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Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? (Part 2)

Norman G. Finkelstein photo
Norman G. FinkelsteinNew York, USA
Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? (Part 2)
A forensic analysis of Amnesty's reports on Operation Protective Edge

OMINOUS ARSENAL

To justify its unchecked violence in Gaza, Israel invariably spotlights the arsenal of rockets Hamas allegedly

amassed. Amnesty echoes this story line. Thus, the reader learns from Unlawful and Deadly that, as far back as

2001, Hamas had been stockpiling short-range rockets; that it then “developed longer-range Qassam rockets”;

that “in more recent years, armed groups in Gaza have produced, upgraded or smuggled in thousands of BM-

21 Grad rockets of different types, with ranges varying from 20km to 48km, and acquired or produced smaller

numbers of medium and long-range rockets,” including “the Iranian Fajr 5 and locally produced M-75 (both

with a range of 75km), and the locally produced J-80 rockets with a range of 80km”; and that “during

Operation Protective Edge, the al-Qassam Brigades claimed to have fired R-160 rockets, a locally produced

version of the M-302, also with a range of 160km.”1 “The majority of Israel’s 8.3 million people, and all 2.8

million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank,” Amnesty ominously concludes, “are now within range of at

least some of the rockets held by Palestinian armed groups in the Gaza Strip…. [T]he circle of fear has

widened.” But how real has been the threat posed to Israel by Hamas’s rocket arsenal? (For charity’s sake,

Amnesty’s weird inclusion of West Bank Palestinians in the “circle of fear” will be set aside.)

Hamas reportedly fired 5,000 rockets and 2,000 mortar shells at Israel during OPE.2 The discrepancy between

the many thousands of Hamas weapons unleashed on Israel and the minimal death and destruction they

inflicted is generally credited to Iron Dome, Israel’s wondrous anti-missile defense system. Thus Amnesty

reports that “Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system helped limit civilian casualties in many areas,” and was

used “to protect civilian areas from projectiles launched from the Gaza Strip.” But this explanation scarcely

convinces. Israel alleges that Iron Dome intercepted 740 rockets; the UN Department of Safety and Security

(cited by Amnesty) puts the number at 240. Strangely, Amnesty omits the damning findings of one of the

world’s leading authorities on anti-missile defense, Theodore Postol of MIT.3 (Postol previously debunked the

claims hyping the Patriot anti-missile defense system during the First Gulf War in 1991.4) He concluded that

Iron Dome successfully intercepted five percent of incoming Hamas rockets or, based on Israel’s raw data, an

underwhelming 40 of them.5 In general, Iron Dome has served as a multipurpose prop in Israel’s various

hasbara (propaganda) campaigns. After Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), Israel touted the success of its anti-

missile defense system to compensate for the assault’s meager results.6 But Israel downplayed Iron Dome’s

efficacy in its official postmortem on OPE, The 2014 Gaza Conflict, 7 July-26 August 2014, as it inflated the

homefront’s vulnerability in order to justify the death and destruction Israel wrought during the operation.

This report, which was issued in 2015 to preempt the critical findings of a UN Human Rights Council inquiry

and is nothing if not repetitious, devotes just two of 460 paragraphs to Iron Dome, while the emphasis is

placed not on Iron Dome’s brilliant performance but its being “fallible” and unable to prevent “extensive harm

to civilian life and property.”7

1 Although Amnesty does not provide a basis for this data, it almost certainly derives from official Israeli sources. It is difficult to say how

much value one should attach to these sources. 2014 Gaza Conflict alleges that, on the eve of Operation Pillar of Defense (2012), Hamas

“had stockpiled over 7,000 rockets and mortars,” while on the eve of OPE it “had acquired 10,000 rockets and mortars” (paras. 51, 54). It

also supplies a precise breakdown of these rockets (“6,700 rockets with a range of up to 20km, 2,300 rockets with a range of up to

40km…”). It is anyone’s guess how Israel came by this information and why, possessing it, Israel didn’t militarily preempt Hamas’s use of

these projectiles—if it knew how many projectiles Hamas had amassed, it must surely also have known where they were being stockpiled.

