Guardian levels false allegations at Israel over the use of white phosphorus

A story by Conal Urquhart in today’s Guardian, Israel accused after boys burned by mystery canister, repeated a popular, and erroneous, claim by the anti-Israel media about the use of white phosphorus.  

The story, about Palestinians who were allegedly burned by an IDF munition, contains a subheading characterizing the substance as being “outlawed”.  

As was widely reported during and after Israel’s war in Gaza, the International Red Cross noted that “using the agent is not banned by international laws when it’s used as a smoke screen.”  The IRC also noted that white phosphorus is only prohibited when used as an incendiary device to attack civilians, and that there was “no evidence that Israel is using it illegally.”

Indeed, there have been many reports about white phosphorus over the years both in the context of Israel’s use of the substance during Cast Lead and concerning the U.S. Military’s use of it during the Iraq war – all of which noting that when used as “a smoke screen to conceal movement and to illuminate large areas” it is legal.

However, further down in the article, Urquhart states the following:

The use of white phosphorous in civilian areas is banned by the Geneva conventions yet it is often used by armies for marking and creating smoke screens. Israel used white phosphorous in civilian areas during the Gaza war in 2008-2009 but stopped after international criticism.

Actually the convention Urquhart is referring to is Protocol III of the Convention on Chemical Weapons, which merely urges that “feasible precautions [be] taken with a view to limiting the incendiary effects to the military objective and to avoiding, and in any event to minimizing, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects.”

Finally, his claim that Israel stopped using white phosphorus “after international criticism” is patently false – and it is telling that he didn’t provide a source or a link to buttress this claim.

Moreover, the story itself is classic Guardian – imputing the worst possible motives to the IDF, casting doubt on Israeli army claims that the device may have been left behind after a training mission, and even creating suspicion that there may have been malicious intent – and represents another example of their immediate rush to judgment, and assigning of guilt, regarding any story where Israel stands accused.

Such ideologically driven journalism is one of the defining features of the Guardian Left – and something they may wish to consider, on their 190th anniversary, as they continue to make a mockery of the high-minded ideals of C.P. Scott (the paper’s former editor and owner) by quoting him on their CiF masthead opining: “Comments are free but facts are sacred.”

(Final note: I sent an email to the Guardian’s Readers’ Editor asking for a correction based on the facts outlined in this post, and will update you when I receive a reply.)

15 replies »

  1. A terrible tragedy for the boys – but hardly worthy of headline news.
    And nobody knows what exactly happened. The report also cites experts saying it could have been chaff.

    Seems like an excuse to regurgitate the white phosphorous allegations.

    • Indeed. And there are several such as Berchmans, usini, JRuskin, Dotty, who constantly bring this up in the hope – perhaps proven to be true – that this false allegation will stick.

  2. This whole story rang bells for me, Adam. Israel has ever been the butt of conspiracy theories by its Arab neighbours. Some people might remember the story of the balloons advertising the newspaper, HaIr, about four of which blew over the border into Lebanon. There were scare-stories in the Lebanese newspapers of people at death’s door after coming into contact with these balloons with Hebrew writing on them. The most hilarious part of it was that the journalists couldn’t agree whether it was touching the outside or breathing in the air filling them (WHY?) that did the damage.

    Nowhere in this story is there any indication that the cannisters originated in Israel, remember that there are Palestinian and American security forces and that these were found in areas into which the IDF doesn’t enter.

    This is just another poisoned well, depleted uranium urban myth, involving Israel, the constant scapegoat.

    • Arabella, I agree and think there may be much more to this story than merely bad reporting.

  3. They fact that a story about a similar non lethal burn injury (with all due respect) would probably not be chosen for headline news had it occurred in BRITAIN tells us that the standard used for news about Israel/Palestine isn’t related to Journalism. It’s nitpicking and agenda-driven.

    In the time the Guardian reporter wrote that piece, a few children of the same age died in Africa, unreported.

    • Actually, I suspect that this is happening frequently in Afghanistan and Libya. Britain and South Africa are the primary suppliers to the world’s military of phosphorus munitions and delivery systems.

