Since November 14, when Israel assassinated Hamas leader Ahmed Jabari, further escalating an already bloody week that began with the killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy during an Israeli raid on November 8, at least 52 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza, including at least 16 civilians, ten children among them. During the same period, three Israeli civilians have been killed in southern Israel. This disparity in civilian casualties is representative of a historic pattern, with a disproportionate number of Palestinian and other Arab civilians killed and wounded in virtually every phase of the conflict since Israel’s creation in 1948.
Although Israeli officials stress that the Israeli military carries out “surgical strikes” and goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, evidence documented by human rights organizations shows that Israel has repeatedly and deliberately used disproportionate force – a war crime – as a tactic to kill enemy fighters, minimize the risk of injury to Israeli soldiers during military operations, and to establish “deterrence.” In recent years, the Israeli military has formulated this as the “Dahiya Doctrine.”
To put the casualty figures of the current violence into context, the IMEU offers the following fact sheet on Israel’s use of disproportionate force and an overview of Palestinian and Israeli casualty figures since the First Intifada.
- FACT SHEET -
THE “DAHIYA DOCTRINE” &
ISRAEL’S USE OF DISPROPORTIONATE FORCE
- A central tenet of Israeli military policy is “deterrence.” This is embodied in the so-called “Dahiya Doctrine,” which dictates the use of overwhelming and disproportionate firepower and the targeting of government and civilian infrastructure during military operations. It received its name from the Dahiya neighborhood of Beirut, a stronghold of Hezbollah, which Israel destroyed almost completely during its assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
- In October 2008, Gabi Siboni, Director of the Military and Strategic Affairs Program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a quasi-governmental think tank with close ties to the Israeli political and military establishments, published a policy paper entitled “Disproportionate Force: Israel’s Concept of Response in Light of the Second Lebanon War.” It stated:
‘With an outbreak of hostilities [with Hezbollah], 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.
‘Israel’s test will be the intensity and quality of its response to incidents on the Lebanese border or terrorist attacks involving Hezbollah in the north or Hamas in the south. In such cases, Israel again will not be able to limit its response to actions whose severity is seemingly proportionate to an isolated incident. Rather, it will have to respond disproportionately in order to make it abundantly clear that the State of Israel will accept no attempt to disrupt the calm currently prevailing along its borders. Israel must be prepared for deterioration and escalation, as well as for a full-scale confrontation. Such preparedness is obligatory in order to prevent long term attrition.’
- In an analysis piece also published in October 2008 entitled “IDF plans to use disproportionate force in next war,” military correspondent Amos Harel of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper quoted a senior Israeli General, Gadi Eisenkot, commander of Israeli forces in the north, describing the Dahiya Doctrine as applied to a future war with Lebanon:
‘We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction. From our perspective, these are military bases… This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.’
- Two and a half months later, after breaking a ceasefire that had been in place for six months, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, a devastating three-week military onslaught that killed approximately 1400 Palestinians in Gaza, most of them civilians, including more than 300 children.
- Subsequent investigations by the United Nations as well as Israeli, Palestinian, and international human rights organizations documented numerous cases of Israeli forces committing war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the disproportionate use of force, the use of white phosphorous in heavily populated areas, and the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure. In May 2009, Amnesty International released its country report for Israel and the occupied territories, which found:
‘[During Cast Lead] Israeli forces repeatedly breached the laws of war, including by carrying out direct attacks on civilians and civilian buildings and attacks targeting Palestinian militants that caused a disproportionate toll among civilians.’
- In February 2009, shortly after the end of Cast Lead, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a cabinet meeting:
‘The government’s position was from the outset that if there is shooting at the residents of the south, there will be a harsh Israeli response that will be disproportionate.’
- The Israeli army continues to operate according to the Dahiya Doctrine, despite huge civilian casualties inflicted in Cast Lead and other military operations and the condemnation of human rights organizations.
PALESTINIAN & ISRAELI CASUALTIES
SINCE THE FIRST INTIFADA
THE FIRST INTIFADA (1987-1993)
- During the First Intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation, Israeli soldiers use brutal force to repress the mostly unarmed popular rebellion. Then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin implements the infamous “broken bones” policy, ordering security forces to break the limbs of rock throwing Palestinians and other demonstrators.
- More than 1000 Palestinians are killed by Israeli forces, including 237 children under the age of 17. Many tens of thousands more are injured.
- According to an estimate by the Swedish branch of Save the Children, as many as 29,900 children require medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers during the first two years of the Intifada alone. Nearly a third of them are aged ten or under. Save the Children also estimates that between 6500-8500 Palestinian minors are wounded by Israeli gunfire in the first two years of the Intifada.
- From the start of the First Intifada in December 1987 to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, approximately 150 Israelis are killed by Palestinians, including about 100 civilians.
THE OSLO ERA (1993-2000)
- In 1993, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) sign the first of a series of agreements known as the Oslo Accords. Oslo creates the Palestinian Authority and is supposed to lead to a final peace agreement within five years.
