Thursday, March 26, 2009


Human Rights Watch has released a 71 page report, Rain of Fire, detailing Israel's allegedly illegal use of white phosphorus munitions in the recent assault on Gaza. The report's underlying thrust is that the IDF used white phosphorus air burst rounds, an anti-personnel weapon much inferior to conventional artillery, not to inflict maximum casualties but rather to inflict maximum suffering on a small number of casualties. The report is both vague and contradictory.

For example, page 22 shows an M825A1 155mm white phosphorus artillery shell air-bursting with the caption:
Two brothers aged four and five were killed and 14 others were wounded when white phosphorus shells burst above this UN school in Beit Lahiya on January 17, 2009.
A casual reader skimming through the report will be left with the impression that the IDF shelled the school with white phosphorus killing two and wounding many. Page 46 of the report describes the incident in more detail:
The attack killed two young brothers when an already detonated white phosphorus shell landed in a classroom on the top floor of the school; the shell also severely injured their mother and a cousin. The shelling also spread burning white phosphorus wedges all over the school and surrounding area, wounding 12 other people, setting fire to a classroom where displaced persons were sheltering, and damaging a nearby market.
So rather than target a school, said to be housing 1,600 civilians, with conventional artillery to devastating effect (possibly killing and wounding hundreds), IDF gunners fired white phosphorus rounds, the remnants of the shells' metal casings killing two. This is an absurdly inefficient way to kill and wound, with those killed dying more as a result of bad luck than anything else.


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