Israel Cited Hamas Rocket Fire as Excuse

Israeli destruction of Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals, is getting a pass from Official Washington because Israel asserts Hamas fired rockets from near the sites, but a close examination of those claims reveals a different reality, writes Gareth Porter for Inter Press Service.

Israel and its supporters abroad have parried accusations of indiscriminate destruction and mass killing of civilians in Gaza by arguing that they were consequences of strikes aimed at protecting Israeli civilians from rockets that were being launched from very near civilian structures.

That defense has already found its way into domestic U.S. politics. A possible contender for the Democratic nomination for president, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, defended her vote for more military aid for Israel during the Israeli assault on Gaza by citing the rocket launch defense.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presses his case for the military offensive against Gaza in a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (Israeli government photo)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presses his case for this summer’s military offensive against Gaza in a meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. (Israeli government photo)

“[W]hen Hamas puts its rocket launchers next to hospitals, next to schools, they’re using their civilian population to protect their military assets,” said Warren. “And I believe Israel has a right, at that point, to defend itself.”

But although some Hamas rockets were launched near homes or other civilian structures, military developments on both sides have rendered that defense of Israeli attacks on civilian targets invalid. The rocket launchers for Hamas’s homemade Qassam missiles consist of simple tripods that can be removed in seconds, and the extensive Hamas tunnel network has given it underground launching sites as well as storage facilities for its larger, longer-range Grad and M-75 missiles.

On the other side, the Israeli Air Force possesses air-to-ground missiles that are so accurate that they can destroy a very small target without any damage to civilian structure even if it is very close.

A video released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in a report on Hamas’s “illegal use of civilian infrastructure” last month shows an attack obviously by an Israeli drone, on an underground rocket launcher only a few meters away from a mosque causing no damage whatever to the mosque.

These technological changes take away any justification for flattening civilian buildings even if a rocket launch site is nearby. In fact, however, the evidence now available indicates that Hamas launch sites are not that close to hospitals, schools and mosques.

The IDF sought in mid-July to use the rocket launcher defense to explain the damage to Al Wafa Rehabilitation and Geriatic Hospital in eastern Gaza City from 15 rockets, which forced the staff to evacuate its patients. An IDF spokesman said the military had “no choice” because rockets had been launched from very near the hospital.

Clearly revealing that the rocket launch justification for the attack was a ruse, however, the spokesman revealed to Allison Degler of Mondoweiss that the alleged launch site was 100 meters from the hospital. That would have been far more space than was needed to strike the launch site without any damage to the hospital whatever.

report released by the IDF on Aug. 19 included an aerial view of Al Wafa Hospital with two alleged rocket launching sites marked at locations that appeared to be much farther from the hospital than the 100 meters claimed by the IDF spokesman. The IDF nevertheless went so far as to declare on July 21, “Hamas fires rockets from Wafa hospital in the Gaza neighborhood of Shujaiya.”

When the IDF destroyed Al Wafa hospital completely by airstrikes on July 23, it abandoned the pretense that the reason was a Hamas rocket launch site. Instead it released a video purporting to show firing at IDF troops from the hospital. It turned out, however, the video clips of the firing been shot during “Operation Cast Lead” in 2009, not in 2014.

The IDF has continued to suggest that its destruction of public civilian facilities was forced on it by rocket launches from within those facilities. At the end of the “Operation Protective Edge” the IDF spokesman’s office claimed that 597 rockets had been launched from civilian facilities, of which 160 were allegedly fired from schools, 50 from hospitals, and 160 from mosques.

But those figures were produced only by pretending that launching sites some distance from the facilities in question were on the premises of the facilities. An IDF “declassified report” released Aug. 19, aimed at showing that civilian facilities were serving as military infrastructure for Hamas, includes no evidence of any rocket launches on the grounds of any civilian facility.

A very blurry 20-second video appears to show a rocket launch from what is identified as “Abu Nur” school. But it, too, is deceptive. A black streak rises from the area of the school for a little more than a second of the video, but for the entire length of the video two voices declare repeatedly that they saw three rockets launched “from within the school”.

Careful viewing of the footage reveals, however, that the apparent launch comes from outside the wall of the three-story school building rather than from within it. In three other cases of alleged rocket launches from schools, the IDF provides no visual evidence only large red dots drawn on an aerial view of the schools.

