An open letter to B’Tselem

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An open letter in response to the radio interview transcribed in the right hand column

Click here for Ms. Michaeli’s response

To Sarit Michaeli,

November 9, 2006

Dear Ms. Michaeli,

All Israelis I met with today were very saddened and indeed upset by the sad news of the deaths of Palestinians civilians at the hands of the IDF in Beit Hanun yesterday. Israelis have no hate for Palestinians and desperately seek peace.

We also have a deep respect for our soldiers from personal knowledge. We all have sons, daughters, brothers or sisters and close friends serving in combat units and we know that these soldiers are are as distressed as we are when things go wrong and uninvolved civilians are unintentionally hurt or killed as a result of IDF operations.

I was therefore very saddened and even shocked to hear your unequivocal condemnation of our boys during your interview on IBA English news today. In fact I found it very difficult to listen to your completely unbalanced picture of the circumstances.

Unlike our neighbors, Israel can be justifiably proud that an organization like B’Tselem which closely scrutinizes and reports on every suspected or actual violation of human rights by Israel, operates openly and enjoys wide media exposure, freely airing severe, if not always valid, criticisms against Israel. It is a measure of the democratic nature of our little beleaguered state.

It is however disconcerting that your organization does not abide by its own admirable objectives. For example, on your web site, you claim the objective of ?providing as much information as possible to the Israeli public, since information is indispensable to taking action and making choices.?

That B’Tselem failed in this promise was forcibly demonstrated by your reaction to Beit Hanun. You blatantly failed to provide information about the circumstances surrounding the tragedy. Rather, you acted as prosecutor, jury and judge, proclaiming without hesitation that the killing of Civilians in Beit Hanun is a War Crime.

Note the word “is”. Not even a shadow of doubt that it “may” be a war crime, despite your knowledge that the IDF said human or technical error caused the shells to strike the houses and that the artillery was aimed at an area from which Qassams had been fired.

Admirably B’Tselem also states on its web site that it does not distinguish between violations committed by Israel and those committed by the Palestinian Authority. Would that this were factual. The following text is extracted from B’Tselem’s report on the Beit Hanun tragedy.

“… it is forbidden to launch an attack, even if aimed at a legitimate military object, if the attack is expected to cause injury to civilians that would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. Launching of such attacks is deemed a grave breach of international humanitarian law and a war crime.”

One may well ask how B’Tselem applies its own criteria to the deliberate firing of hundreds of Qassams by Palestinians from populated civilian areas into Israeli population centers with the declared intention of indiscriminately killing as many civilians as possible. A Qassam landed near a school in Sderot today. If it had fallen on the school the number of casualties would have been very much higher than those in Beit Hanun. And how does B’Tselem evaluate these Palestinian acts against the targeted firing of shells by the IDF at the aggressive Qassam launching sites?

And how too, does B’Tselem view the open celebrations by the launchers of Qassams, whenever they achieve a killing compared with the dismay exhibited by the IDF when unintentional collateral damage occurs to civilians, as evidenced by its its apologies and its calls for investigations?

B’Tselem wrote to the Israeli Judge Advocate General, demanding that he immediately order an investigation with the objective of prosecuting those responsible for the killings in Beit Hanun. Your organization will earn greater credibility and respect when it demands prosecution of those responsible for launching Qassams, thereby honoring its claim that it does not distinguish between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Transcript of the interview with Sarit Michaeli, B’Tselem Communications Director on Israel TV (English News)- November 9, 2006

Btselem director calls for military investigation

Newscaster: The Btselem human rights organization has written to the judge advocate general, demanding that he immediately order a criminal investigation into the Bet Hanun incident, and to prosecute those responsible. Sarit Michaeli, Btselm”s communications director spoke to us about the call:

Btselem is calling for a military police investigation into the killing of civilians in Beit Hanun, under the suspicion of a war crime, of an attack directed at civilians, which the IDF should have known might lead to a high civilian casualties rate.

Newscaster : Now the army is still investigating the incident of course, but an initial military investigation found that this was a tragic mistake. Do you have any evidence to believe that the army or Israeli officials from the prime minister down are lying?

Sarit: We”re not saying they”re lying, we”re saying that they should have known that aiming at an attack…..artillery shell, which are known to be an inaccurate weapon near a civilian community, is bound to cause a high or the probability that civilians will be hurt in this attack is incredibly high, and therefore claiming that of course Israel did not intend to hit civilians, does not mean that Israel does not bear responsibility for this attack. You can”t just write off anything as a mistake, when Israeli is actually under the obligation of taking care in order to prevent damage to civilians in military attacks.

Newscaster: I”m sure many Israelis would say that the moral responsibility for this tragic incident lies solely with the Palestinians, because Israel pulled out, lock stock and barrel from the Gaza strip more than a year ago, and the Palestinian Authority allows these terrorist groups to fire rockets from, within, or very close to these civilian areas, rockets from, within, or very close to these civilian areas, and therefore the responsibility lies on the other side.

Sarit: It”s very clear… it”s very important to clarify that the firing of Qassam missiles at Israeli civilians is in itself a war crime. Palestinian organizations and groups who performed these attacks are committing war crimes, and they should not be doing this from densely populated areas. However, Israel is definitely entitled to defend itself against these attacks, but it can”t just use any means at its disposal to struggle against Qassam missile attacks, it has to use legal measures, and clearly in this case, using inaccurate artillery against, or in an area which is densely populated, is a violation of international humanitarian law, in the sense that it violates the principle of distinction. Israel must not use weapons that can”t control distinction between civilians and combatants, so blaming the Palestinians is actually not accepting that even in this situation, now that Israeli military forces are not inside of Gaza, or at least not on a permanent basis, that does not mean that Israel is not committed under international humanitarian law to making distinctions between civilians and comba