The report gives the official Israeli army objectives for the operation:
The Operation was limited to what the IDF believed necessary to accomplish its objectives: to stop the bombardment of Israeli civilians by destroying and damaging the mortar and rocket launching apparatus and its supporting infrastructure, and to improve the safety and security of Southern Israel and its residents by reducing the ability of Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza to carry out future attacks. (para 1196)Much hangs on the interpretation of the term "supporting infrastructure". I would have thought that a military understanding would be in terms of command and control, supply lines and the like. Yet the report states:
It is not far-fetched for the Mission to consider that Israel regards very large sections of the Gazan civilian population as part of the “supporting infrastructure”. (para 1206)In paragraph 1680 the report goes one stage further and talks about how the "Mission considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole".
The interchangeability of the words "section" and "whole" is an imprecision that is both shoddy and disturbing, and it is this breathtaking exaggeration that Cohen picks up on, saying,
This claim - essentially, that Israel was waging war against every man, woman and child in Gaza - is just astounding.He then attempts to refute it through an analysis of casualty statistics and quotes Richard Kemp speaking about the attempts made to avoid civilian deaths. But does this miss the point?
To answer the question we have to go back to the term "supporting infrastructure". The report suggests that the Israeli interpretation was that this meant the Hamas movement itself, hardly unreasonable given the nature of an organisation partial to lobbing missiles at civilian populations. In its wake comes more dubious assertions. The report suggests that because Hamas were clear election winners, Israel saw the voters themselves as legitimate targets (para 1206). This is highly problematic, as is the interpretation of the quoted statement by Deputy Chief of Staff, Dan Harel that the IDF were hitting Hamas government structures as "the intentional targeting of civilian objects" (para 1208). How far can a belligerent organisation like Hamas really be seen as civilian?
Just when you think that the Mission is clutching at straws, then comes this. The report sees the strategy followed in Gaza as being precisely in line with the so called Dahiya Doctrine, something that in the past has been used as an example of Israel's inherent wickedness by the anti-Zionists, but which has also drawn sharp criticism from the pro-Israeli left. The stated aim of this strategy is not to kill people but destroy their infrastructure. This assertion is supported by some disturbing statements by leading politicians:
On 6 January 2009, during the military operations in Gaza, Deputy Prime Minister Eli Yishai stated: "It [should be] possible to destroy Gaza, so they will understand not to mess with us”. He added that “it is a great opportunity to demolish thousands of houses of all the terrorists, so they will think twice before they launch rockets”. "I hope the operation will come to an end with great achievements and with the complete destruction of terrorism and Hamas. In my opinion, they should be razed to the ground, so thousands of houses, tunnels and industries will be demolished”. He added that "residents of the South are strengthening us, so the operation will continue until a total destruction of Hamas [is achieved]. (para 1200)And in paragraph 1201,
On 2 February 2009, after the end of the military operations, Eli Yishai went on: “Even if the rockets fall in an open air or to the sea, we should hit their infrastructure, and destroy 100 homes for every rocket fired.”It seems that some politicians, at least, if correctly quoted, were not overly fussy about distinguishing between the physical infrastructure of Hamas and the population as a whole. The report continues:
It is in the context of comments such as these that the massive destruction of businesses, agricultural land, chicken farms and residential houses has to be understood. In particular, the Mission notes the large-scale destruction that occurred in the days leading up to the end of the operations. During the withdrawal phase it appears that possibly thousands of homes were destroyed. (para 1203)If the target was the lives of the civilian population, if it was the war of extermination stubbornly lodged in the imaginations of anti-Israeli propagandists, then it is clear that the casualty statistics are of the utmost relevance; there would have been slaughter on an appalling scale. If the target was civilian infrastructure, then they are less important (except, of course, for the utter misery caused) for understanding the nature of the war. Instead we would need to look at the extent and nature of the damage to Gaza's homes, roads, farms and factories.
From what I have read, the report's language is slippery and the elision between lives, property and civilian infrastructure leaves it open to misuse and misreporting by apologists and accusers alike. What is more, this obstructs a proper analysis of the events and the examination of the appropriateness or otherwise of the assault. The harrowing pictures we saw on our TV screens are lost from view behind the smokescreen of imprecision as the partisans get to work. Whether this was the product of bad drafting or bad faith is something I cannot answer.