Has Amnesty International Lost Its Way? (Part 2)
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;
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
11 one house completely destroyed, two others damaged
13 rocket hits Israeli electrical plant supplying power to Gaza
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
21 house hit, building damaged
22 house damaged
27 two houses hit
3 school grounds hit
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
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).
5 house hit
8 house hit
19 shopping center hit
21 building hit
22 house and synagogue hit
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).