Monday, October 19, 2009

Challenging the Dahiya Doctrine

By Brenda Heard

Part of the functions of reports such as this is to attempt, albeit in a very small way, to restore the dignity of those whose rights have been violated in the most fundamental way of all –the arbitrary deprivation of life. It is important that the international community asserts formally and unequivocally that such violence to the most basic fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals should not be overlooked and should be condemned.”

--The Goldstone Report, p 524 ¶ 1682

The tragic tale of the Samouni family of Gaza has become well known. “We feel [we are] in an exile, even though we are in our homeland, on our land,” says Salah Samouni in a recent Haaretz article. “We sit and envy the dead. They are the ones who are at rest.” The interesting part, though, is not the renewed images of the dead. The interesting part is the backdrop of suggestion: the Samouni family felt that their longstanding, amicable relationship with the Israeli powers would protect them; they were naively mistaken. They were to be victims to the Dahiya Doctrine.

The Haaretz report states that Salah’s father, Talal, ‘had been employed by Jews’ for nearly 40 years and that whenever he was sick, ‘the employer would call, ask after his health, and forbid him to come to work before he had recovered.’” They had managed to get along.

Haaretz notes that the “Samounis were always confident that, in the event of any military invasions into Gaza, they could always manage to get along with the Israeli army. Until 2005, before Israel's disengagement from the Strip, the Jewish settlement of Netzarim was located right next door, and several family members worked there from time to time. When the joint Israeli-Palestinian patrols were active, Israeli soldiers and Palestinian security officials sometimes asked the Samounis to ‘lend’ them a tractor to flatten a patch of land or repair the Salah al-Din Road (for example, when a diplomatic convoy needed to pass through).

While Samouni family members worked on their tractors, gathering sand, the soldiers would watch them. ‘When the soldiers wanted us to leave, they would fire above our heads. That's what experience taught me,’ recalls Salah Samouni. . . . The older men of the family. . . worked in Israel until the 1990s in different localities, including Bat Yam, Moshav Asseret (near Gedera) and the ‘Glicksman Plant.’ They all believed that the Hebrew they had learned would assist and if necessary save them during encounters with soldiers.”

Even up until the mass killing, the Samouni family still clung naively to the notion that their working relationship with the IDF would protect them. Haaretz reports that “on January 4, under orders from the army, Salah Samouni and the rest of the family left their home, which had been turned into a military position, and moved to the other, the home of Wael [Samouni], located on the southern side of the street. The fact that it was the soldiers who had relocated them, had seen the faces of the children and the older women, and the fact that the soldiers were positioned in locations surrounding the house just tens of meters away, instilled in the family a certain amount of confidence - despite the IDF fire from the air, from the sea and from the land, despite the hunger and the thirst.”

And then the IDF shelled that home, killing 21 of the Samouni family. Their usefulness had expired.

The Samouni’s had not thrown stones at Israeli tanks and had not waved angry fists at Israeli soldiers. Instead, they had worked dutifully for the Jewish population and had learned its language. But they were not spared. They were not spared because they had not themselves been Jewish. They were not spared because “peaceful co-existence” is merely a phrase bandied about by politicians seeking camouflage.

On 18 January 2009, reports Haaretz, “after the IDF left the Gaza Strip, the rescue teams returned to the neighborhood. Wael's house was found in ruins: IDF bulldozers had demolished it entirely - with the corpses inside.” Evidence destroyed. When Haaretz questioned Israeli military about the behaviour of the military forces in the Samouni family's neighbourhood, an IDF spokesman said that all of the claims had been examined, and that ‘Upon completion of the examination, the findings will be taken to the military advocate general, who will decide about the need to take additional steps.’” Whether the Haaretz article intended genuine concern or a subtle sneer, it works both ways.

The Goldstone Mission, however, was not convinced of the usefulness of Israeli self-investigation. Paragraph 1629 of the Goldstone Report notes that the “Mission concludes that there are serious doubts about the willingness of Israel to carry out genuine investigations in an impartial, independent, prompt and effective way as required by international law.” This long-term unwillingness to abide by international law is so thoroughly documented in the Report that the UN Human Rights Council on 16 October 2009 not only expressed “serious concern at the lack of implementation by the occupying Power, Israel, of previously adopted resolutions and recommendations of the Council relating to the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,” but also condemned the “non-cooperation by the occupying power, Israel, with the independent international fact-finding [Goldstone] mission.”

