How to counter the argument that Israel doesn’t target civilians

Yaniv Reich

We have all heard it a million times: Israel does not target civilians; it only attacks military targets. I can barely count the number of times I have heard this argument from my family and friends. When all evidence of the Israeli destruction of Beirut or Gaza or wherever comes to light, this is the pillar to which uncritical Israel-supporters cling. As if the destruction of entire neighborhoods is justified through the assertion that civilians weren’t targeted, they just got in the way.

There is just one big problem with the argument: It is patently false. Moreover, Israeli leaders know its false, which therefore means this argument, when heard from Netanyahu/Livni/Olmert/Barak/Peres and all other Israeli leaders, is also a conscious lie.

Next time you hear this naive and propagandistic assertion, you should respond with a single, emphatic point: “That’s not what the Dahiya Doctrine says.”

What is the Dahiya Doctrine? It is the approved military strategy of the IDF whereby any attacks against Israel are countered with deliberate, “disproportionate” force on civilian areas in order to create political pressure on the organization that fired the rockets. Named after the Shia neighborhood of Beirut, which was flattened in the Second Lebanon War (2006), the Dahiya Doctrine aims to punish civilians badly enough that Hezbollah or Hamas will think twice before launching more rockets.

One of the most detailed discussions of this was just published by an Israeli NGO, the Public Committee Against Torture, which documents a substantial shift in Israeli military strategy in recent years. I reproduce below some of the relevant information about the Dahiya Doctrine, but I encourage readers to take a look at the whole, very important report.

The clearest explanation of the Dahiya Doctrine comes from Maj. General Eisenkott, Commander of the IDF’s Northern Command, in an interview with Yediot Ahronot in October 2008:

“What happened in the Dahiye Quarter of Beirut in 2006, will happen in every village from which shots are fired on Israel. We will use disproportionate force against it and we will cause immense damage and destruction. From our point of view these are not civilian villages but military bases.

This is not a recommendation, this is the plan, and it has already been authorized.”

He goes on to ask: “In the Second Lebanon War we used a great deal of bombs. How else were 120,000 houses destroyed?”

Despite Israeli protestations to innocence, its inconceivable that 120,000 homes were plausibly linked even in Israeli leaders’ minds to military targets.

The report continues:

At the same time Eisenkott made this statement, two months before Operation Cast Lead, the Institute for National Security Studies, a think-tank at the Tel Aviv University which reflects the mainstream of Israeli military thinking, published an article by Dr. Gabriel Siboni, a colonel in IDF reserves. The article’s title was: “Disproportionate Force: Israel’s Concept of Response in Light of the Second Lebanon War”.

In the article Siboni expresses an identical approach to that of Eisenkott, which he relates in greater detail:

“With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes. The strike must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damaging assets over seeking out each and every launcher. Punishment must be aimed at decision makers and the power elite… attacks should both aim at Hezbollah’s military capabilities and should target economic interests and the centers of civilian power that support the organization.”

Given the statement of this military strategy, is there evidence that it was implemented during the Gaza offensive? Absolutely, as confirmed by numerous soldiers’ testimonies.

Lt. Col. Ofer Levy, Deputy-Commander of the Givati Brigade, which operated in the Zeitoun neighbourhood of Gaza: “Our combat was very, very aggressive. With very heavy firepower, a great deal. At levels that veteran soldiers and senior commanders never encountered before. We have direct aid from fighter planes and helicopters, from whatever we have available.”

More evidence comes from an interview with an IDF air force squadron leader and Channel 10’s military correspondent, Alon Ben-David:

Alon Ben-David: “During the entire history of the bloody conflict, never have so many explosives been dropped on the Gaza Strip as in the past three weeks. The IAF carried out 2500 attacks on Gaza, which is to say that the IAF alone rained something like 1000 tons of explosives on Gaza.”

Micha, deputy F-15 squadron leader: “I don’t think it’s correct to return a rocket for a rocket, for 8 years we showed restraint, we reacted proportionately or less than that, but I think, once again, these are my thoughts, that the time has come to stop with this, and if we have to use all our firepower, then we’ll use it… Israel isn’t trying to hide the fact that it reacts disproportionately”.

And from Prime Minister Olmert: “I’m telling them to stop it. We are stronger; there will be more blood there. We have power, enormous power; we can do things that are devastating.”

And from independent investigations…

According to an independent panel commissioned by the Arab League: “There was substantial destruction of and damage to property during the offensive. Over 3,000 homes were destroyed and over 11,000 damaged; 215 factories and 700 private businesses were seriously damaged or destroyed; 15 hospitals and 43 primary health care centres were destroyed or damaged; 28 government buildings and 60 police stations were destroyed or damaged; 30 mosques were destroyed and 28 damaged; 10 schools were destroyed and 168 damaged; three universities / colleges were destroyed and 14 damaged; and 53 United Nations properties were damaged.”

According to Israeli human rights organizations: “During the assault, the army received via the Red Cross a list of the locations of all the water installations and sewage facilities in the Gaza Strip; despite this, water wells, water and sewage lines, and sewage facilities were shelled. On 3 January 2009, seven of the twelve power lines that bring electricity from Israel and Egypt to the Gaza Strip were shelled, completely shutting them down.”

Finally, I end with a quote about Israel’s “day after” policy, which makes clear that these civilian spots were not destroyed accidentally as part of an attack on a “legitimate” military target. Instead, they were destroyed in accordance with accepted military strategy:

“But then we were told there are houses to be demolished for the sake of ‘the day after’. The day after is actually a thought that obviously we’re going in for a limited period of time which could be a week and it might also be a few months. But it’s not a longer span of time without defining what it is. And the rationale was that we want to come out with the area remaining sterile as far as we’re concerned. And the best way to do this is by razing. That way we have good firing capacity, good visibility for observation, we can see anything, we control a very large part of the area and very effectively. This was the meaning of demolition for the sake of the day after. In practical terms this meant taking a house that is not implicated in any way, that its single sin is the fact that it is situated on top of a hill in the Gaza Strip.”

Another soldier casts doubts on the contention that everything was operational when he talks about the destruction done by D-9 tractors:

“The amount of destruction there was incredible. You drive around those neighborhoods, and can’t identify a thing. Not one stone left standing over another. You see plenty of fields, hothouses, orchards, everything devastated. Totally ruined.”

Did you happen to escort D-9s demolishing houses, do you know what they destroyed, why, how many?

“The way we worked was in secondary protective positions. After they realized we’d be inside over 72 hours, and that we couldn’t stay in our positions, all of us, all of the time, these rear positions were prepared. If they didn’t like the looks of some house, if it disturbed or threatened them, then it would be taken down.”

But that was for operational needs.

“Operational needs. I don’t know, maybe half of them. Sometimes the company commander would give the D-9s something to demolish just to make them happy.”

Given these statements and the uncontested reality of Gaza, it becomes clear that the situation is one where a clear military strategy was adopted, which was then followed by military action perfectly consistent with the strategy.

Its called the Dahiya Doctrine. It explicitly calls for war crimes and possible crime against humanity. Remember the name and use it to win your next debate about Israel’s indiscriminate attacks on civilians and their infrastructure.




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