When Armed Military Operations in Civilian Population Centers Go Awry

Posted on August 3, 2011


The New York Times has an unusual way of describing the deaths of two Palestinians at the hands of Israeli forces yesterday; the headline reads “Israel Kills Two Palestinians as Raid in West Bank Goes Awry”. The most common definition of the word “awry” describes an unexpected and/or unusual outcome. But the result of yesterday’s raid is anything but an unusual or unexpected outcome for those who understand what it means to place armed soldiers in civilian populations.

As B’tselem reports, IDF forces killed three unarmed Palestinian men in the relatively calm West Bank in January in similar circumstances. The number of unarmed civilians killed by armed Israeli soldiers is ironically—at least to those who believe Israel’s claim that it no longer occupies the strip—much higher in Gaza. At least twenty-one unarmed civilians have been killed by Israeli soldiers this year. Gazans such as three members of the al Hilu family, including a nine year old, and a neighbor killed by Israeli mortar fire. And a sixteen year old three hundred meters from a perimeter fence killed by Israeli fire in March. Some were killed in so-called escalation of force incidents, the same kind in which hundreds of Iraqis and Afghans have been killed by our own soldiers in our own occupations. Others were killed in their homes. Because when a foreign military occupies a civilian population, there is no safe place–be it home, school, place of worship, work or transit.

Such deaths are anything but accidents. Rather, they are the expected outcome when armed soldiers police civilian populations for the benefit of an occupying power. To say that such deaths are something that occur only when things go “awry” is a fairly typical kind of jargon specific to military occupation, which, consciously or not—and I’d have to say it’s conscious given the Ethan Bronner byline—normalizes the presence of armed soldiers in family communities. There is hardly anything that can go well when putting nervous, armed men, steeped in a culture of angry chauvinism toward a group of people in a community full of those people. That’s true from Iraq to Afghanistan to Palestine.