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The second casualty


The following Post was written the day before it was reported that ‘DNA evidence’ had caused the Israeli army to conclude that Lt Hadar Goldin was most probably vaporised in action, not ‘kidnapped by Hamas’. Over 200 Palestinians have died in 24-hours of military operations to search for Lt Goldin.


Listeners to the news who have not already drawn a hot bath and opened their veins will be aware that an Israeli soldier has gone missing, presumed captured by Hamas forces in, or outside, Gaza.

There are so many ifs and buts and caveats and gaps and question marks surrounding this story, that it is impossible to know what to think.

Israeli military PR exists to create one massive smokescreen over the latest bloody incursion into Gaza, but unfortunately this time the world appears to be able to see clearly enough to have a view. And we aren’t liking what we’re seeing.

As of this morning, roughly 1,500 Gazans have been killed in Israeli shellfire and air attacks. The Israelis say it is precision work targeting Hamas rocket launchers and tunnels, but the vast majority of casualties – and there are thousands more wounded – are civilians.

This is because, according to the worldwide Israeli PR machine, Hamas is using the people of Gaza as ‘human shields’. That civilians are going to be killed in large numbers is inevitable, as anyone caught in the open within 100 yards of an air-to-ground rocket exploding is going to be torn to shreds. You don’t have to be a ‘human shield’, since the population of Gaza is one of the densest of any human habitation in the world. Precision shellfire is always an oxymoron.

Despite prior notification, a number of UN-declared ‘safe houses’ (mostly schools) for the 440,000-plus internally displaced refugees in Gaza have been hit, according to the Israeli spokespersons by stray rockets fired by Hamas militants; according to everyone else, by misdirected (or maybe not) Israeli shellfire. Several hundred children under 12 have been killed, possibly over a thousand injured, by stray Hamas air-to-ground missiles from Hamas drones, the Hamas airforce and Hamas naval barrages.

In Israel so far, three civilians have died, none of them children, as a result of over 3,000 rockets fired by Hamas. Too many, of course. Red Cross and Red Crescent posts and vehicles and hospitals have also been hit by stray Hamas rockets; and the only power station in Gaza too, another unfortunate own-goal that has left the ghet… sorry, city without power, possibly for a year until it can be got back online. Water supplies, too, have dried up, probably as a result of Hamas’ wayward rocketry causing leaks.

We should not be too surprised, then, when a ‘humanitarian ceasefire’ due to last 72 hours, and lead to – horror of horrors, peace talks – breaks down after the first 90 minutes, as a result of a reported incursion by Hamas into Israel, via one of over 1,700 tunnels they have been busy digging out of the city; in the resultant engagement, two more Israeli soldiers being killed as a suicide bomber explodes his vest. Worse, a young reservist, 2nd Lt Hadar Goldin, is apparently ‘kidnapped’, in the curious word of the military PR flaks, and has disappeared into the maelstrom that is Gaza.

And suddenly, all else pales into insignificance. Israel and America cry ‘Foul!’ Hamas has committed a grave war crime. All Israel is outraged. They will move heaven and earth to find him. They have already lost over 60 soldiers killed in the incursion into the strip, but the ‘kidnapping’ of Lt Goldin takes the biscuit. Another 47 Palestinians (now 200 – update timed at 6pm) have been killed overnight, apparently in operations designed to find Lt Goldin and bring him back. Netanyahu declares the entire operation is now possibly no longer about rockets and tunnels, but about saving Pte Rya… no, sorry, Lt Goldin.

I do not mean to make light of it, but the taking of Lt Goldin has not been confirmed. It is still entirely possible that he has become just another casualty of a senseless war, that he was missing or killed in action – an action that may have been provoked by Hamas, but was nevertheless initiated by Israel. If I were an internet troll, I might even suggest the whole story has been faked-up.

Either way, one’s sympathies genuinely do go out to his family on a human level – I have a 20-year-old son of my own, who wants to join the army. As a casualty of war, though, I have to greet the possibility of Lt Goldin’s having been killed in action – possibly in an air strike by his own side – with a certain casual indifference. You live in Israel, you get conscripted, the odds are they’ll start a war, and you can get killed. Sixty-two other soldiers were. Over 1,000 civilians, including 300 children, have been.

Instead, he has become a symbol – of what, I am not entirely sure, but it looks like classic Israeli double-standards. One Israeli life is worth 1,500 Palestinians, sort of thing. And the PR story looks, to this ex-PR man, like a heaven-sent gift to the Israelis, who have been struggling increasingly to justify their hypocritical abuse of unarmed civilians, the waste of human life and the trashing of whole communities, that is being rightly branded around the world as a war crime. Viral images of dead and dying children, the blast-damaged four-year-old girl with ‘panda eyes’ – it’s not good for business.