During the “Operation Protective Edge,” the IDF openly targeted mosques, claiming they are military targets, demolishing 73 mosques and partially destroying 205 more. The Aug. 19 IDF report refers to a “rocket cache and gathering point for militants hidden in a mosque” in Nuseirat. But despite frequent repetitions of the notion that Hamas routinely stores rockets in mosques, the IDF has not produced photographic evidence of rocket storage in a single mosque.

Nor has the IDF made public any video evidence of secondary explosions from the destruction of mosques. In a tacit admission that such evidence is lacking, the report instead cites an instance of a “concealed entrance” to a Hamas tunnel located between a mosque and a school.

The most extensive destruction of civilian structures in “Operation Protective Edge” was the complete leveling of large parts of entire neighborhoods in the Shujaiya district of Gaza City on July 19. After the United Nations published a map showing the complete destruction of those areas of Shujaiya, the IDF published its own map on Aug. 4 aimed at justifying the destruction.

The map shows that the IDF can’t claim the proximity of Hamas rocket launching sites as the justification for the leveling of many residential blocks in Shujaiya. The Israeli military had identified every home in the devastated neighborhoods on its map as a “hideout” for Hamas or Islamic Jihad fighters.

The IDF obviously did not have actual intelligence on each of those homes that had been reduced to rubble. The massive designation of houses as “hideouts” indicates the Israelis believed Palestinian fighters were hiding in some of them.

Although the red dots on the IDF map identifying rocket launch sites are too big to estimate accurately the distance between them and the closest houses, only a few such dots appear to be as close as one city block to a house in one of the areas of massive destruction. And all but a few of the homes destroyed are much farther than a block from the alleged launching sites.

An account of the Shujaiya destruction by journalist Mark Perry based on a July 21 U.S. Defense Department report recalls that the IDF fired 7,000 artillery shells at residential areas in the district the night of July 19, including 4,500 shells in the space of just seven minutes.

Such massive and indiscriminate destruction of civilian structures is strictly prohibited by the international laws of war. Israeli officials have frequently said the purpose of IDF military operations in both Lebanon and Gaza was to “deter” their adversaries in the future by imposing heavy costs on the civilian population.

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. He can be contacted at

6 comments for “Israel Cited Hamas Rocket Fire as Excuse

  1. rosemerry
    September 10, 2014 at 15:35

    Of course Gareth is correct, but surely the whole point is
    1. the occupation and cruel restrictions on the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, with the stealing of water and land, destruction of houses, arrests, incarcerations are the basis of the resistance by some groups, especially Hama.
    2. The killing of two unarmed Palestinian youth on Nakba Day was a provocation given little media space, yet the attack on the “Israeli teens” in the Palestinian land was hyped, with Netanyahu lying for weeks about their fate, and pushing a hate campaign with no evidence against Hamas.
    3. A month of arrests, house ransacking, rearrests of “freed” Palestinians, murders, blowing up of suspects’ houses in the WB, then attacks on Gaza and killing of 6 Hamas officials ALL followed before Hamas was goaded into response. 19 months of ceasefire was broken by Israel, huge damage before any “rockets”.
    4. The rockets, with no high tech targeting, managed to hit hardly any civilians-for all the fuss, only about 1 in a thousand hit an Israeli civilian-while the precision weapons of the USA/IOF killed over two thousand. How can Israel pretend it is in danger, or that there is any justification for the carnage?

    • Zachary Smith
      September 10, 2014 at 19:46

      4. The rockets, with no high tech targeting, managed to hit hardly any civilians-for all the fuss, only about 1 in a thousand hit an Israeli civilian-while the precision weapons of the USA/IOF killed over two thousand.


      Israel’s precision weapons are indeed quite precise. But they’re also expensive.

      So the main killing devices were artillery. Lots and LOTS of artillery.

      “Eleven battalions of IDF artillery is equivalent to the artillery we deploy to support two divisions of U.S. infantry,” a senior Pentagon officer with access to the daily briefings said. “That’s a massive amount of firepower, and it’s absolutely deadly.” Another officer, a retired artillery commander who served in Iraq, said the Pentagon’s assessment might well have underestimated the firepower the IDF brought to bear on Shujaiya. “This is the equivalent of the artillery we deploy to support a full corps,” he said. “It’s just a huge number of weapons.”