The Israeli report also states that Hamas “invested heavily in rearmament following the Gaza Operation 2008-2009 and the Gaza 2012

engagements, which shrunk [its] weapons stockpiles substantially” (p. 61n186). But if it had accumulated 7,000 projectiles just before Pillar

of Defense, and fired 1,500 of them during Pillar of Defense (para. 51), its arsenal would have been depleted by only 20 percent. The

reasonable inference is that Israel plucks most of these numbers from thin air.

2 UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS), cited in Addendum to Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

(A/HRC/28/80/Add.1, 26 December 2014), p. 8. Gaza Conflict 2014 reports that Hamas fired 4,000 rockets and mortar shells into Israel

and an additional 500 projectiles that landed inside Gaza (paras. 103, 112).

3 Theodore Postol, “The Evidence That Shows Iron Dome Is Not Working,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (19 July 2014;

http://thebulletin.org/evidence-shows-iron-dome-not-working7318); “Iron Dome or Iron Sieve?,” Democracy Now! (31 July 2014;

http://www.democracynow.org/2014/7/31/iron_dome_or_iron_sieve_evidence,

http://www.democracynow.org/blog/2014/7/31/part_two_theodore_postol_asks_is).

4 Theodore A. Postol, “Lessons of the Gulf War Patriot Experience,” International Security (Winter 1991/92).

5 Israel claimed that 90 percent (740) of incoming Hamas rockets in populated areas where Iron Dome was deployed were intercepted,

which would put the total number of incoming rockets in these areas at 820. Yoav Zitun, “Iron Dome: IDF intercepted 90 percent of

rockets,” Ynetnews.com (15 August 2014; http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4558517,00.html).

6 Finkelstein, Method and Madness, pp. 128-29.

7 2014 Gaza Conflict, paras. 189-90 (cf. paras. 4, 113, 190).

Even on the official Israeli reckoning of 740 interceptions, it still remains a perplexity how the thousands of

Hamas projectiles not intercepted by Iron Dome inflicted so little damage. Indeed, even before Israel first

deployed Iron Dome during Operation Pillar of Defense, Hamas projectiles barely registered. Whereas Hamas

fired 13,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israel between 2001 and 2012, a total of 23 Israeli civilians were killed,

or one civilian killed for every 500 projectiles fired.8 In the course of Operation Cast Lead (2008-9), Israel’s

most violent clash with Gaza prior to OPE and before Iron Dome, Hamas fired 900 projectiles9 yet a total of

only three civilians were killed. Moreover, during OPE, 2,800 Hamas projectiles, or 40 percent of the total

number, landed in Israel’s border regions10 where Iron Dome was not deployed, yet only one Israeli civilian was

killed by a rocket.11 (Most Israelis in the border areas “remained in their home communities” during OPE.12)

Postol ascribes the fewness of Israeli civilian casualties during OPE primarily (but not exclusively) to Israel’s

early warning/shelter system,13 which has been significantly upgraded in recent years.14 But that still can’t fully

account for the fewness of civilian casualties before civil defense improvements and, even more telling, it can’t

explain the minimal property damage. During OPE, an Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website chronicled

on a daily basis the property damage inflicted by Hamas rockets.15 Table 2 summarizes its entries.

TABLE 2 Israeli Property Damage Resulting from Hamas Rocket Attacks

Date Description

JUL 7

10

11 one house completely destroyed, two others damaged

12

13 rocket hits Israeli electrical plant supplying power to Gaza

14

15 significant damage to cars and property; school for special needs children hit

16 house damaged

17 building damaged

18 kindergarten and synagogue damaged

8 property damage

9 building near kindergarten hit

19 massive damage in residential area

20

21 house hit, building damaged

22 house damaged

23

24

25

26

27 two houses hit

28

29

30

31

AUG 1

2

3 school grounds hit

4

8 Based on 2014 Gaza Conflict, which reports that Hamas fired 13,000 projectiles at Israel between 2001 and the outbreak of Pillar of

Defense (paras. 44, 51, p. 58n174). B’Tselem (Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories), Attacks on Israeli

Civilians by Palestinians (http://www.btselem.org/topic/israeli_civilians).

