These savage tools of terror are "legal" when used as smokescreens to mask military operations, although their use as an offensive weapon is war crime. This is a rather ludicrous distinction when the shells are fired into heavily populated civilian areas, exploding and spraying phosphorus in all directions. Anyone who orders their use on cities and refugee camps knows with iron certainty that civilians will be burned, maimed and killed by this chemical weapon. That is to say, they know they will be murdering and mutilating innocent people in the most gruesome manner -- and they give the order anyway.
America's leaders also ordered the murder and mutilation of innocent civilians with chemical weapons in the brutal razing of Fallujah in late 2004 (among many other places). There, in addition to the wide use of "Willy Pete" in the city -- where tens of thousands of people had been sealed off after more than 300,000 had been driven from their homes -- American forces also poured in massive amounts of depleted uranium munitions, thermobaric explosives and jellied gasoline. The Pentagon also declared the entire city a free-fire zone, giving soldiers carte blanche to shoot and kill anyone they saw.
Fallujah was a new Guernica for the 21st century, an abominable crime that should have shamed the country for generations -- yet it passed virtually unnoticed by the American press and public, except for a couple of weeks of stories about the great military victory, and the occasional follow-up from embedded parrots of the powerful telling us how swell life is in the city these days, as America helps it rise from the ashes of its destruction by, er, America. (You can read similar reports in the slavish Russian press about the "new flowering" of Grozny. Apparently, the bones of slaughtered civilians make excellent fertilizer.)
Now it's Gaza's turn for the chemical weapon treatment, as the Times reports:
Israel is believed to be using controversial white phosphorus shells to screen its assault on the heavily populated Gaza Strip yesterday. The weapon, used by British and US forces in Iraq, can cause horrific burns but is not illegal if used as a smokescreen.
As the Israeli army stormed to the edges of Gaza City and the Palestinian death toll topped 500, the tell-tale shells could be seen spreading tentacles of thick white smoke to cover the troops’ advance. “These explosions are fantastic looking, and produce a great deal of smoke that blinds the enemy so that our forces can move in,” said one Israeli security expert. Burning blobs of phosphorus would cause severe injuries to anyone caught beneath them and force would-be snipers or operators of remote-controlled booby traps to take cover. Israel admitted using white phosphorus during its 2006 war with Lebanon.
The use of the weapon in the Gaza Strip, one of the world’s mostly densely populated areas, is likely to ignite yet more controversy over Israel’s offensive, in which more than 2,300 Palestinians have been wounded.
Meanwhile, on the ground, behind the smokescreens of chemical weapons and media lockouts, the killing grind goes on. From the Guardian:
Palestinian medical officials said that at least 12 civilians have been killed this morning. Some of the heaviest fighting was reported to be east of Gaza City, in the Zeitoun district, where three Palestinian children were killed by an Israeli tank shell. Israeli forces also killed seven members of a Palestinian family in a strike on their home in Beach refugee camp...
Palestinians flooded into the heart of Gaza City in the hope of finding shelter, but they faced a mounting humanitarian crisis. The UN said all hospitals in the city, straining to deal with hundreds of wounded Palestinians over the past few days, had been without mains electricity for 48 hours and were depending on back-up generators, which were close to failing....
As Israeli forces pushed into the towns of Beit Hanoun, Beit Lahiya and Jabalya in northern Gaza, the civilian toll among Palestinians rose rapidly. Five died on Sunday when an Israeli artillery shell landed in Palestinian Square, a shopping centre in central Gaza City; five more were killed outside a mosque in northern Gaza. The dead also included a Palestinian paramedic working for an Oxfam-funded organisation after an ambulance was hit by an Israeli shell in Beit Lahiya. The paramedic was working for the Union of Health Work Committees. Another paramedic lost his foot and the ambulance driver was injured in the same incident. The paramedics were trying to help evacuate an injured person in the Beit Lahiya area, when the shell struck the ambulance, Oxfam said.
John Prideaux-Brune, Oxfam's country director for Israel and Palestine, speaking from Jerusalem, said: "The incident shows yet again that trying to fight a military campaign in the densely populated streets and alleys of the Gaza Strip will inevitably lead to civilian casualties."