- Following the massacre of 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque by Israeli-American settler Baruch Goldstein in February 1994, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups begin targeting Israeli civilians with a series of suicide bombings.
- During the seven years of negotiations under Oslo, more than 300 Palestinians are killed by Israeli security forces, including more than 40 minors under the age of 17.
- During the same period, about 250 Israelis are killed by Palestinians, including about 170 civilians.
- In October 2000, Palestinian frustration at seven years of fruitless negotiations, during which time Israel further entrenches its occupation and nearly doubles the number of Jewish settlers living illegally in the occupied territories boils over into a second uprising, sparked by a provocative visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex in occupied East Jerusalem. Sharon is reviled by Palestinians for his brutal record as an officer in the Israeli military and as defense minister, and the numerous massacres of Palestinian civilians he is responsible for, most notably the Sabra and Shatila massacre in 1982.
- In the first days, scores of unarmed Palestinians are killed and wounded by Israeli security forces, who use “excessive force,” according to a subsequent report by Amnesty International, to quell demonstrations, setting off a chain of events that will mark the Second Intifada as far more violent than the first. In response, Palestinian militant groups launch a campaign of attacks, including suicide bombings, against Israeli military and civilian targets. Over the next five years, the Israeli army attempts to crush Palestinian resistance using brute force, including several major military operations such as Operation Defensive Shield, killing thousands of Palestinians and wounding thousands more.
- According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, between October 2000 and the start of Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, 4878 Palestinians are killed by Israeli security forces, including 952 minors under the age of 17.
- During the same time period, some 1063 Israelis are killed by Palestinians, including 731 civilians.
OPERATION SUMMER RAINS (2006)
- In June 2006, following an ambush by Palestinian fighters from Gaza who kill two soldiers and capture a third, Israel launches a series of military assaults on Gaza, beginning with Operation Summer Rains.
- During a visit to Gaza in July to assess the damage, the UN’s top humanitarian official, Jan Egeland, condemns the widespread destruction caused by Israel, stating: “This is very clear, a disproportionate use [of power]… Civilian infrastructure is protected. The law is very clear. You cannot have any interpretation in any other way.”
- By the end of November, some 416 Palestinians have been killed, including at least 58 children, and approximately 1000 injured. The Israeli army also systematically targets civilian infrastructure like roads, bridges, and Gaza’s only power plant.
- During the same period, five Israeli soldiers are killed, one of them in a “friendly fire” incident, as well as six civilians.
OPERATION CAST LEAD (DEC 2008 – JAN 2009)
- On December 27, two months after violating a six-month long ceasefire and setting off a resumption of rocket fire from Gaza, Israel launches Operation Cast Lead, a bloody assault unprecedented in the history of the conflict in its scope and ferocity. In just 22 days, the Israeli army kills approximately 1400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, wounds another 5000, and lays waste to thousands of homes and much of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure.
- A week into the attack, the European Union issues a statement condemning “the recent disproportionate use of force by the Israeli Defense Forces against (the) Palestinian population in Gaza and [urging] Israel to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from all activities that endanger civilians,” adding: “Such activities are contrary to international law.”
- As occurred during Operation Summer Rains two-and-a-half years earlier, Israel once again systematically targets civilian infrastructure, including attacks against eight hospitals and 26 medical clinics. According to B’Tselem:
‘Israel also caused enormous damage to residential dwellings, industrial buildings, agriculture, and infrastructure for electricity, sanitation, water, and health, which was already on the verge of collapse prior to the operation. According to UN figures, Israel destroyed more than 3500 residential dwellings and 20,000 people were left homeless.’
- According to the Gaza-based Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, Israeli forces kill 1419 Palestinians, including 1167 civilians, and wound more than 5000 others during Cast Lead. B’Tselem documents some 1397 Palestinians killed, including some 759 who were not taking part in hostilities. Of those 759, 318 are minors under the age of 18.
- During the same period, 13 Israelis are killed, including three civilians and ten soldiers, four of whom are killed accidentally by “friendly fire.”
POST-CAST LEAD (JAN 2009 – NOV 2012)
- According to B’Tselem, from the end of Operation Cast Lead in January 2009 until September 30, 2012, 314 Palestinians are killed by Israeli forces, including 38 minors.
- During the same period, 20 Israelis are killed by Palestinians, 15 of them civilians.
Operation ‘Cast Lead’: 22 Days of Death and Destruction (July 2009)
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH:
White Flag Deaths: Killings of Palestinian Civilians during Operation Cast Lead (Aug 2009)
Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict (The Goldstone Report) (Sept 2009)
IDF plans to use disproportionate force in next war (Oct 2008)
Olmert: Our response will be disproportionate (Feb 2009)
THE JERUSALEM POST:
The Dahiya Doctrine: Fighting dirty or a knock-out punch? (Jan 2010)