WATCH: State Department Can’t Live Up To The Standards It Sets For Israel (Updated)

Do you remember this statement from the State Department when UNRWA accused Israel of shelling a school?

The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced persons, in which at least ten more Palestinian civilians were tragically killed. ….

The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians. We call for a full and prompt investigation of this incident as well as the recent shelling of other UNRWA schools.

The full facts of the case were much more complicated: Israel aimed outside the school, bodies were moved around and there were clear signs of Pallywood going on. But the damage was done and the idea that Israel wantonly fires at schools was established and re-affirmed by the State Dept.

The condemnation came from America with no investigation, no pause and while Israel was actively fighting.

Well US forces bombed (for more than an hour) a Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital:

Medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) on Sunday demanded an independent international inquiry into a suspected U.S. air strike that killed 22 people in an Afghan hospital it runs, branding the attack a “war crime”.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter promised a full investigation into whether the American military was connected to the destruction of the hospital, but cautioned it would take time to gather information.

Matt Lee decided to ask the State Department’s Mark Toner exactly what kind of standards they hold themselves to because it would seem to be a different set that they applied to Israel last year.

I’ll spoil it. He’s got no answer. They can’t justify it. They hold Israel to an impossible standard, one to which they cannot themselves match because this is war and bad stuff happens. We join the briefing for Matt’s follow up question after his first is left completely unanswered in over 3 minutes of bluster.

See it all (including the start of the question) here.

This tweet earlier in the day may well have helped Matt Lee with his line of questioning.

Updated: Here’s a transcript (thanks to Lidblog)

Lee: Right. I want to start in Afghanistan.

Toner: Sure.

Lee: I realize that the Pentagon has already spoken to this —

Toner: Yeah.

Lee: — as has your colleague at the White House. And I do understand I’m coming at this with understanding that the State Department is probably somewhat limited and – well, first of all didn’t really have – play any role in what happened in Kunduz. But also because of the investigation that’s underway, I understand you’re going to – you’re not going to have much to say beyond what has already been said.

Toner: Sure.

Lee: But what I want to ask about is just Administration policy in general. So not that long ago – in fact, just a little over a year ago, in August of 2014 – Israel, during the Gaza conflict, was accused of and, in fact, did bomb a – an UNRWA school in Gaza that killed about 10 people – or did kill 10 people. At the time, this building – in fact, the spokeswoman – issued a statement that was very, very strong, saying, “The United States is appalled by today’s disgraceful shelling outside an UNRWA school in Rafah sheltering some 3,000 displaced people. The coordinates of the school, like all UN facilities in Gaza, have been repeatedly communicated to the Israeli Defense Forces. We once again stress that Israel must do more to meet its own standards and avoid civilian casualties. UN facilities, especially those sheltering civilians, must be protected and must not be used by bases from which to launch attacks.”

And then the sentence that’s key here, and this is what I want to ask about, it says, “The suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of so many innocent civilians.” And then it goes on to call for an investigation. So I just want to – let me see – is it Administration – still Administration policy that the suspicion that militants are operating nearby a site like this, which is a school, that that suspicion does not justify strikes that put at risk the lives of innocent civilians? Is that still the Administration’s position?

Toner: Well, first of all, I just would like to add the State Department’s voice to what the President and Department of Defense have already said. We mourn, obviously, the loss of life at the Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres hospital in Kunduz which occurred on October 3rd. It goes without saying these doctors perform heroic work throughout the world including in Afghanistan, and our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and colleagues of those affected by this tragic incident.

You’re asking about whether our policy has changed. We always take great care and we are very adamant about stating when we see elsewhere attacks in areas where there could be civilian casualties to avoid civilian casualties. That obviously stands. That’s – there’s no other, frankly, country or government that takes greater care to investigate incidents like this, to hold folks accountable, and to try to take every measure possible to avoid civilian casualties.

What we’re looking at right now in terms of what happened in Kunduz, the facts are still emerging. There’s, I think, now three investigations underway: one by the Department of Defense, one by Resolute Support, and I think one joint Afghan and U.S. investigation. So we’ll let those investigations run their course.

But generally, these are difficult situations. It was, I think – General Campbell spoke to this as well, saying that it was an active combat zone and just trying to put that in the framework that they were called into – that air strikes were called in, without necessarily even saying that these were the airstrikes that hit that hospital, because we don’t know yet. We’re still collecting the facts.

Lee: Well —

Toner: But in speaking to your – sorry, your specific question – I mean, of course, we take every measure possible and would encourage any government in the world to take any measure possible – every measure possible – every measure possible to avoid civilian casualties, even when that involves close-quarter combat.

Lee: Right. I understand that and I understood —

Toner: Yeah.

Lee: But my question was not about the idea – and I’m not challenging the idea that you take – that the military makes every effort to avoid civilian casualties. What I’m most curious about is that this statement said the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes, which – and the military has said that it was called in because the Afghans asked for it. But MSF says that they had been given the coordinates much in the same way the IDF had been given the coordinates of the school in Rafah.

So the question is – and I realize this is under investigation. But the question is if – the question is: If the suspicion that militants are operating nearby does not justify strikes on a humanitarian facility for which the coordinates had been given, that it seems to have changed.

Toner: It’s just – look, Matt. I think it’s safe to say that this attack, this bombing, was not intentional. I can’t get into what may or may not have happened on the ground, whether the coordinates were known, whether they were acknowledged. It’s just too much speculation at this point.

Lee: Okay.

Toner: So you’ll hopefully give me a pass if we wait for the investigation to run its course.

Lee: Okay. That’s – and that’s fine. I understand it. But in the case of this – the Rafah situation, you called for a full and prompt investigation of this incident, as well as others like it.

Toner: Right.

Lee: But that statement began by saying that the U.S. is appalled by the disgraceful shelling. That’s before an investigation even happened. So can you say now, knowing what you did, that you – that this shelling of this hospital was disgraceful and appalling?

Toner: Again, I would only just reiterate our sincere condolences to the victims of this attack and just again underscore the fact that we’re going to investigate this thoroughly. And as I said, once those investigations are complete, we’re going to take steps to – either to hold any responsible parties accountable or to take measures that avoid any kind of accident like this in the future.


Brian of London

Brian of London is not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy. Since making aliyah in 2009, Brian has blogged at Israellycool. Brian is an indigenous rights activist fighting for indigenous people who’ve returned to their ancestral homelands and built great things.

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