The common denominator of the Haaretz article and the Goldstone Report and the UN Human Rights Council Report is the challenge to the Israeli military concept known as the “Dahiya doctrine.” The Goldstone Report states that “The Israeli military conception of what was necessary in a future war with Hamas seems to have been developed from at least the time of the 2006 conflict in southern Lebanon. It finds its origin in a military doctrine that views disproportionate destruction and creating maximum disruption in the lives of many people as a legitimate means to achieve military and political goals.” (¶1209)

In supporting the Goldstone Report, the UN Human Rights Council has acknowledged the premise that the responsibility for the most recent Lebanon and Gaza wars lies squarely with one unique factor: Israeli political goals. The UN-welcomed Report notes historical context by underscoring that the “specific means Israel has adopted to meet its military objectives in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and in Lebanon have repeatedly been censured by the United Nations Security Council, especially its attacks on houses. The military operations from 27 December to 18 January did not occur in a vacuum, either in terms of proximate causes in relation to the Hamas/Israeli dynamics or in relation to the development of Israeli military thinking about how best to describe the nature of its military objectives.” (¶1189)

The Goldstone Report, while situated within the Gaza conflict of 2008, found itself striking at the root of that conflict, a root that stretches back at least two years prior:

In its operations in southern Lebanon in 2006, there emerged from Israeli military thinking a concept known as the Dahiya doctrine, as a result of the approach taken to the Beirut neighbourhood of that name. Major General Gadi Eisenkot, the Israeli Northern Command chief, expressed the premise of the doctrine: ‘What happened in the Dahiya quarter of Beirut in 2006 will happen in every village from which Israel is fired on. […] We will apply disproportionate force on it and cause great damage and destruction there. From our standpoint, these are not civilian villages, they are military bases. […] This is not a recommendation. This is a plan. And it has been approved.’

After the war in southern Lebanon in 2006, a number of senior former military figures appeared to develop the thinking that underlay the strategy set out by Gen. Eiskenot. In particular Major General (Ret.) Giora Eiland has argued that, in the event of another war with Hizbullah, the target must not be the defeat of Hizbullah but ‘the elimination of the Lebanese military, the destruction of the national infrastructure and intense suffering among the population… Serious damage to the Republic of Lebanon, the destruction of homes and infrastructure, and the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people are consequences that can influence Hizbollah’s behaviour more than anything else’.” (¶1191—1192)

The Report again points to the similarity of goals and strategies of Israeli policies in both Lebanon and Gaza and quotes at length the October 2008 reflections of Col. (Ret.) Gabriel Siboni:

    With an outbreak of hostilities, 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. The strike must be carried out as quickly as possible, and must prioritize damaging assets over seeking out each and every launcher. Punishment must be aimed at decision makers and the power elite… In Lebanon, attacks should both aim at Hizbollah’s military capabilities and should target economic interests and the centres of civilian power that support the organization. Moreover, the closer the relationship between Hezbollah and the Lebanese Government, the more the elements of the Lebanese State infrastructure should be targeted. Such a response will create a lasting memory among … Lebanese decision makers, thereby increasing Israeli deterrence and reducing the likelihood of hostilities against Israel for an extended period. At the same time, it will force Syria, Hizbollah, and Lebanon to commit to lengthy and resource-intensive reconstruction programmes… This approach is applicable to the Gaza Strip as well. There, the IDF will be required to strike hard at Hamas and to refrain from the cat and mouse games of searching for Qassam rocket launchers. The IDF should not be expected to stop the rocket and missile fire against the Israeli home front through attacks on the launchers themselves, but by means of imposing a ceasefire on the enemy.” (¶1193)

The Report emphasises that the Dahiya Doctrine of debilitating punishment was far from bluster. The Mission, states the Report has been “able to conclude from a review of the facts on the ground that it witnessed for itself that what is prescribed as the best strategy appears to have been precisely what was put into practice.” (¶1195) In fact, the Report continues, the “operations were carefully planned in all their phases. Legal opinions and advice were given throughout the planning stages and at certain operational levels during the campaign. There were almost no mistakes made according to the Government of Israel. It is in these circumstances that the Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.” (¶1690) What was born in Lebanon in 2006 as a bombardment of the Dahiya district of Beirut had evolved into the blitzkrieg of Gaza.

In challenging the Dahiya Doctrine, the UN Human Rights Council confirms the ultimate finding of the Goldstone Report: aggressive annihilation in the quest for political gain violates the rule of law which safeguards the balance of civilised societies. It is not merely the vicious act which must be condemned, but the concept itself. It is agreed that the responsibility for these atrocities lies “in the first place with those who designed, planned, ordered and oversaw the operations.” (¶1692) In carrying forward the recommendations of the Report, the UN Human Rights Council supports the principles of international law and that Israel’s “longstanding impunity has been a key factor in the perpetuation of violence in the region and in the reoccurrence of violations.” (¶1761) These are facts that, unlike the Samouni family home, can not be demolished and reduced to rubble.

By Brenda Heard

Friends of Lebanon