9 2014 Gaza Conflict, p. 58n174.

10 Ibid., para. 114, p. 122n361. This report states that “more than 60 percent” of Hamas projectiles landed in the border areas, but it puts

the total number of Hamas projectiles fired during OPE at 4,000, whereas the UNDSS figure, used in this monograph, put the total at

7,000.

11 The other five civilian deaths in Israel resulted from mortar shells (ibid., pp. 112-13nn328-32).

12 Ibid., para. 210.

13 Some circumstantial evidence lends credence to Postol’s contention. Although Hamas rocket attacks killed only one civilian in two of the

Israeli border regions lacking Iron Dome, mortar shells killed four others. The differential result is perhaps due to the fact that Israel’s

warning system provides a lead time to those seeking shelter of 15 seconds in the case of a rocket but only 3-5 seconds in the case of a

mortar attack. Postol also mentions the modest size of Hamas rocket warheads as a factor.

14 2014 Gaza Conflict, para. 183, p. 111n327; Itay Hod, “The Israeli App Red Alert Saves Lives,” Daily Beast (14 July 2014).

15 http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/ForeignPolicy/Terrorism/Pages/Israel-under-fire-July-2014-A-Diary.aspx.

5 house hit

6

7

8 house hit

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19 shopping center hit

20

21 building hit

22 house and synagogue hit

23

24

25

26 house and playground hit

Unlawful and Deadly reports that “scores of rocket and mortar hits in built-up areas damaged civilian property,

including residential homes, infrastructure, public buildings, and educational institutions,” while 2014 Gaza

Conflict alleges that “several residential communities on the border with the Gaza Strip…were battered by

rocket and mortar fire.”16 Yet, isn’t it also cause for wonder—and worthy of notice—that, even allowing that a

certain percentage landed in open areas, the thousands upon thousands of Hamas rockets inflicted negligible

damage? How could only one Israeli house have been destroyed and 11 others hit or damaged by a mega

barrage of rockets?17 The obvious, and most plausible, answer is, most of these so-called rockets must have

amounted to little more than enhanced fireworks. Amnesty conjures nightmare scenarios out of Hamas’s long-

distance rockets. But Hamas’s long-distance rockets during Pillar of Defense lacked explosives; an Israeli

official dismissed them as “pipes, basically.”18 It is unlikely that Hamas significantly enhanced its rocket

technology in the space of just 20 months separating Pillar of Defense from OPE, and it probably could not

have smuggled in a substantial number of more sophisticated rockets—eight months after Pillar of Defense, in

July 2013, the coup in Egypt occurred, and one of the coup leader’s first acts was to seal nearly all the tunnels

between northern Sinai and Gaza, which was the primary smuggling route. By adopting Israel’s story line of a

lethal Hamas rocket arsenal, and even if the projectiles did induce some fear among the Israeli civilian

population, Amnesty became, wittingly or not, a purveyor of state propaganda.

16 2014 Gaza Conflict, p. 65 (caption).

17 The same held true in the past. Only one Israeli home was “almost completely destroyed” during Cast Lead, and property damage was

equally negligible before it. Norman G. Finkelstein, “This Time We Went Too Far”: Truth and consequences of the Gaza invasion, revised and

expanded paperback edition (New York: 2011) p. 63; Human Rights Watch, Indiscriminate Fire: Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel and Israeli

artillery shelling in the Gaza Strip (June 2007), pp. 24-28.

18 Dan Williams, “Some Gaza Rockets Stripped of Explosives to Fly Further,” Reuters (18 November 2012).

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#Operation Protective Edge, #Israel, #Palestine, #Israel-Palestine Conflict, #Amnesty International

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Seung Yoon Lee

4 years ago

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