The IDF Slaughtering White Flag Waving Israeli Hostages Shouldn't Surprise You…
Not only is there a vast precedent for such actions, but it is embedded in their military doctrine.
Over the weekend, three Israeli hostages, Samer Talalka, Yotam Haim and Alon Shamriz, were killed by the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) whilst fleeing Hamas and flying improvised white flags. According to the IDF, this was a ‘mistaken identity’ case. An IDF official has said that, according to an initial investigation into the deaths, “the hostages were fired upon against Israel’s rules of engagement”. Nonetheless, this heinous act only deepens the understandable grief of the already distraught Israeli people and brings the IDF’s profoundly questionable actions in Gaza into sharp focus, not only for the Israeli public but also on the world stage. You see, despite what the IDF says, they have a long, detailed and sordid history of deadly violence against not only Israeli hostages but also non-combatants. So this is why these deeply sorrowful deaths should be of no surprise, and why they may change the course of this horrific conflict.
Before I start, I feel I must address the elephant in the room again and ensure this article’s context is correctly framed. Hamas committed war crimes on October 7 by attacking and taking Israeli civilians’ hostage. I, as any sane human would, denounce such horrific actions. It was a grievous act, and those responsible should be held accountable. The Israeli state and the IDF have conducted numerous war crimes and breaches of human rights in retaliation since October 7. Figures gathered by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor suggest that 9 in 10 killed by the IDF since October 7 are non-combatants, meaning the IDFs attack on Gaza constitutes literally tens of thousands of war crimes. What’s more, Israel’s restriction of essential aid to Gaza, such as water, or destruction of civilian infrastructure, such as energy plants and hospitals, constitutes war crimes and breaches of human rights. The UN has even called Israel’s actions in Gaza since October 7 a collective punishment, which is not only a war crime but is considered a form of genocide.
So, yes, Hamas are absolutely not the good guys and must be held accountable for their crimes. But, the Israeli state is guilty of war crimes that are not only far more severe but far larger in scope. If Hamas is to be held accountable, so too should Israel.
That is why I write these articles. Hamas’s guilt is not only clear-cut, but pretty much already decided in international politics and courts. But the Israeli state, on the other hand, is not and is getting away with theirs yet again.
Finally, I feel I have to repeat the fact that I am criticising specifically the Israeli state, the IDF and their supporters. I am explicitly not criticising the Israeli people or Judaism, as not only would that be deeply unethical, but it would also be a vast logical fallacy, as the Israeli state does not represent these wider groups at all.
That is the (understandable) red tape out of the way; let’s get to the heart of the sorrowing matter at hand.
So, what actually happened over the weekend?
Well, multiple reports have cohesively stated that the three Israeli hostages were shirtless, waving an improvised white flag and calling for help in Hebrew when they encountered the IDF in Shejaiya, northern Gaza. A nearby soldier opened fire, killing two of the hostages, while the third, who was only wounded, ran and hid in a nearby building. He was killed by another IDF soldier before a commander gave a ceasefire order.
The IDF has since stated that the killing of the three hostages was “horrific and tragic” and a case of mistaken identity as the soldiers “mistook them for militants” and that these actions go against the IDF’s rules of engagement.
I wholeheartedly agree with their first point; who wouldn’t? But, the other two fall utterly flat when even slightly analysed and crumble when the IDF’s historical directives and precedents are considered.
How can these soldiers mistake them for Hamas militants and legitimately attack them the way they did? There is zero credible evidence that Hamas has ever used false surrenders to draw in and attack the IDF. If there was, you can bet your bottom dollar the IDF would be broadcasting it to the entire world. So, the fact they were obviously surrendering means that even if they were Hamas combatants, this would still amount to a serious war crime.
The fact that these hostages were shirtless, without any weapons, flying a white flag and calling out in Hebrew should have made it self-evident that they were non-combatants. It also means that it was apparent they had no hidden incendiary devices upon themselves that would pose a threat to the IDF soldiers. As such, the IDF soldiers had no credible reason to fire.
Now, a brief mistaken fire in the heat of battle could be one thing, but the fact that the third wounded hostage was also killed shows that this knee-jerk excuse isn’t really applicable in this situation.
The only way the IDF can explain these killings while being logically consistent is for them to state that even Palestinian non-combatants (which includes surrendering Hamas fighters) are considered fair military targets. Only then can these killings be a case of “mistaken identity.”
As such, it should be no surprise that rights groups have said that these killings are almost certainly a violation of international law, as killing such blatantly obvious non-combatants, Israeli hostages, surrendering Hamas fighters or Palestinian non-combatants constitutes a war crime.
But then we come to the IDF’s third point, which is that these actions are against their rules of engagement. Surely, this absolves the broader IDF organisation of guilt?
Well, no. It doesn’t matter how you frame these killings. As ‘mistaking’ them as militia or Palestinian non-combatants, or even if the IDF correctly identified them as hostages. Sadly, there is a rich precedent, as well as well-documented historical rules of engagement, for the IDF to use deadly force against these poor men.
