On Dec. 27, Israel attacked the Gaza Strip – a small coastal enclave abutting Israel. It's the crowded home to 1.5 million Palestinians.
As of Jan. 15, more than 1,000 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza. Of them, 765 were civilians. An additional 5,100 Palestinians have been wounded.
Thirteen Israelis have been killed. Three of them were civilians. An additional 80 Israelis have been wounded.
The disparity in the number of casualties is largely the result of each side's relative military strength.
Hamas, the group exercising semi-control of Gaza, is a ragtag army of militants and terrorist dicktards. Its arsenal consists of guns and homemade rockets. If it were capable of killing more Israelis, it certainly would.
Israel, however, has one of the world's largest, most technologically abundant militaries. Its arsenal includes tanks, advanced fighter jets, precision-guided bombs and missiles, a modern navy with submarines, and nuclear weapons.
A vast majority of the Palestinian dead have been killed by so-called conventional Israeli bombs, missiles and shrapnel. Nevertheless, much attention has been paid in recent days to Palestinian victims of white phosphorous weapons.
White phosphorous, or WP, is a manmade derivative of the element phosphorous (found on the periodic table of elements between silicon and sulphur). WP is most commonly used to make phosphoric acid, a key ingredient in chemical cleansers, fertilizers, and, um, Coca-Cola. Phosphoric acid is what gives Coke its tanginess.
White phosphorous also has chemical properties making it very useful to a military. It burns very brightly, allowing illumination of battle areas at night. It also generates a lot of smoke, obscuring troop movements during the day.
Packed in a bomb, grenade, or artillery shell, it's also a powerful incendiary. Incendiaries are weapons that set things on fire (as opposed to regular bombs, which destroy targets with explosions and flying metal).
WP incendiaries work by disbursing a cloud of white phosphorous dust. The dust ignites at 86 degrees and will not stop burning until its oxygen supply is cut off. When WP dust comes into contact with the human body (which is approximately 98.6 degrees), it burns. And burns. And burns. People killed or wounded by WP look like they've been dipped in acid.
During the first half of the 20th century, burning people alive during war was considered acceptable. You know the old saying: to make an omelette, you need to break some eggs and set a few live chickens on fire.
Believe it or not, the atomic bombing raids of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not history's deadliest bomb attacks. On March 9, 1945, an incendiary raid on Tokyo killed 100,000 Japanese and left approximately 1 million more homeless – in a single night.
In 1980, the civilized world decided that maybe burning civilians alive during warfare was not such a good idea. That year, a new section was added to the Geneva Convention banning the use of incendiaries on or near civilians.
Israel denies that it is using WP in Gaza.
"I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorous is absolutely not being used," an Israeli military spokesman told CNN on Jan. 7.
Unfortunately, there is strong evidence to the contrary.
Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and the conservative Times newspaper in London all claim Israel is using WP in Gaza. Human Rights Watch observers claim to have seen WP artillery exploding over Gaza City. In fact, countless published press photos depict WP-like white cloud bursts over populated parts of Gaza. The Times also reports finding spent shells from Israeli WP weapons in Gaza.
The United Nations headquarters building in Gaza was hit with white phosphorous artillery on Jan. 15, according to U.N. workers inside. Hundreds of civilians were sheltered in the building at the time. The fire could not be extinguished with regular fire extinguishers – a trait consistent with WP fires.
To see what WP weapons do to the human body, check out the Guardian's Jan. 16 video report from a hospital in Gaza. It's gruesome, but if you support the Israeli action, you should watch it and see exactly what it is you're supporting: www.tinyurl.com/8ndkv9.
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