Melanie Phillips

19 June 2011

A soldier's rebuke

Published in: Melanie's blog

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Colonel Richard Kemp, former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan, spoke in Tel Aviv six days ago about the Israel Defence Force. I reproduce his remarks here in full.

‘First of all, please allow me to say what a great honor it is for me to stand in the same room as those of you in IDF uniforms. You might think that you’re simply defending your country, but in fact you are defending mine, too. You are fighting for the whole Western world, and you are at the front lines of the battle.

Although not quite a lone voice, mine was certainly a very lonely voice among the many dozens of speeches endorsing Goldstone and repudiating Israel that were made over the two days of that hearing. This is what I said to the UN Human Rights Council:

“During its operation in Gaza, the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

What was behind my comments? Apart from basic decency and humanitarian considerations, the commanders of the Israeli Defense Forces knew how vital to a counterinsurgency conflict is winning over the hearts and minds of the people, especially in a conflict where they could be sure that killing innocent civilians is exactly where the enemy would be trying to lure them to do.

Because Hamas (like Hezbollah in Lebanon, like the Taliban in Afghanistan and like Al Qaeda and the Shia militias in Iraq), use their own people as both tactical and strategic weapons of war. They used them on the tactical level as human shields, to hide behind, to stand between Israeli forces and their own fighters, sometimes forcing women and children to remain in the positions that they would use to launch attacks from.

Hamas used their people too on the strategic level, luring IDF troops to attack and kill them. Their own people; deaths to be callously exploited in the media as a means of discrediting Israeli forces. (Exactly as happens almost daily in Afghanistan.)

In these most difficult circumstances, the IDF commanders took unprecedented measures to minimize civilian casualties. When possible, they left at least four hours’ notice to civilians to leave areas designated for attack, an action that handed a distinct advantage to Hamas.

Attack helicopter pilots had total discretion to abort a strike if there was too great a risk of civilian casualties in the area. During the conflict, the IDF allowed huge amounts of humanitarian aid into Gaza, and even unilaterally announced a daily three-hour ceasefire knowing this would give Hamas vital time and space to re-group, re-equip and re-deploy for future attacks. (This, of course added to the danger to their own troops.)

The Israelis dropped a million leaflets warning the population of impending attacks, phoned tens of thousands of Palestinian households in Gaza urging them in Arabic to leave homes where Hamas might have stashed weapons or be preparing to fight. Similar messages were passed on in Arabic on Israeli radio broadcasts.

But despite Israel’s extraordinary measures, a number of innocent civilians were killed and wounded. This was inevitable. Let us not forget: Hamas was deliberately trying to lure the Israelis to kill their own people.

Many have contradicted my assertion about the IDF. But no one has been able to tell me which other army in history has ever done more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone.

In fact, my judgments about the steps taken in that conflict by the Israeli Defense Forces to avoid civilian deaths are inadvertently borne out by a study published by the United Nations itself, a study that shows that the ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in Gaza was by far the lowest in any asymmetric conflict in the history of warfare.

The UN estimate that there has been an average three-to-one ratio of civilian to combatant deaths in such conflicts worldwide. Three civilians for every combatant killed.

That is the estimated ratio in Afghanistan: three to one. In Iraq, and in Kosovo, it was worse: the ratio is believed to be four-to-one. Anecdotal evidence suggests the ratios were very much higher in Chechnya and Serbia.

In Gaza, it was less than one-to-one.

This extremely low rate of civilian casualties flatly contradicts many of Goldstone’s original allegations, and the bleating insistence of various other human rights groups about Israel’s alleged crimes against humanity. And last month, even Judge Richard Goldstone changed his mind.”

As with Operation Cast Lead, the tragedy of the Gaza Flotilla incident, one year ago, has been widely exploited as part of the conspiracy against Israel. There is every reason to believe that the activists on board the ship Mavi Marmara set out deliberately to provoke the Israeli boarding party into an attack that would cause bloodshed to be exploited in the world’s media. The Turkish humanitarian group IHH was prominent among the organizers of the Flotilla, and had purchased the Mavi Marmara for that purpose.

As well as being a genuine humanitarian aid group, the IHH is a radical Islamic organization. The IHH is vehemently anti-Israeli and anti-American, and has extensive connections with international jihadist groups, including Al Qaeda. According to a French investigative magistrate specializing in terrorism, the IHH played an important role in an Al Qaeda plan to carry out a mass-casualty attack at the Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium.

‘Many who should know better have stridently proclaimed that the Gaza blockade itself is illegal. But does not the government of Israel the right – no, the duty – to protect its citizens against the re-arming of Hamas and other jihadist groups in Gaza, which continue even in recent days to attack the civilian population with rockets, and undoubtedly desire to expand their conflict in line with the proclaimed objective of destroying Israel as an entity?

Today, Israel faces a conspiracy of delegitimization, which aims to give validity and justification to attacks on Israel by groups such as Iran’s proxies Hamas and Hezbollah, allowing them to strike at Israel with impunity, and encouraging the view that any retaliatory or defensive measures by Israel are by definition disproportionate and should be criminalized.

The more traction this objection is allowed to gain, the greater the instability between Israel and her neighbors. And the less chance of any lasting peace, the more that blood will be shed on all sides in the region.

The most powerful weapons in this conspiracy are legal, diplomatic and media. Fundamentally, we are talking about a war of words, words that are given unprecedented potency by the internet, by the globalization of the 21st Century.”

During the questions that followed his address, Col. Kemp was asked what prompted his extraordinary showing of support for the Jewish state. Col. Kemp responded with the following:

Aside from my experience actually working with the IDF (which alone would have been enough for me to testify as to its character) there are two incident in particular that stand out.”

The first happened when I was Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan. Suddenly, we were confronted with an enemy whose many tactics included suicide bombings. We had never before had to confront suicide bombings, and we had no strategy with which to combat them.”

I telephoned an Israeli contact of mine, who arranged for a Brigadier General in the IDF to meet with me in London. This man (at the time, serving as a full-time commander of an operational unit) took the time to fly to Britain within two days.  For four hours, we sat in a lobby in a London hotel. He spoke; I took notes. And it was from that meeting that the entire counter-suicide-bombing strategy used by the British army was devised.

The second incident happened a couple of years later, after the terrorist attacks in London on July the 7th, 2005. We in the UK were left deeply shaken by the attacks, and I remember that the first ones to call to offer help – for some time, in fact, they were the only ones to call – was the IDF. It was then that we knew who our real friends are.’

And just how is Britain now repaying this friendship?

Col Kemp is not only a true friend of Israel, but a British patriot committed to the defence of Britain and the west. He understands acutely how the first position is essential to the second. Would that the British government did so, too.

 

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography

Books

  • The World Turned Upside Down
  • Londonistan
  • The Ascent of Woman
  • America's Social Revolution

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Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
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Contact Melanie