What was needed was another war crime, committed by the other side, that we could focus our outrage on instead. And the image conjured up, of Lt Goldin being ‘dragged into the tunnel’ – not that anyone actually saw what happened – the idea of this poor, benighted 23-year-old conscript from Cambridge, England being dragged down into the mouth of Hell, is just the perfect metaphor to excite all the Biblical apprehensions and fury of a people whose religion is never far beneath the surface.

Hamas says it has not seen him and has no idea where he is. Hamas says he might have been blown to pieces by Israeli shellfire, as they have lost contact with the service unit that staged the incursion and believe everyone died. But wait. Was it not reported only about ten days ago, that another Israeli soldier was missing in action? I do not recall an attempt then to stir up religious fury and world disapprobation over a ‘kidnapping’.

And where exactly did it happen? Was this, as Hamas says, an incident that took place in Rafa, south Gaza, or was it, as the Israeli statements implied at first, in Israel itself, i.e. at the far end of the tunnel? What they are calling, in a classic piece of spin, a ‘terror tunnel’? If the ‘kidnapping’ happened in Rafa, where Israel has been enthusiastically bombing all day, then why would Hamas’ devils have dragged poor Lt Goldin back down the tunnel, towards Israel?

And how many Hamas militant suspects has the Israeli Defence Force ‘kidnapped’ during its offensive? Do we even know? Does anyone even care? (I am not supporting Hamas. They are intolerable. But they are the elected administrators of Gaza.) Do they too have names? Faces?

And does Netanyahu really believe in peace talks anymore, or is he in search of some Final Solution to the Palestinian question? (As of 1800 this evening, he has withdrawn Israel from Egyptian-brokered peace talks, stating that there is ‘no point’ in negotiating with Hamas. So why did he agree to do it? Is he 64, or 6.4 years old?)*

And why does it take only one, relatively minor incident – crouched inside a sewage pipe hundreds of metres from your command centre, waiting to launch an incursion with a 100 per cent chance that you will not come back, as a teenage Hamas fighter would you even know there was supposed to be a ceasefire? – to cause yet another truce among many failed truces to break down? Does Netanyahu believe in truces? In which case, why can’t he grit his teeth and stick to them, even if there are minor breaches on either side? The answer is, he doesn’t.

And is Hamas even in control of the fighting units, or has the movement splintered yet again, in response to the perceived betrayal in joining forces with the Palestinian Authority – the former al-Fatah terrorists – to negotiate a peaceful settlement, based on a two-state solution and the 2002 plan already rejected by Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister, the rabid Zionist polemicist, Avigdor Lieberman? Is there no possibility of an end to this war?

And what, please, are the semantic differences between a ‘kidnap victim’, a ‘prisoner of war’, a ‘hostage’ and a ‘terror suspect’ – a ‘captive’ and a ‘detainee’? Maybe Mr Regev can be wheeled on to explain?

In war, truth, as everyone from Aeschylus to Dr Johnson to Arthur Ponsonby and Michael Sher has probably said, is the first casualty. I’m not buying this story as it currently stands, it is just too convenient, playing into the hands of the Israeli hawks and – like the war itself – has been blown up out of all proportion.

For in war, humanity is the second casualty, and there are those who will stop at nothing to exploit it.

* My God, Bebe and I almost share a birth date. So much for astrology.


Walking the dog beside the cricket ground, Sunday-blue sky, fluffy clouds. A match is about to start. Friendly rivalry. Umpires sauntering about, hands in pockets; players in their whites tumbling out of the pavilion, exercising their bowling arms.

Three and a half hours’ flying-time away, screaming shells, drones, tanks, fleeing women clutching terrified children, smoke, flame, devastation on a Biblical scale, lies and death.

And a strange thought occurs to me.

In order to ‘minimise’ civilian casualties, the Israeli army has taken to texting its victims in advance, to warn them their homes are about to be destroyed. This is either extremely considerate of them, or extremely cruel: I haven’t decided which. (It reminds me of how my cat ‘sings’ to the mice she is eviscerating on the stairs.)

Maybe they could patent an app?

And the questions uppermost in my mind are:

– How on earth does the Israeli army know from miles behind the line, which houses are going to be hit next?

– How does it know who lives there, since many are in chaotic multiple occupation; given even that the street still has a name and the house has a number; and

– How does it know their phone numbers?

If I spotted a tank across the street, pointing its gun at my next-door neighbours’ house, I wouldn’t have a clue what their mobile phone number is to warn them, I can barely remember my own. I don’t even know what their surname is. There is no public mobile phone directory here.

So the extremely surreal image I am getting from this is that, somewhere in downtown Tel Aviv, or maybe even outsourced in Bangalore, there is a call-centre purposely predesigned to target specific Palestinian civilians’ phones with threatening – or helpful, if that is how you see it – messages.

Only in Israel.

But I see my phone is lighting up. It’s probably just British Gas telling me about their forthcoming engineer visit for the umteenth time, but I’d better go.

– Uncle Bogler


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