As the civilian death toll in the Gaza crisis mounts, so does criticism of Israel for what many see as a disproportionate response. Israel says it is doing its best to prevent civilian deaths, but says it will only stop when Hamas’ rockets stop.
The people of Israel have been subjected to years of missiles fired by Hamas into residential areas and the country has the right to defend itself, Foreign Ministry spokesman Paul Hirschon explains the official position to RT.
RT: Just yesterday, your boss and the Israeli Interior Minister called for Gaza to be bombed into the “middle ages.” What did he mean by that?
Paul Hirschon: Well, if you’re talking about my boss, the Foreign Minister, what he said was, if we have no choice and we
’re forced into a ground operation, then the Israeli military needs to go all the way. What he means is very clear: we’ve set a goal of bringing a sense of calm and normalcy to the civilian population of Israel and Southern Israel, who’ve been subjected to years of missiles incessantly and indiscriminately fired into our residential areas. And what he means is a degradation of the command and control and operational capability of Hamas and some of their cronies, the Palestinian-Islamic jihad and such like.
RT: Well, you’ve just said the words “go all the way.” He’s mentioned the words “Middle Ages.” That in effect could be interpreted as destroying infrastructure, roads, and water supplies. That is surely targeting an entire population, that’s against the Geneva Convention and a war crime, isn’t it?
PH: Well, that would be. But that is absolutely not the case as to what is happening, and I think you will agree with me that in over 1,400 military strikes in the last week, with a casualty rate 47 civilian deaths in 1,400 cases, I think you will agree with me the Israeli army is operating in a way which is taking every possible step to avoid civilian casualties.
RT: Save the Children charity are saying families are running out of food and water, and power cuts are making matters worse. You’re in effect targeting an entire population, aren’t you?
PH: No, absolutely not, nothing of the sort. Again I say to you, you know, fourteen hundred strikes resulted in 47 civilian deaths. And I’m not belittling… the last thing I want to do is belittle the death of any civilian on either side of this conflict or of any conflict. The problem is, that we face here Hamas, who essentially, you know, Hamas, the word Hamas is essentially a synonym for a double-war crime. They deliberately target our civilians, while at the same time with an element of pride hide behind their own civilians.
RT: Just recently, the Jerusalem Post, Gilad Sharon, the son of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, said that residents of Gaza are not innocent because they elected Hamas. Therefore, he is implying they’re legitimate targets. And that is why civilians are being killed?
PH: Well, civilians are not being targeted. Gilad Sharon, who you referred to, is a private individual and every individual is entitled, you know, we still believe here in Israel in the freedom of speech, unlike for better or for worse in the Gaza Strip and he’s entitled to his opinion and say it, he doesn’t represent the Israeli government and it doesn’t reflect at all the behaviour of the Israeli military over the course of the past week.
RT: It’s not just him saying fairly disturbing or referring to motives behind this […] campaign. The Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari called for Israeli soldiers to mow all Palestinians down, Israel Katz, Israel’s transport minister, says the army should be bombing Gaza until the population flees en masse. I mean, these are coming from fairly authoritative figures here and it’s almost as if the true motives are now being displayed.
PH: You know, you can come up with sometimes silly, sometimes stupid and sometimes unacceptable comments by people on both sides. We will see consistent comments on the other side far worse than that. But the truth of the matter is, you have to judge people by their actions far more than by their words. The Israeli military, the Air Force, the government of Israel have taken tremendous steps to avoid civilian casualties. Tens of thousands of phone calls, tens of thousands of text messages, we’ve taken over the Palestinian radio broadcast frequencies, we’ve dropped leaflets on the population explaining to them what’s going on, warning them: “we know who Hamas military leadership is, we know where they are, stay away from them.”
STRONG> OK, you took over the Palestinian broadcast facilities, you of course targeted the media centre, collateral damage was really quite significant, one cameraman has lost a leg as a result. It seems to me that you’re blindly attacking targets with little regard for civilians and indeed journalists. Now, do you think public sentiment could turn against Israel as a result of that?
PH: You know, I’m glad you brought up the example of the media centre. And you can Google it and you can see the YouTube video clips of the strike on that centre. Here’s a classic example of the Palestinian-Islamic jihad using the international media, that’s you, using the international media as human shields. What we struck today in that media centre was an operation centre of the Palestinian-Islamic jihad. You used the word collateral damage, which is a really ugly term but nonetheless it is the term that many people use – there wasn’t any. Four senior operatives of the Palestinian-Islamic jihad were killed in that strike and nobody else, and nobody else was injured in that particular strike, where they’re using you, the international media, as human shields.
RT: We saw the devastation, we have the film which we showed yesterday, the devastation to our office, our RT office yesterday. It looked as if you were very, very close to actually killing a foreign journalist there. Now that again could be classified as a war crime, isn’t Israel taking too many risks with this tactic?
PH: No, I don’t think so, although I will agree with you that war is a risky business, it’s a messy business, it’s something we didn’t want to be in. We were dragged into this, I think you can see by the response of the international community, the democratic world first and foremost, which is saying very clearly: Israel has the right to defend itself. Thousands of missiles raining down on our civilians are not something any government could accept.
RT: There’re obviously suggestions of a ground invasion, an imminent one. Mursi, the Egyptian President, said this could lead to serious consequences. Are you concerned that could ignite a regional war?
PH: Well, look, what I think the truth is, that these are serious consequences. Thousands of missiles rained on our civilian population have led to serious consequences. You ask where we are heading right now, we hope that we don’t have to take this to the next step, to the step of the ground operation, but it’s a very real possibility. If Hamas were to stand up right now and say OK, they will desist from what they’ve been doing for some years now and in particular over the last few weeks, which is lobbing indiscriminately missiles and rockets into our civilian population, and if they will desist for a very, very long time, then there’s no need to pursue this.
RT: Let me just ask you, I’ve mentioned the impact on the region. Of course, Syrian President Assad, his regime is clearly under attack. Now, when his forces attack a populated area, home to terrorists and militants, he’s accused of slaughter by the international community. Now, when Israel does it, it’s saying it’s defending itself. So where’s the line there?
PH: I’ll tell you where the line is. You see, again, fourteen hundred strikes by the Israeli military very carefully targeted, the evidence is clear and, again, every civilian casualty on both sides is a tragedy, we regret it tremendously, but 1,400 strikes for 47 civilian casualties, civilian deaths means that the Israeli military has been targeting very carefully, military installations, command and control, operational capability. The difference is that in Syria Assad is perpetuating a deliberate genocide on his own people. This is completely different and completely unacceptable. What we’re doing is as carefully as possible avoiding civilian casualties, but we’re p
ursuing and we will pursue the Hamas military capabilities and Palestinian-Islamic jihad and a few others until such time as it’s clear that they will desist from terrorizing our civilian population for a very, very long time.
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