Israel gives up white phosphorus, because ’it doesn’t photograph well’
A certain air of nostalgia dominated Maariv’s headline last Thursday: “Due to criticism in the world, IDF parts ways with white phosphorus”: just like the old Galil assault rifle and the old two-way radios that generations of soldiers grew familiar with. A couple of years ago we learned the IDF was giving up its cans of preserved meat (the kosher version of SPAM). Now, it’s white phosphorus that we say goodbye to.
[Twilight. The IDF and white phosphorus exchange a final gaze. A sad violin tune is heard. Curtain down.]
So the IDF is looking for a replacement for the white phosphorus bombs. A senior officer in the ground forces explained: “As we learned during Cast Lead, it [white phosphorus] doesn’t photograph well, so we are reducing the supply and we will not purchase beyond what we already have.”
“It doesn’t photograph well.” In all honesty, the man is right.
This item caught me by surprise. The IDF is giving up white phosphorus? Wait a minute; the IDF never used white phosphorus during Cast Lead. So how exactly do you give up something you never had? Chemical weapons are something the Syrians use, no?
Okay, after a while the army did remember that it had been confused, and it did use white phosphorus, but only in open territories and not against people.
Okay, then the IDF remembered that it got it wrong again and that it did use white phosphorus in urban areas. Two hundred bombs, actually. But this was only in order to create a “smoke screen,” and there is nothing wrong with that. And if there was something wrong, it’s insignificant and unintentional, and it would be thoroughly investigated, so that no stone is left unturned.
That’s all well and good, except that at least 12 Gazans met their horrific death this way, burned to death by white phosphorus. Among them were three women, six children and a 15-month-old baby girl. Dozens more suffered burns from the material which continues to burn through flesh and tissue until it reaches the bone. Doctors in Gaza were helpless in treating the unfamiliar burns. Israel didn’t give them time to prepare themselves; white phosphorus shells hit Al-Quds Hospital and completely burned the top two floors.
These facts were already known in the first days of Cast Lead. Human Rights Watch published a thorough investigation – one of the most thorough I have read – of Israel’s use of white phosphorus and its devastating effects. IDF soldiers who took part in the Gaza campaign also testified on the extensive use of white phosphorus, including direct fire on houses suspected of being booby-trapped (and not for “masking” purposes as the IDF later claimed).
Ghada Abu Halima, 21, who was gravely injured by IDF white phosphorus in Gaza. Abu Halima later died of her wounds.
The lessons of Cast Lead – and more accurately, the lessons of the Goldstone committee – were already partly implemented during Operation Pillar of Cloud. The smoke that rose over Gaza five months ago wasn’t white phosphorus, but the goal was the same. Masking. So nothing is seen or photographed.
Read the full article at: 972mag.com
Israel’s Illegal Use of White Phosphorus During ‘Operation Cast Lead’
Jeremy R. Hammond | Foreign Policy Journal
Israel’s Illegal Use of White Phosphorus During ‘Operation Cast Lead’ And How the U.S. Media Tries to Cover Up Israeli War Crimes
Isabel Kershner wrote last week in the New York Times that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) plans to discontinue the use of white phosphorus munitions, adding that
Israeli and international human rights organizations accused Israel of using white phosphorus munitions improperly during Israel’s three-week military offensive against Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza in the winter of 2008-9. Such munitions are not prohibited under international law, but they are not supposed to be used in civilian areas, because white phosphorus is highly flammable and, like napalm, it can burn flesh. Israel maintained that its use of shells containing phosphorus did not violate international law.
Human rights organizations “accused” Israel, Kershner wrote, as though this was merely an unproven accusation and not a well-documented, indisputable fact. The “accusation” is that Israel used white phosphorus “improperly”, Kershner’s euphemism for “illegally”. The munitions are “not prohibited under international law, but they are not supposed to be used in civilian areas”, meaning that the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas is prohibited under international law. Finally, Israel maintains it “did not violate international law.”
The question one might find oneself asking after reading this is: Did Israel use the munitions in civilian areas, or not? We know the answer. So, then, why cannot Kershner bother herself to tell her readers that there is no question that Israel did in fact use the munitions in civilian areas? Why does she decline to point out to her readers that, by doing so, it is an incontrovertible fact that Israel violated international law with its use of white phosphorus?
Kershner also didn’t mention that Israel initially denied its use of white phosphorus, which would be an behavior had its use of the munitions been legal. The London Times reported on January 5, 2009 that despite Israel’s denials, “the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance.” On January 8, The Times reported again that photographic proof of Israel’s use of white phosphorus munitions had emerged, “despite official denials” by the IDF. The Times had identified munitions bearing the designation M825A1, made in the USA. Confronted with the evidence, an IDF spokeswoman lied, “This is what we call a quiet shell—it is empty, it has no explosives and no white phosphorus. There is nothing inside it”.
By January 10, Human Rights Watch called upon Israel to “stop using white phosphorus in military operations in densely populated areas of Gaza”, including Gaza City. “White phosphorous can burn down houses and cause horrific burns when it touches the skin,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at HRW. Noting that when white phosphorus munitions burst in the air, they spread “116 burning wafers over an area between 125 and 250 meters in diameter”, HRW added that “the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life.” The IDF continued to deny that it was using white phosphorus, HRW also pointed out, despite the fact that the distinctive air-bursting munitions had been photographed being used over populated areas of Gaza.
“I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used”, an IDF spokesperson had initially lied. Several days later, and two days after the HRW report, after photographs of the weapon being used in Gaza had appeared widely in the media, the official Israeli position became: “Any munitions that Israel is using are in accordance with international law. Israel does not specify the types of munitions or the types of operations it is conducting.”
White phosphorus artillery shells explode over Gaza city
Read the full article at: foreignpolicyjournal.com