write "we Israelis
… know that these soldiers are as distressed..” I wrote that all Israelis I met with that day were very
saddened and indeed upset by the deaths of Palestinians.
reaction of Israeli soldiers to their unpleasant duties was described eloquently in an article "A gunner's nightmare", by
Steve Linde (Jerusalem Post Nov. 8). He wrote
"Can you imagine how terrible the artillery troops who fired the shells at Beit Hanun yesterday must be feeling
now? After serving in IDF Artillery, I can only say that this is every gunner's nightmare scenario: killing innocent men,
women and children".
out that in response to Qassam rocket attacks, gunners were ordered to "fire at the source" - the spots from which the rockets
were launched. And they did, firing a dozen or so shells. He adds that by contrast, the Qassams are intentionally fired at
civilian targets, hoping for maximum casualties and damage, whereas the troops who fired at Beit Hanun weren't hoping to hit
civilians. They were targeting terrorists firing rockets. See Linde’s complete article at
Linde, writing from experience, refers to the firing of a dozen or so shells. This is very different from your emotive description
of massive shelling towards a densely-populated area, creating the perception of a deliberate attempt at mass murder. I would appreciate it if you would kindly tell us how many shells were actually involved.
It would be
very interesting if your field investigators were to interview the launchers of Qassams as well as Israel Air Force and army
officers to compare the factors each party takes into account, in order to avoid civilian casualties when planning an attack.
I hope that in making the comparison, you will accept that intent to kill, even when unsuccessful, is as reprehensible as
I agree completely
with your statement that we Israelis are a diverse bunch, that many of us do not agree with some of the actions of our government
and that this is the essence of democracy. However, please allow me to explain why I nevertheless consider your presentation
any protest or disagreement, intellectual honesty requires that all relevant facts be taken into account and dealt with in
their relevant context and that inconvenient facts not be avoided. It is vitally important to avoid confusing cause and effect
and to recognize the difficulty in minimizing collateral damage when responding to the cynical and grossly illegal practice
of Palestinian terrorists hiding behind civilians, and launching their rockets from populated areas.
that the firing of Qassam missiles at Israeli civilians is a war crime and that Israel is definitely entitled to defend itself
against these attacks, “but” you emphasize, “it can''t just use any means at its disposal”.
It would not be unreasonable to ask you what B’Tselem would consider acceptable practical means.
In fact Israel
does not use just any means. It does not retaliate by firing randomly into populated areas. It does not even resort
to the type of inexpensive rockets used by the Palestinians, which would create great savings in money and manpower. Instead,
in an effort to minimize collateral damage, Israel uses very costly precision weapons and frequently calls off actions in
progress when the likelihood of increased civilian casualties becomes evident. It
is inexplicable that B’Tselem ignores these highly relevant facts in making its assessments.
As a humanitarian
organization, B’Tselem’s categorical rejection of technical error as a very likely explanation is but one example
of what I consider unbalance. You said “You can''t just write off anything as a mistake, when Israeli is actually
under the obligation of taking care in order to prevent damage to civilians in military attacks”. You may perhaps
recall that technical faults and human errors occur even in the highly organized and well-planned field of space travel.
to say that your demand for a criminal investigation based on suspicion of a war crime in terms of international law, is not
supported by the Geneva conventions. Art. 28 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, expressly states "The presence of
a protected person may not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations. ”Article 51.7
of the protocol additional to the Geneva Conventions states unambiguously; “The presence or movements of the civilian
population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in
particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favor or impede military operations”?
that nowhere in the interview did you accuse "our boys" of committing war crimes. Yet
the interview starts with the statement by the interviewer which you did not deny, that B’tselem is calling for a military
police investigation into the killing of civilians under the suspicion of a war crime.
I agree that
you stated that B'Tselem has condemned the launching of Qassam rockets at Israeli communities.
But there is still a lack of balance. You rush to call for prosecution of Israeli soldiers on the flimsy suspicion
that their explanation of technical failure is false, but I have not seen any call by B’Tselem for prosecution of those
responsible for planning or launching Qassams. Please correct me If this has actually occurred.
As I wrote
initially, B’tselem will earn greater credibility and respect when it demonstrates convincingly that it is honoring
its claim that it does not distinguish between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
I look forward
to your further comments.