Reality, Brutality Of Occupation
Recent massacres of civilians by American
& Israeli forces show the worst of military rule
of civilians that took place in the Middle East in the past two days—the first
of a wedding party in Iraq by U.S. forces, the second of protesters in the
Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip by Israeli troops—demonstrate the
brutality military occupation can bring.
In the early hours of May 18, U.S. helicopters
attacked a wedding celebration in the village of Makral-Deeb in Iraq’s western
desert, near the border with Syria, killing some 45 civilians, 18 of them women
and children (above).
Footage from the scene, taken by Associated Press
Television News (APTN), showed a truck containing bloodied bodies, many wrapped
in blankets, piled on top of each other. Several were children, one of whom had
“This was a wedding, and the planes came and
attacked the people at a house. Is this the democracy and freedom that Bush has
brought us?” eyewitness Dahham Harraj asked on the APTN footage.
A few hours later, Israeli forces used U.S.-made
helicopters and German-made tanks to fire missiles into the middle of a
demonstration in the occupied Gaza Strip, killing some 20 Palestinian
civilians, many of them schoolchildren.
The Palestinian demonstrators had been protesting
the ongoing Israeli siege and demolition of hundreds of homes in Rafah and
neighboring refugee camps.
There are many obvious similarities in the two
massacres. Both occurred near a border during a military effort said to be
aimed at preventing the smuggling of weapons, both involved an aerial attack
and excessive use of force, and both resulted in the death of innocent
In the first case, residents of Makr al-Dib said
U.S. helicopters targeted a wedding party, apparently after people had fired in
the air, a customary form of celebration in the Arab world.
The Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite
channel said U.S. helicopters had fired on a huge wedding tent pitched in the
village for the occasion.
Witnesses told the Arabic-language television
network Al Arabiya that warplanes had blasted the entire village,
killing dozens of people.
Dr. Salah al-Ani, at the hospital in Ar Ramadi,
put the death toll at 45. Al-Ani said people at the wedding had fired weapons
in the air, and that American troops had come to investigate and left. Later,
helicopters arrived and attacked the area. Two houses were destroyed, al-Ani
The U.S. military said U.S. forces raiding “a
suspected safe house” for foreign fighters in the open desert near Syria had
called for “close air support” early Tuesday. The military said the attack
occurred at about 3 a.m. on May 18, although some news reports had placed it on
The U.S. military in Baghdad issued a statement on
the attack on May 19: “At 3 a.m., May 18, coalition forces conducted a military
operation against a suspected foreign fighter safe house in the open desert.
“During the operation, coalition forces came under
hostile fire, and close air support was provided. Coalition forces on the
ground recovered numerous weapons, 2 million Iraqi and Syrian dinars, foreign
passports and a SATCOM radio,” the statement said.
“At 0300 we conducted an operation . . . against
suspected foreign fighters in a safe house. We took ground fire, and we
returned fire,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt in Baghdad.
Asked about reports of dozens killed, he said: “We
are not disputing the numbers you are hearing. We estimate that around 40 were
killed. But we operated within our rules of engagement.”
One witness, Mortada Hamid, a 35-year-old farmer,
told Agence France Presse (AFP) that he had been in his house 600 yards from
the wedding party when two U.S. helicopters flew overhead. AFP reported Hamid
saying this occurred “at about 6 p.m.”
Hamid said the gunships opened fire as people
fired their guns in a traditional celebratory gesture.
“More than 40 people were killed. Bodies were
everywhere, most of them women and children,” Hamid said.
The International Committee of the Red Cross
(ICRC) condemned the attack as “excessive” use of force.
“The excessive use of force violates international
human rights. Even if [you came under] fire, there are rules of proportion in
retaliation and the absolute need to prevent civilian casualties,” said Nada
Dumani, the ICRC spokeswoman in Baghdad.
The next day, before news of the attack on the
wedding party had reached the mainstream media, Israeli forces committed a
similar atrocity in the besieged Rafah refugee camp.
As a large demonstration of some 3,000 made its
way to a besieged refugee camp near Rafah, bringing food and water, Israeli
forces opened fire on the crowd. The Israeli military acknowledged that it
fired a missile from a helicopter, machinegun fire and four tank shells at the
crowd of protesters.
APTN footage showed the helicopter overhead and a
large explosion in a crowd of demonstrators.
During the first 15 days of May, UN relief teams
reported that 2,197 people lost their homes following the demolition of 191
homes throughout Gaza, with Rafah being the worst affected area.
Over the past 3 1/2 years, the Israeli military
has demolished some 1,800 homes in the Rafah refugee camp alone and some 3,000
homes in the whole of Gaza.
On May 19, Israeli troops called for a mass
surrender of male residents in a part of the Rafah refugee camp known as Tel
The Associated Press reported that army
loudspeakers told males aged 16 or over in Tel Sultan to gather at a local
school or risk demolition of their family homes. Four young men were reported
as having been summarily executed when they arrived at the school.
The Israeli military says the operation in Rafah,
which it calls Operation Rainbow, will continue as long as necessary to achieve
its aims. Despite worldwide condemnation, the U.S. government has not demanded
a halt to the Israeli actions in the occupied Gaza Strip.
The UN’s special human rights envoy for the
occupied territories, John Dugard, said on May 19 that Israeli military strikes
against the Rafah refugee camp were war crimes and a violation of humanitarian
Dugard said that the UN Security Council should
consider imposing an arms embargo against Israel just as it had against the
apartheid regime in South Africa in 1977.
Although the United Nations Security Council
passed a resolution condemning Israel’s attack on the Rafah refugee camp on May
19, the United States abstained from the 14 to 0 vote.