Israeli assertions that every effort was made to avoid civilian casualties in its counterattacks on Hamas strongholds in Gaza have fallen largely on deaf ears in many countries around the world, where voices even in high places can be heard accusing Israel of deliberately targeting women and children.
On Sunday, however, valuable testimony suddenly emerged from Gaza itself, bolstering the Israeli position. As reported in Al-Jazeera, Matthias Schmale, director of operations for the United Nations Reliefs and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) in the Gaza Strip, told Israel’s Channel 12 that Israeli air strikes on Gaza appeared to have been carried out with “sophistication” and “precision.”
Schmale’s comments, however, were immediately tempered by a parallel accusation of “viciousness,” and his conclusion was not in Israel’s favor.
“I have the impression there is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the 11 days,” Schmale told Channel 12’s presenter. “Yes, they didn’t hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets, but the viciousness, the ferocity of those strikes were heavily felt.”
“More than 60 children were killed,” he added, “19 of who went to UNRWA schools. So I think the precision was there but there was unacceptable and unbearable loss of life on the civilian side,” he said.
Despite Schmale’s qualification of his limited praise for Israel, his words did not find favor in the eyes of several Palestinian organizations, which on Tuesday issued a joint statement calling his testimony “misleading and dangerous.”
Mr. Schmale “completely ignored the crimes committed during the latest Israeli offensive against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip,” they said, adding that “it is regrettable that Mr. Schmale, who heads one of the most important international organizations responsible for protecting and advocating the rights of Palestinian refugees in Gaza, provided statements indirectly praising the precision and sophistication of the Israeli army, when Israel is in fact constantly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity and against the Palestinian people.”
“Instead of calling to address the root causes behind the conflict, Mr. Schmale appeared to defend the actions of the Israeli military,” they added, claiming the iDF is a military that “systematically targets” civilians not for military purposes but rather, “to collectively punish and terrorize the civilian population in the Gaza Strip, as it has done over the last 14 years through the imposition of an illegal and humanitarian blockade, and the launch of three destructive and deadly wars.”
Schmale was quick to respond, issuing an apology on the same day in which he wrote that “military precision and sophistication are never a justification for war.”
“Recent remarks I made on Israeli TV have offended & hurt those who had family members & friends killed & injured during the war that has just ended,” he wrote on Twitter.
“I truly regret to have caused them pain.”
Al-Jazeera noted that many felt the apology did not go far enough, with some accusing Schmale of failing to specifically name Israel as the offender, instead calling it “the terror from the sky.”
“UNRWA officially works in Gaza Strip and indeed witnesses everything,” one social media commenter posted.