Israel's strike against Salah Shehadeh -- the commander of Hamas terrorists in both Gaza and the West Bank -- has prompted substantial media focus because of the unfortunate death and wounding of Palestinian civilians, many of them children. Israel has expressed its regret about the civilian casualties, which were unintended, and has begun an investigation of the event. The Israeli military now says the use of a one-ton bomb in a crowded residential area was a mistake.
As Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said in reply to questions about the accidental killing of Afghani civilians by US troops, "It's an unfortunate fact of war that, inevitably, innocent civilians are killed. This has been true, true throughout the history of warfare, and it remains true even in this age of advanced technology and precision-guided munitions." (New York Times, July 23, 2002)
It hardly needs saying that the eruption of European, UN and Arab condemnation over this instance of tragic Israeli military miscalculation is in dramatic contrast to the muted -- and often non-existent -- world response to the regular and deliberate killing of Israeli civilians by terrorist groups directly connected with or encouraged by the Palestinian Authority.
Certain essential points should be kept in mind in following the coverage and communicating with the media:
** Shehadeh organized dozens of terrorist attacks which killed, wounded and/or maimed hundreds of Israelis. He and those he recruited and commanded were responsible for the murders of:
-29 Israelis attending a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya on March 27, 2002. 19 of the dead were 70 years old or older. 140 injured.
-15 mostly elderly bus passengers in Haifa on December 2, 2001. 40 wounded.
-5 Israeli teenagers and the wounding of 23 other teenage students in Atzmona on March 7, 2002. -11young adults, 10 of them in their 20's, who were sitting in a cafe in Jerusalem on March 9, 2002. 54 wounded.
These are just a few of the many attacks for which Shehadeh's terrorists claimed responsibility.
** Israel was forced to go after Shehadeh as it did because Arafat and the PA had failed to arrest Shehadeh for his terrorist activities. Israel had repeatedly urged the Palestinian Authority to arrest Shehadeh and to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure Shehadeh had built, but the PA instead turned a blind eye, abetting the continued brutal murder of Israelis. Israel faced the reality that hundreds more innocent lives would be lost if Shehadeh were not stopped.
** Shehadeh, like many terrorists, sought shelter among civilians, knowingly placing them in grave danger and creating a difficult dilemma for Israel with regard to his capture or removal.
** America has faced similar dilemmas in our own war against terrorism. When an Al Qaeda target in Afghanistan was found to be in a crowded car, US troops nonetheless dropped a bomb on the car, killing women and children in the car. Regarding this type of incident, the New York Times reported on March 12, 2002
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week seemed to prepare the American public for casualties among noncombatants, specifically the families of Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters, who had taken their families with them to the battle zone. Two days after Operation Anaconda began, Mr. Rumsfeld said that the women and children were in the battle zone "of their own free will, knowing who they're with and who they're supporting and who they're encouraging and who they're assisting." (New York Times, "Pentagon Says U.S. Airstrike Killed Women And Children" March 13, 2002)
Certainly not all the civilians harmed by the Israeli raid on Shehadeh had deliberately or knowingly shielded him, but his wife and advisor knew he was a threat to those around him, including their own children.
** It should be remembered that the goal of Hamas (and Shehadeh before his death) is the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in its place. With its anti-Semitic and virulent anti-Israel goals, Hamas gains status and adherents when men like Shehadeh kill Israelis with impunity.
** In accordance with standing orders, Israeli soldiers have routinely called off strikes on terrorist targets if there was a strong likelihood that numerous civilians would be hurt. In fact, Israel has revealed that they called off the Shehadeh operation on several occasions because they thought the risk of injury to civilians would be too great.
** One related question to raise is what the US would choose to do if it could get Osama bin Laden, the financier and mastermind of terrorism around the world, but knew that he always surrounded himself with civilians, and that innocent children might also be harmed in the raid.
These are aspects of the issue that, if explored by the media, would allow members of the public to decide for themselves whether Israel's actions were appropriate or understandable. And these kinds of questions will also put more of the focus on Arafat and the PA, who are responsible for giving Shehadeh and other terrorists safe haven, forcing Israel to defend its citizens via military actions.
See bottom of alert for more information about Shehadeh's terrorist activities.
Please write to the media to urge that they report this story with appropriate context. Descriptions, photos and/or video clips of some of the many Israeli victims of Shehadeh's terrorism should also be included in any report about the raid on Shehadeh.
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The Consulate General of Israel in New York
For Your Information
23 July 2002
ISRAEL ENDS HAMAS TERRORIST'S BRUTAL COMMAND
Salah Shehadeh was the leader and founder of Hamas' military wing of Izzadine al-Qassem in Gaza; the group has carried out the largest number of homicide attacks, including some of the deadliest in the past two years. The Israel Defense Forces called the operation, which ended the command of Shehadeh on Monday, one of the most significant strikes against the Palestinian terror infrastructure since the start of the Palestinian terrorism twenty months ago.
Shehadeh was the operating commander of the most senior Hamas members who are currently wanted by the Israeli security services. Hamas leaders in the West Bank were also responsible to him, and Shehadeh was in contact with Hamas officials abroad under his command primarily in Syria.
Shehadeh recruited and commanded the top Hamas militants, drafted the group's attack policies, directly selected and dispatched bombers, introduced mortar missiles to Hamas' terror campaign and determined which Jewish communities to target.
Shehadeh was the most wanted man by the IDF in the past last two years, and has been described as the most brutal and brilliant terrorist operating in the Gaza Strip.
Over the past two years, Israel had appealed dozens of times to the Palestinian Authority to limit Shehadeh's activity, but no action was taken. Instead, the PA allowed Shehadeh to extend his operations within Hamas.
Israeli security sources described Shehadeh as deeply religious, a fervent supporter of homicide bombings and a possible successor to Hamas' spiritual leader Sheik Ahmad Yassin.
The IDF deeply regrets any harm that befell innocent people during this operation.