Israel's Crazy Doctrine for Justifying Deaths of Over 1,000 Gazans

Israel is waging war on civilians in Gaza. Ordinary Palestinians, television stations, schools, hospitals, power plants and water facilities are all targets in the eyes of the Israeli army, one of the most powerful militaries in the world.


On Monday night, in what is being described as the most intense Israeli bombardment since the assault began three weeks ago, the air force bombed Gaza’s sole power plant, and killed over 100 people. 

It is a violation of international law to destroy civilian infrastructure and lives if there is no concrete military advantage in doing so. “Israel is repeatedly and flagrantly violating the law of armed conflict,” a group of international legal scholars said in a statement released this week. “Most of the recent heavy bombings in Gaza lack an acceptable military justification and, instead, appear to be designed to terrorize the civilian population.”

But Israel, shielded from accountability by the U.S., continues to violate the laws of war. In fact, it is following a specific military doctrine developed by Israeli military officials that calls for punishing the civilian population in the territory where resistance to Israeli actions emanates from. Its purpose is to restore Israeli deterrence; to make Israel’s armed enemies think twice before resisting, a goal Israel attempts to meet by wantonly destroying civilian infrastructure. Another goal is to turn the civilian population against the authorities that rule them. In this war, it’s Hamas Israel wants to weaken.

The Dahiyeh doctrine, as it is known, was first used in 2006. In the summer of that year, Israel went to war in Lebanon to battle the militant group Hezbollah, which was created in the late 1980s for the express purpose of resisting Israel’s occupation of Lebanon. Sparked by an attack on Israeli soldiers and the subsequent capturing of two soldiers to press for the release of Hezbollah prisoners in Israel, the 2006 assault on Lebanon inflicted enormous damage on the country. Over 1,000 Lebanese, the majority of them civilians, were killed.

The neighborhood of Dahiyeh was particularly hit hard. Dahiyeh is a Lebanese neighborhood in the south of the country, populated by low-income Shi’a Muslims. While not all of them are Hezbollah supporters, Shia Muslims are the constituency the Islamist party serves, and so Israel sought to punish them all, with no regard to who was a civilian and who was a combatant.

The doctrine was summed up by Israeli north command chief Gadi Eisenkot. “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction,” he said in 2008, two years after the doctrine was put into place. “This isn’t a suggestion. This is a plan that has already been authorized.”

The residents of Dahiyeh didn’t need Eisenkot to tell them that. They lived through the doctrine. Israeli warplanes carpet-bombed the neighborhood in actions that were “certainly both indiscriminate and disproportionate,” a Human Rights Watch report on the war in Lebanon concluded.

Eisenkot's explanation of the military doctrine was made in the run-up to the 2008-'09 Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip, which killed an estimated 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians. In addition to widespread civilian death, Israel perpetrated massive destruction targeting all areas of civilian life in Gaza. According to an Amnesty International report on the 2008-'09 Israeli “Operation Cast Lead,” the military targeted medical and humanitarian vehicles, United Nations schools, government buildings, civilian homes and more. A UN Human Rights Council document, known as the Goldstone Report, stated that “Israeli military armed forces…[used] the Dahiyeh doctrine...involving the application of disproportionate force and the causing of great damage and destruction to civilian property and infrastructure, and suffering to civilian populations.”

Widespread destruction in Gaza in line with the Dahiyeh doctrine’s precepts is unfolding before the world’s eyes during this latest attack. Various hospitals and health facilities have been bombed. The power plant that was hit by tank shells in Gaza is the only one serving the coastal strip, though Gaza also is forced to depend on electricity from Israel. The deputy director of energy in Gaza said it could take a year to repair.

Israel’s air strikes have damaged water and wastewater infrastructure. “Main water supply and wastewater infrastructure has been hit and as a result the water supply or sewage services to 1.2 million (two-thirds of the total population in Gaza) have been cut or severely disrupted,” according to the organization Emergency Water Sanitation and Hygiene (EWASH).

Israel has also hit United Nations Relief Works Agency-run schools in Gaza, which are sheltering thousands of displaced Palestinians. An estimated 5,000 homes in Gaza have been completely destroyed, with another 26,000 damaged.

The bombardment in Shujaiyah, a neighborhood in Gaza where Hamas militants are particularly strong, also exposed the indiscriminate force Israel is using. After a number of elite Israeli soldiers were killed by militants operating from the neighborhood, the Israeli army decided to launch “a wave of shelling,” according to the Jerusalem Post. The result was what many Palestinians called a “massacre,” with dozens dead, some left to rot in the streets, until Palestinians could come back and collect the bodies.

Gaza was already reeling from a humanitarian crisis before this assault, and it’s only going to get worse. The worsening of life for people in Gaza is a deliberate goal the Israeli military has set out for itself over the past eight years.

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