Updated May 16, 2004








Reality, Brutality Of Occupation

Reality, Brutality Of Occupation

 Recent massacres of civilians by American & Israeli forces show the worst of military rule


By Christopher Bollyn


Two massacres 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 been decapitated.

“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 civilians.

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 said.

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 May 19.

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 Sultan.

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 law.

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.