      Artillery pieces used during the operation included a mix of Soltam M71 guns and U.S.-manufactured Paladin M109s (a 155-mm howitzer), each of which can fire three shells per minute. “The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible,” said the senior U.S. military officer. “It’s not mowing the lawn,” he added, referring to a popular IDF term for periodic military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “It’s removing the topsoil.”

      The goal was to murder a huge number of Palestinians in the short time they’d allowed for the operation.

      As the Codpiece Commander would have said,

      Mission Accomplished!

      I’m constantly torn whether to call the inhabitants of the shitty little nation-state on the East end of the Med “murderous thieves” or “thieving murderers”.

      Events in Gaza have left me inclined towards the latter one.

  2. F. G. Sanford
    September 10, 2014 at 14:06

    Humanity has provided us with many examples of consummate psychologists, but the most effective ones have never been recognized as such. Their tactics are easy to recognize when they represent the enemy. But when we like them, we embrace them with warmth and affection. Such is the paradox of charisma, which appeals to the crowd and invites it to join in demonization, or belittlement, or ridicule, or rejection, or marginalization…or even outright deprivation of their liberty, their dignity and their lives. The crowd has no conscience, so in the hands of a gifted sociopath, it may relinquish the burdens of societal restraint, cast off its inhibitions, and throw in with the bohemian ringleader. The ringleader may do it for power or money. Sometimes, he or she may do it for things as trivial as laughs. This article will receive much less attention than the voluminous examples of syrupy eulogy lamenting the loss of that comic “genius”, Joan Rivers. The truth is tedious, but a “one-liner” liberates the crowd from that most tedious of all obligations: its conscience. Joan could flip the moral responsibility to her fellow human beings by denigrating their appearance, their foibles, there weaknesses or their intelligence. “Only the ones with low IQ’s were dumb enough to stay and get bombed”, or “When you ask for a war, and you get a war, why be surprised? I’m glad they’re dead”. But there has been an incredible outpouring of grief and sympathy for this 81 year old misanthropic caricature of cosmetic surgery whose humor relied on seething contempt for the sensibilities of her fellow human beings. Admittedly, everyone was fair game, but that’s not really a level playing field. Of herself, she said, “I’ve got so much plastic they’ll donate my body to Tupperware.” By the same token, as a true Republican gargoyle, she had so much money that she could dabble in cosmetic surgery as a hobby when millions of Americans can’t get treatment for cancer and diabetes. It finally got her killed. So, when she died, after her remark about Palestinians, I couldn’t help think that there is a kind of justice. I am a big fan of the folks over at OpEdNews, but I was a little surprised when they too jumped on the bandwagon. Rob Kall over there writes frequently about sociopaths, but when a greed-obsessed Ayn Randian narcissist like the hate-spewing Joan Rivers drops dead by her own devices, he’s cast into nostalgic melancholy. A typical sociopath, she had them “Eating from the palm of her hand.” The crowd has passed its verdict, and tragically, the Palestinians are guilty. The truth is tedious. Justice is rare, and the crowd moves on.

    • Michael Schiffmann
      September 10, 2014 at 18:32

      Couldn’t agree more. That woman was disgusting.

    • Zachary Smith
      September 10, 2014 at 19:31

      (For the second time in the past hour the forum software has deep-sixed a post of mine. Wonder what’s going on?)

      “Only the ones with low IQ’s were dumb enough to stay and get bombed”, or “When you ask for a war, and you get a war, why be surprised? I’m glad they’re dead”. But there has been an incredible outpouring of grief and sympathy for this 81 year old misanthropic caricature of cosmetic surgery whose humor relied on seething contempt for the sensibilities of her fellow human beings.

      From all recent accounts I’ve read, the woman wasn’t a bit funny in her later years. Just mean, nasty, and cruel.

      On the Nixon threads here I spent some time thinking about his daughters. What can it be like to learn that the father you loved was a genuine monster and unprosecuted criminal?

      The family of Joan Rivers has my sympathy, but nothing can alter the fact that the woman had a ugly streak half a mile wide.

    • Gregory Kruse
      September 11, 2014 at 18:27

      At least she wasn’t a politician.

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