You can hear this from the horse’s mouth in Owen Jones’s recent interview with ex-IDF soldier turned activist Ariel Bernstein (watch here). Bernstein told Jones that on the ground, IDF soldiers’ instructions have been to shoot anyone and everyone in the area, as they are considered a legitimate target. Over the weekend, Bernstein reacted to the killing of these Israeli hostages by reiterating this. As such, it seems like killing these hostages was very much in line with the IDF’s rules of engagement within Gaza.
But, there is far more evidence of these lapse rules of engagement than just Bernstein, which goes back decades. In 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, Human Rights Watch found multiple credible incidents where IDF soldiers on the ground shot at and killed surrendering Palestinians. The Human Rights Watch stated in a report that “These casualties comprise a fraction of the Palestinian civilians wounded and killed,” “But they stand out because, in each case, the victims were standing, walking or in slowly moving vehicles with other unarmed civilians, and were trying to convey their non-combatant status by waving a white flag.” In 2014, while fleeing the shelled city of Khan Younis, two Palestinians carrying a white flag were hit and killed by an Israeli missile. During this period, around 40–45% of Israeli missiles were unguided, so this missile was likely guided, meaning it was a target attack against non-combatants. If the missile wasn’t guided, it has to be asked why an unguided missile was fired at fleeing civilians bearing a white flag, as they are still obvious non-combatants. As recently as November 14 of this year, the BBC reported that in a verified video sent to them, people waving white flags were seen coming under gunfire as they attempted to leave Al-Nasr. At the time, the IDF was in the area, making them the likely source of the gunfire. Norman Finkelstein has even found evidence of guided missiles being used to attack kids playing on roofs of Palestinian homes away from conflict zones, which are possibly the most obvious non-combatants possible.
The IDF institutionally attacks anything that moves in Gaza. This is partly because of the profoundly flawed Dahiya Doctrine of the IDF, which I have covered before (read here), but also because the IDF has historically placed exponentially more value on the lives of its soldiers than non-combatants in order to save face and appear a more potent force than they are. When such a crooked value culture was exposed in Western militaries during the Iraq invasion, they were widely and rightly called institutionally racist. Yet, no such widespread calls are levied against the IDF.
So that explains why the IDF would fire on these innocent men if they thought they were Palestinian or Hamas. But they were calling out in Hebrew, and their appearance is far more akin to Israel than Palestine. In fact, one of the men was pale and ginger, which is common among the Israeli population but practically non-existent in the Gazan population. What’s more, the IDF knew of a building a few hundred feet from the site of the shooting that was marked SOS. The IDF also knows that Hamas still has around 138 hostages, and as they push through Gaza, they should indeed find them at some point. Surely, these soldiers had had some instinct or at least instruction to keep an eye out for hostages and try to save them?
Well, the IDF actually has a pretty grim historical precedent of hyper-aggression towards their own taken as hostages. Let me explain.
The IDF has used its Hannibal Directive many times in the past. This directive is Israeli military policy that stipulates the use of maximum force in the event of a soldier being kidnapped. In other words, they kill IDF hostages to avert hostage swaps. “You will open fire without constraints in order to prevent the abduction,” one soldier said about the directive.
But why? Well, The Israeli state despises hostage swaps, as it is one of the few instances where Hamas can have any real political sway over their occupying force and one of the few times the international community has a window to condemn Israel, as they highlight to the global political scene how horrific the Israeli occupation is. You see, the Palestinian prisoners they swap for these soldiers are often non-combatant citizens illegally detained and kept in inhuman conditions (which is a severe breach of human rights). This is because Israel has almost no Hamas prisoners, as the IDF’s doctrine is to kill them, but also because these are the people Hamas requests to do the swap with. So, when these swaps happen, there is almost always international backlash over how Israel arrested their hostages, but also how horrifically they treated them. Hostages are by no means treated well by Hamas; in fact, some of the reports are utterly gruelling and should be independently investigated and those responsible held accountable. But when hostage swaps happen, the international community gets a clear view that, at the very least, Israel is in breach of human rights and committing war crimes when it comes to its Palestinian prisoners and hostages. And the Israeli state hates that.
To top it off, hostage swap negotiations typically come with ceasefire agreements. As we have seen over the past few weeks, Israel despises these agreements, even in the face of vast international pressure, as it goes against their military doctrine (again, read here if you need to know more).
So, to cover up this PR and political nightmare and enable the Israeli state and IDF to carry on inflicting its illegal occupation and oppression of Palestine whilst drawing minimal international attention, the Hannibal Directive was instigated to stop hostage swaps altogether.