The charity said the ground offensive was preventing urgently needed supplies of medicine, food, water and fuel from reaching 1.5 million Palestinians. Prideaux-Brune said: "Hospitals in Gaza are overflowing with dead and wounded while facing severe shortages of essential medical supplies and spare parts."
The story notes that the population of Gaza is more than 1.5 million -- more than half of them children -- packed into an area a little more than twice the size of Washington D.C. Here, one the world's most powerful militaries is attacking from land, sea and air, with bombers, missiles, artillery and chemical weapons. The result is inevitable: a "pipeline of blood," as Gideon Levy notes in Haaretz (via the Angry Arab):
The legend, lest it be a true story, tells of how the late mathematician, Professor Haim Hanani, asked his students at the Technion to draw up a plan for constructing a pipe to transport blood from Haifa to Eilat. The obedient students did as they were told. Using logarithmic rulers, they sketched the design for a sophisticated pipeline. They meticulously planned its route, taking into account the landscape's topography, the possibility of corrosion, the pipe's diameter and the flow calibration. When they presented their final product, the professor rendered his judgment: You failed. None of you asked why we need such a pipe, whose blood will fill it, and why it is flowing in the first place.
Regardless of whether this story is legend or true, Israel is now failing its own blood pipeline test. As Israel has been preoccupied with Gaza throughout the entire week, nobody has asked whose blood is being spilled and why. Everything is permitted, legitimate and just. The moral voice of restraint, if it ever existed, has been left behind. Even if Israel wiped Gaza off the face of the earth, killing tens of thousands in the process, as a Chechnyan laborer working in Sderot proposed to me, one can assume that there would be no protest.
They liquidated Nizar Ghayan? Nobody counts the 20 women and children who lost their lives in the same attack. There was a massacre of dozens of officers during their graduation ceremony from the police academy? Acceptable. Five little sisters? Allowed. Palestinians are dying in hospitals that lack medical equipment? Peanuts. Whatever happened to the not-so-good old days of Salah Shahadeh? When we liquidated him in July 2002, we also killed 15 women and children. At least back then, moral qualms were raised for a moment.
Here lie their bodies, row upon row, some of them tiny. Our hearts have turned hard and our eyes have become dull. All of Israel has worn military fatigues, uniforms that are opaque and stained with blood and which enable us to carry out any crime. Even our leading intellectuals fail to speak out on what havoc we have wreaked. Amos Oz urges: "Cease-fire now." David Grossman writes: "Hold your fire. Stop." Meir Shalev wants "a punitive operation." And not one word about our moral image, which has been horribly distorted.
The suffering in the south renders everything kosher, as if the horrible suffering in Gaza pales in comparison. Everyone is hungry for revenge, and that hunger is excused by the need for "deterrence," after it was already proved that the killing and the destruction in Lebanon did not achieve it....
It is doubtful whether Hamas will be cut down to size as a result of this wretched war. Yet, the face of the state has been cut down to size, as have civilian elites who are apathetic and scared. The "peace camp," if it ever existed, has been cut down to size. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz authorized the Ghayan killing, regardless of the cost. Haim Oron, the leader of the "new left-wing movement," supported the launch of this foolish war.
Nobody is coming to the rescue - of Gaza or even of the remnants of humanity and Israeli democracy. The statesmen, the jurists, the poets, the authors, academe, and the news media - pitch black over the abyss. When the time comes for reckoning, we will need to remember the damage this war did to Israel: The blood pipeline it laid has been completed.
You will never read anything remotely like this in the pages of the New York Times -- or anywhere else in the "respectable" mainstream American media. But you can read it in Israel. Levy is right: no one is coming to rescue Gaza: not the UN, not the kowtowing Arab tyrannies (read the "Angry Arab" for the most scathing revelations of the cowardice and betrayal of these regimes), and certainly not the Suddenly Silent One who will be the president of the United States in a few days. [For more on this silence and its implications, see another excellent piece from Arthur Silber here.]