Pages upon pages have been written about the 2008-2009 Israeli attack on the Gaza Strip by human rights groups and fact-finding missions. The scale of the destruction is well-known: some 1,400 Palestinians were killed by Israel, the vast majority of them civilians; over 15,000 homes were destroyed or so severely damaged that 100,000 Palestinians were rendered homeless; nearly half of health facilities in Gaza were destroyed or damaged.
But allegations that Israel used new, experimental weapons in Gaza have not been adequately investigated.
Helena Cobban, an expert on the Middle East who blogs at Just World News, highlights an important new study by the New Weapons Committee, an organization that studies new weapons and their effects, on “Operation Cast Lead.” The committee was founded in the wake of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, where it is also suspected that Israel used highly unconventional weapons.
A press release on the study states:
Toxic and carcinogenic metals, able to produce genetic mutations, have been found in the tissues of people wounded in Gaza during Israeli military operations of 2006 and 2009. The research has been carried out on wounds provoked by weapons that did not leave fragments in the bodies of the victims, a peculiarity that was pointed out repeatedly by doctors in Gaza. This shows that experimental weapons, whose effects are still to be assessed, were used.
Some of the elements found are carcinogenic (mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, nickel and uranium), others are potentially carcinogenic (cobalt and vanadium), others are also fetotoxic (alluminium, copper, barium, lead and manganese). The first ones can produce genetic mutations; the second ones can have the same effect on animals, but they are not proven to do the same on people; the third ones have toxic effects on people ad can affect either the embryo or the foetus in pregnant women. All metals found in high amounts have pathogenic effects on human respiratory organs, kidney and skin and affect sexual and neurological development and functions.
“Nobody – says professor Paola Manduca, spokesperson for the New Weapons Research Group, genetics teacher and researcher at the University of Genoa – had never conducted bioptic analysis on tissue samples from wounds. We have focused on wounds made by weapons that do not leave fragments, as the doctors from Gaza reported on them repeatedly. We wanted to verify the presence of metals that remained on the skin and in the derma. It was suspected that these metals were present in the weapons that leave no fragments, but it had never been demonstrated before. To our surprise even the burns provoked by white phosporus contain high amount of metals. Moreover, the presence of these metals in the weapons implies that they have been dispersed in the environment, in unknown amounts and range; they have been inhaled by the victims and by bystanders, thus constituting a risk for survivors and for people that were not directly hit by the bombing.”
One of the people who sounded the alarm on these types of weapons was Dr. Mads Gilbert, a professor and the department head for Emergency Medical Services at the University Hospital of North Norway. Gilbert was one of only two foreign doctors to be in Gaza during the Israeli onslaught.
While Gilbert was here in the United States on a speaking tour in February, I got a chance to interview him, and I asked him about these experimental weapons:
They probably used the new DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosives) weapons, developed by the U.S. Air Force to be in the new generation of what is called small diameter bombs. These small diameter bombs are made to have a very short distance of effect, but within the range of the explosive it will have a devastating effect in order to allow “targeted killings” with minimum “collateral damage.” The DIME weapons consist of a heavy metal alloy, mostly tungsten and nickel. It’s small enough to be carried by a small rocket, like a Hellfire rocket, which can easily be mounted on a drone. When this drone comes in, the drone pilot can see everything on the ground, and he can fire the rocket, and when this metal alloy explodes, it actually vaporizes the heavy metal. And this heavy metal vapor will serve as a extremely powerful current of vapor, of microshrapnels, with intense heat and an enormous destructive power. But this vapor will meet air resistance, so the power of the explosion dissipates within 10 meters.
Traditional metal shrapnels are extremely devastating because they can travel hundreds of meters, and injure somebody far away from the detonation. Whereas a DIME weapon will destroy and kill people within a range of 5-7 meters, and those from 7-10 meters, approximately, will have serious injuries. But outside that little range, nobody gets hurt. So it’s made for executions, targeted killings, extralegal liquidations that the Israelis use in their warfare. They target a car with a drone, they want to kill someone inside, but they don’t want to kill the people around them.
So you might think this weapon was made in order to be more humane. But when you fire these weapons on children playing on a rooftop in Gaza, or on children playing outside of school, or U.N. shelters, of course, you will have deadly, devastating injuries to the civilians. And we saw them. We saw children coming in without legs, without arms, completely torn apart, but with no shrapnel injuries. And these injuries we strongly believe to be caused by DIME explosives.
The Israeli Army has never acknowledged or denied they used them, neither during the Lebanon invasion and attack in 2006 that we believe was the first time it was used. They also used it, we believe, in “Operation Summer Rain” in southern Gaza in 2006, that was the first time I saw these injuries in Shifa. And I vividly recall these injuries when the patients were coming in to Shifa hospital in January last year. We have published the evidence we have, and we know of no other weapon that can cause this very specific pattern of injury.
And then of course it was the flechette bombs, which are basically nail bombs, which contain a number of small, dart-like arrows of metal steel, which travel at very high speeds and will penetrate your eyes, your neck, your chest, and cause devastating injuries.