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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Great BBC video on Gaza

BBC 2 sent a real soldier, Iraq war veteran Col. Tim Collins, to look at Sderot and Gaza. He saw the evidence of secondary mosque explosions that Goldstone didn't. He interviews Gaza rocket makers and gets chased out of Rafah where the weapons smugglers work. He honestly looks at one of the bigger accidents of the war, where the Gaza doctor's daughters were killed, and shows how difficult it would be for Israelis to have distinguished the civilians.

Wish I could embed it.

(h/t t34zakat)
UPDATE: Here's the article about the video that includes most of the text, from Conflictzones.tv: (h/t Gaia)
Inside the Gaza Strip – subjected to a short but bloody war against Israeli forces that ended in January 2009, and under the control of the Islamist militant movement Hamas - Colonel Tim Collins drove up to a massive roadside poster.

“It shows the Legoland town of Sderot [southern Israel] being bombarded by unguided weapons,” said the Colonel. “[Responding to] this is what the Israelis say the attack was all about. But this poster wasn’t produced by an Israeli PR company. It was paid for by Hamas, and they’ve got their badge on it – showing a war crime by any standard.”

The main target for the rocket fire depicted in the Hamas roadside billboard had indeed been the small Israeli border town of Sderot.

In the town, British-born Tottenham-supporting police officer Micky Rosenfeld showed the Colonel gaily-painted bomb-shelters into which the town’s 30-thousand citizens would flee for relative safety every time they heard a piercing “Red Alert” siren. The Colonel noted that fragments [of metal ball-bearings stuffed into rocket-heads] had ripped holes even into the thick metal walls that surround the bomb-shelters. “That’s vicious,” Colonel Collins said. “If that hits your flesh it would tear you up.”

Thousands of rockets and mortars had fallen during the eight years before Israel launched its assault on the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008, Colonel Collins was told.

“Growing up in Belfast during The Troubles, I can sympathise with them. It’s no way to live … These were by and large people who had decamped from an Islamic society in north Africa and found themselves living on the front-line,” Colonel Collins said, [referring to Jews from Arab north Africa who had come to Israel in the 1950s and had often settled in small towns in the country’s under-developed south.]

Behind the town’s police station was a collection of the remnants of rockets that had struck the town. Colonel Collins picked up a rusting rocket casing. “It can’t be accurate, because it’s heavy and imprecise – so this is an indiscriminate weapon,” said Colonel Collins. Police Chief Inspector Rosenfeld told him how he believed the rocket-firers sometimes managed to target their missiles -- by listening to Israeli radio which revealed where the first rocket or rockets had hit, and then adjusting their sights to make the next ones more lethal.

Rosenfeld also showed him the remnants of more advanced Grad rockets, which he said had been smuggled to the armed Palestinian groups via a number of countries through tunnels under the Gaza Strip’s southern border with Egypt. Twenty of these had hit cities far further up the coast or far further inland during three days at the start of the Gaza-Israel war, he said. Israel feared that if it failed to act, Palestinian militants in Gaza would over time be able to smuggle in or develop rocketry that could hit further and further away until missiles reached the main Israeli city of Tel Aviv.

Late at night, the Colonel managed to rendezvous inside the Gaza Strip with men who fired rockets across the border into Israel. The Colonel was being driven by Abu Haroon, a beaded fighter from a sub-group of Fatah called the Abu Rish Brigade. At the rocket men’s makeshift base inside a refugee camp, Abu Haroon and his men produced a rocket and started dismantling it. “TNT [a high explosive] was spilling out of the back of it,” recalls the Colonel, “and I was particularly nervous when they put a badly-constructed home-made fuse on top of the device, making it a live weapon, then brandished a detonator.”

Abu Haroon made it clear that these rockets were “simple” devices that could not be accurately targeted. “We don’t know where these drop,” he told the Colonel. “Because there are no electronics here. Not big shooting rocket like Israel says about it.” Expressing the hope that conflict will end and that “the children can grow up without ever having known the war that Abu Haroon and his men have known, God willing,” Colonel Collins left and was driven back to his hotel in Gaza City.

Later, in Bet Hanun, northern Gaza Strip, the Colonel examined the remains of a deserted and destroyed mosque -- one of several that had been smashed during the Gaza-Israel war. Inside the now deserted mosque, Colonel Collins looked up at a gaping hole left by an air strike. “The allegation was that this was used as a storage facility for weapons,” said the Colonel as he tramped about the ruined structure. “I have to say that what was commonplace in Iraq was also seemed to be evident in Gaza as well. Down in the cellar of the mosque there was clear evidence of secondary explosions. It’s my opinion that the only thing that could have caused this was that explosives were stored here.”

The Colonel also went to the scene of possibly the most well-publicised tragedy of the war. A tank had fired two rounds into an apartment block. The shells struck a bedroom and killed three daughters and a niece of a local doctor, Ezzedeen Abualaish. Colonel Collins found the scene “heart-rending”, but when he painstakingly found the exact spot from which the tank, perched on a hillside overlooking Gaza City, had fired two rounds, he was able to work out what the Israeli tank-gunner would have been able to see.

“The civilians had been evacuated into Gaza…. I have to say that it would be difficult from this range, even through optic sights, to make out clear targets. So you would only see shadows.” However the Colonel said firing a main armaments round without actually identifying the target was “questionable”. [An Israeli military investigation in 2009 stated that the gunner had believed there were Palestinian fighters moving around in what he and his commander thought was an abandoned building. The doctor had been telephoned by an Israeli military officer days before advising him and his family and all inhabitants to leave the building, the report stated.]

On his way out of the Gaza Strip, Colonel Collins passed alongside a plethora of roadside pictures and billboards plastered with the faces of young men killed in years of conflict with Israel, each shown in a heroic pose wielding a weapon. “Some call them ‘legitimate targets’, others call them ‘martyrs’. They’ve certainly been ‘martyred’ to suit someone’s agenda. In my view, like in Ireland, it’s a waste of young lives.”

As Colonel Collins walked towards a heavily fortified checkpoint to exit Gaza, he reflected on his visit. “The real victims here are the people of Gaza, and the people of Sderot, who’ve been used like cattle,” he said. “In my view that’s the real crime.”