Globe & Mail Commentator Calls For Israel To Be Sanctioned For Accidental Friendly Fire In Gaza, A Demand Without Precedent

April 22, 2024

The Globe and Mail recently published a commentary by Claire Porter Robbins, a former aid worker in Gaza, entitled: “As the Middle East erupts, don’t look away from Gaza.”

In the April 16 column, Robbins said that despite Iran’s massive attack of several hundred projectiles fired towards Israel, everyone’s focus must be on “holding Israel to account for its killings of civilians in Gaza” — while perhaps also making time to simultaneously request “de-escalation” with Iran.

Lamenting the horrific accidental killing of foreign aid workers in a mistaken attack in Gaza on April 1, she insisted that Israel routinely commits “attacks on aid convoys, workers, and distribution points” and characterized Western leaders — including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly — as being guilty of both “hypocrisy” and “complicity” for “continuing to export weapons” and “not sanctioning and publicly speaking up against the Israeli government, just as we would any other actor doing the same.”

The accidental killings of the aid workers was indeed a tragedy that should never have happened. On this question, Robbins was completely correct and her obvious feelings of sorrow are entirely justified. By all accounts, the workers who were killed — including a Canadian — were remarkably selfless people in that they risked their own lives going into a dangerous warzone to try and help others whom they felt were in need.

That being said, there are several serious issues with Robbins’ comments with regards to the spots where she veers into policy discussions and, at times, with her characterization of what has happened thus far.

Robbins is aware — as is the employer of the aid workers, for that matter — that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has publicly taken full responsibility for the incident and acknowledged that it should never have happened. The incident, while extremely tragic, was an error and not something called for by official Israeli policy. Israel has therefore fired the individuals responsible for the airstrikes, begun investigating them more closely, and — as also acknowledged by Robbins — has taken measures to fix some of the shortcomings in getting aid to needy civilians inside Gaza.

While there is no excuse for what happened, there is more known now about how the tragic error occurred. The news outlet CBS reports that a misidentification occurred, during which IDF personnel mistakenly thought they saw someone within the convoy carrying a weapon — after which a hasty decision was made to attack. While it is justified to hold the individuals who made this decision accountable, Robbins’ suggestion that Israel as a whole ought to be punished for the mistake through sanctions and other policy consequences is illogical.

Sadly, as much as Robbins speaks about the situation in Gaza as something uniquely bad, what happened on April 1 was the latest tragic example of something that unavoidably occurs in all wars — split-second fog of war errors and friendly fire. War is categorically a horrific thing — and even a fully justified war involves human beings actively trying to kill each other and struggling to stay alive and advance under such dangerous and chaotic conditions. As such, over the course of time, some tragic mistakes inevitably occur at the individual level, no matter how careful or thorough an army or country might try to be in its official top-down policies.

It’s therefore very wrong for Robbins to suggest that Israel be harshly punished for the incident — especially when she suggests that the same would be done to “any other actor.” Recent history shows this to be inaccurate. A 2022 American drone strike in Afghanistan killed at least ten civilians who were traveling with an aid worker — seven of whom were children. Unlike Israel, the Biden Administration has not yet taken responsibility for the error, clarified what actually happened, nor taken formal steps to rectify the damage done. In 2023, the Ukrainian military accidentally shot down a plane being piloted by its own troops during its defensive war against Russia.

In 2002, US forces accidentally shot and killed four Canadian soldiers after mistaking their nearby training exercises for live enemy fire. And, even within the current Gaza war, Israeli troops accidentally shot and killed three of the Israeli hostages they were seeking to rescue after misinterpreting them as terrorists trying to lure them into a trap.

Each of these incidents was horrific and tragic. Each of them happened in a split-second error, and changed people’s lives forever. Yet none of them resulted in Western countries reshaping their entire policy towards an ongoing conflict or punishing the government or entire country of the individuals who made the error.

Even after this painful incident, this remains a war between two sides — Israel, whose goal is to defend its population from terrorism (and safeguard innocent Palestinian civilians), and Hamas, whose explicit goal is destruction of Israel and genocide of the Jewish people. Israel’s defensive war goals remain a just cause and should continue to receive the same international support they did before the April 1 tragedy.

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