On Monday NATO announced that two errant rockets fired by U.S. forces the day before had killed 12 Afghan civilians, including six children, in a house in the Taliban stronghold of Marjeh. Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed “sadness” and ordered an investigation. NATO is worried about the impact in terms of winning local support.
But there has been no outcry or condemnations, certainly not from democratic governments or even from the UN. The lack of an international response seems to reflect awareness that the killings were accidental and that it is intrinsic to the nature of war that such incidents occur.
But it was different back on November 8, 2006, when three misfired Israeli artillery shells hit a residential area in the town of Beit Hanoun in Gaza, killing 19 civilians. The shells were fired in a bid to prevent an imminent rocket attack on the Israeli city of Ashkelon, of which there had already been several. Israeli forces had been engaged in skirmishes in Gaza in a direct attempt to protect Israeli communities from the rockets — and it was all happening a year and some months after Israel had evacuated Gaza completely and put an end to what was called its “occupation.”
Nevertheless, in this case there was an international response. The then-external relations chief of the European Union, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, said, “The killing this morning of so many civilians in Gaza, including many children, is a profoundly shocking event. Israel has a right to defend itself, but not at the price of the lives of the innocent.” The then-Italian foreign minister, Massimo D’Alema, had harsher words: “This morning 18 people, women and children, were massacred … [in] an escalation of violence I think is unacceptable.” Turkey’s Foreign Ministry came out with: “The Israeli attack is a blow to regional peace efforts and will create a cycle of violence.”
The then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called the incident “shocking” and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — touted to this day as Israel’s peace partner — called it an “ugly massacre committed by the occupation against our children, our women, and elderly.” On November 15 the UN Human Rights Council met in Geneva and resolved to send a “fact-finding commission” to Beit Hanoun consisting of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and British academic — and later member of the Goldstone “fact-finding commission” — Christine Chinkin.