The most clear implication of the Hannibal Directive was in 2014 when Lieutenant Hadar Goldin was captured by Hamas militants after a brief skirmish on August 1 that went against a 72-hour ceasefire agreement that went into action that day. The IDF initiated the Hannibal Directive, and the utter carnage that ensued was dubbed Black Friday. The IDF carried out massive and indiscriminate air and ground attacks to prevent the capture of Goldin. The rhetoric spouted by the IDF was to “save” Goldin, but the actual attacks made it clear they were out to kill him a nip hostage swap talks in the bud. The resultant bombardment killed between 135 and 200 Palestinian civilians, including 75 children, in just three hours after the suspected capture of Goldin. After the third hour, it was obvious Goldin had perished, but the IDF didn’t announce this or cease their bombardment. Instead, under the pretence of trying to save an IDF soldier, they continued to indiscriminately attack civilians. All of these amount to war crimes. That isn’t my opinion, but those of Amnesty International and the UN, who investigated Black Friday.
Supposedly, the use of the Hannibal Directive was dropped in 2016. But its use goes way back to the year 2000, and there has been no noticeable change in directives towards IDF members taken hostage. Such a culture toward hostages that has been so profoundly engrained for this long is damn difficult to get rid of. So, we can’t be sure that the IDF doesn’t still loosely follow the Hannibal Directive.
Now, the hostages taken by Hamas on October 7 were civilians (hence why it is a war crime). You’d think this means that the Hannibal Directive doesn’t apply here, which is true. However, the IDF has little experience in dealing with civilian hostages, as Hamas has rarely used this heinous tactic in the past. As such, it isn’t surprising that a military that is institutionalised to kill their own members who have been taken hostage would have little regard for any Israeli civilian hostages. Particularly as the IDF and Netanyahu are already incredibly bitter at having to conduct recent hostage swaps. Indeed, Israeli hostages who have returned to Israel have refused to meet Netanyahu, as they were nearly hit by IDF indiscriminate bombing while hostage. Given Israel’s incredible intelligence and high-tech military, there has to be the question whether this wasn’t a mistake, and instead, Netanyahu and the IDF secretly conducting the Hannibal Directive. Currently, there is only circumstantial evidence, so we can’t and shouldn’t draw conclusions, but the outlook here for Netanyahu and the IDF from this is far from good.
So, even if the IDF had correctly identified these poor men as Israeli hostages, thanks to the institutionalised broken attitude towards hostages within the IDF and the Israeli state, that wouldn’t have guaranteed their safety at the hands of the IDF.
As such, it isn’t surprising that the international community is really starting to turn on Israel. Joe Biden, who has staunchly supported and funded Israel and the IDF for decades, warned Israel that they are losing international support because of its “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza. Biden has been a crucial ally for Israeli figures like Netanyahu and the current leaders of the IDF, but now he is having to face the reality of reining in the war criminals he has created. Indeed, his warnings were quickly proven valid. A few hours After Biden’s warning, the UN voted to demand a humanitarian ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, in rebellion against the US’s recent veto on the matter. After this weekend, these calls and demands have only intensified as the IDF’s broken approach to Gaza has been laid bare.
But it isn’t just the international community that is disgusted by this; so too are Israelis.
Over the weekend, protests erupted in Tel Aviv in retaliation against the deaths of the hostages. Protestors called for an immediate deal to be made with Hamas to release the other hostages, something Netanyahu and the IDF are firmly against (for previously stated reasons). Some carried banners critical of the Israeli state, and some even poured red paint into the street to symbolise the blood the IDF had split.
Not surprisingly, the IDF quickly turned on its PR machine. Rear Admiral Daniel Hagar said, “This is a tragic incident; the IDF bears responsibility.” It is interesting how they bear the responsibility for these non-combatants killed, but not the tens of thousands of innocent Palestinian non-combatants killed since October 7… However, as we covered before, this plea means very little in the face of historical acts and doctrine by the IDF. Instead, it comes off as just a way to quell the rightfully riled mob.
So, this is why we shouldn’t be surprised at these horrific deaths. However, utterly sorrowful events like this can change the conflict at its core.
The Israel population are starting to feel the impact of Netanyahu and the IDF’s colonial, racist, war crime mongering and human rights breaching tendencies. Netanyahu is already being accused of supporting Hamas to play divide and conquer with Palestine (through funnelling money to them and other political means). As such, many Israelis see October 7 as partly his and his government’s fault. The retaliation to these killings and the Israeli state’s refusal to conduct hostage swaps will only rile up even more internal pressure to end this conflict. Don’t get me wrong, Israel is still far from dangerous levels of internal tension, but there is a mounting detest toward Netanyahu and the IDF. Netanyahu and the leaders of the IDF are desperate to stay in power; as such, this growing resistance could force a change of hand and a change in the direction of this sordid conflict. If this doesn’t happen, international pressure seems set to mount even further. Even the US is signalling that it can’t carry on supporting Israel the way it is going. Horrific events like this are the nuclei that can focus this pressure and force Israel to change tact. Hopefully, either one can happen before any more innocents, Israeli or Palestinian, perish.
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Sources: LBC, BBC, The Guardian, HRW, Norman Finkelstein, Amnesty International, Al Jazeera, Amnesty International, IBT, BBC, Owen Jones, The Independent, The UN, AP News, The Guardian, Haaretz, The Guardian, LA Times, Time, Planet Earth & Beyond, WBAL TV, AJC