      It is clear from the opening paragraph:

      “The Israeli army has been accused of leaving dangerous munitions near Palestinian homes after two boys were seriously burnt when they picked up a mysterious silver canister which exuded toxic white fumes”.

      that the Guardian is trying to make a case that the IDF is maliciously trying to cause injuries to Palestinians.

      By the way – shouldn’t some responsibility be laid at the door of people who pick up and play with munitions?

      • Now that I read it I see what you mean. It’s as if Israel is being careless or even malicious by leaving unexploded shells. Like they don’t know left-over munitions is a worldwide problem with people dying decades later over them. They know how to play dumb, huh?

  4. Well spotted Adam and CW. I saw this article this morning, and after my blood pressure came down a tad I looked through the other UK papers and found absolutely nothing. So I came to conclusion that this is yet another example of Dishonest Reporting, c/o the Guardian.

    It is obvious from even a superficial scan that the whole report is malicious and distorted, imputing the worst possible motives onto Israel where there is most likely a simple innocent explanation.

    I agree 100% with Arabella’s view.

  5. Looking at the photograph attached to Urquhart’s story, I should like to know how a phosphorus- containing canister allegedly left behind in an area used by the IDF as a training ground in the past managed to stay so clean and shiny while being subjected to rain, dust, dew and all the other environmental pollutants in and around Hebron.

  6. I think the truth is that, at the start of the war, Israel did use old marker shells that contained white phosphorous. This was embarrassing because, when it was discovered and the IDF press officer consulted, he/she at first denied Israel was using WP, as, so far as she knew, Israel wasn’t. Thereafter Israel switched to more modern shells.

    However, there is probably some truth to its being used as a de facto anti-personnel weapon: smothering an urban area in smoke containing WP is a very effective way of ensuring snipers cannot remain in the open or on rooftops. The US did the same in Fallujah. But it is tough on any civilians caught in the open.

  7. ‘Finally, his claim that Israel stopped using white phosphorus “after international criticism” is patently false – and it is telling that he didn’t provide a source or a link to buttress this claim.’

    Actually it is true, it’s just that the IDF was not deploying WP per se, but smoke shells containing WP. Hence the IDF’s press office being caught off balance.

  8. @arabella meller, have you read Daniel Pipes’ “The Hidden Hand” which gives a thoughtful and intelligent take on the Arab/Muslim paranoid penchant for conspiracy theories, mostly involving Jews? It makes very informative reading.

    Dr Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born psychiatrist and author of “A God Who Hates” grew up in Baathist Syria but fled to the US. She writes:

    “Since the dawn of Islam Muslims have always divided the world into two – themselves and others – and they continue to do so today. They are reasonable, peaceable and upstanding believers while everyone else is a thoughtless, wicked and heretical terrorist. They are the victims, and others are the killers. But although they have accused the entire world of conspiring to wipe them and their religion out, it is the Jews who have been their scapegoat from Islam’s earliest beginnings.

    Jew must be one of the words Muslim children hear most frequently before the age of ten. It is also one of the hardest words they hear, as in their imaginations it conjures up visions of killing, depravity, lies and corruption….. We hold the Jews “responsible” for our military failures, our economic backwardness… We believe the Jews control the world and that …. the whole world, dancing to their tune, wants to get rid of us..” (pp 184, 185)

    “…We imbibed with our mothers’ milk hatred for the Jews and for anyone who supported their cause. We justified this hatred by devising a conspiracy theory…. [that] helped keep Muslims inside the straitjacket in which Islam had imprisoned them…..” (p188)

    Dr Sultan illustrates perfectly the effect of paranoid projection upon the Arab mind, cranked up by Islam. We need to seek out and support Muslims who realise that they are being used by their faith system to feed and spread hatred and want to get away from this.

  9. hilarious. the funny thing is the Geneva Convention explicitly condones the practice of attacking enemies even if they hide among civilians.

    So, attacking civilian areas is illegal – but if combatants exploit the neutrality of civilian areas to avoid being attacked they should not be considered immune.

    why do you think hamas moved their HQ under a hospital? eh?