Yes, AI Is Component Of Israel’s Genocide In Gaza, But It’s Not Whole Story – OpEd


On Wednesday (April 3) the NGO Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor published its latest infographic showing how many Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip by Israeli since October 7 — 41,496 Palestinians in 180 days. That’s 230 a day, or nearly ten people killed every single hour for the last six months.

This is a devastating indictment of Israel’s actions, and is also damning with regard to all the western nations, led by the US, who have been supporting this unprecedented frenzy of civilian slaughter.

According to Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, who, notably, include the nearly 10,000 people buried under the rubble of countless bombing attacks, the total death toll includes 15,370 children and 9,671 women, with 90% of the dead identified as civilians.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor’s latest infographic about the death toll in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor’s latest infographic about the death toll in the Gaza Strip since October 7, 2023.

Israel has always tried to debunk claims that the civilian death toll is monstrously high. On February 29, when the Gaza Health Ministry was reporting that at least 30,000 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza (not including those buried under the rubble), the BBC questioned Israel’s claims that it had “killed more than 10,000 [Hamas] fighters in its air strikes and ground operations,” pointing out that, because “more than 70% of those killed had been women and children,” and “with the figures suggesting less than 30% of those killed were men — some of whom are likely to be over fighting age — experts have raised questions about how Israel arrived at its claim of killing 10,000 fighters.”

Not mentioned by the BBC was the hugely important additional fact that it is known that thousands of the men killed were definitively civilians — the journalists, aid workers, doctors and other medical staff, university lecturers, teachers and numerous others whose deaths are well chronicled.

Andreas Krieg, a senior lecturer in security studies at Kings College London, told the BBC that “Israel takes a very broad approach to ‘Hamas membership,’ which includes any affiliation with the organisation, including civil servants or administrators,” and Rachel Taylor, the executive director of Every Casualty Counts, a UK-based organization that aims to record victims of violent conflicts, told the broadcaster that, because “[n]early half of Gaza’s population is under 18 and about 44% of the fatalities of war are also children … the fact that the deaths closely track the demographics of the general population ‘indicates indiscriminate killing.’”

The world’s first AI-driven genocide?

On the same day that Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor’s update was published, a startling investigation, undertaken by Yuval Abraham for the Israel-based +972 Magazine, explained the appallingly high civilian death count — and, additionally, further discredited Israel’s assessment of the combatant death toll — by exposing the existence of an AI program, code-named “Lavender,” which, after October 7, and particularly in the first few months of bombing (which took place with an intensity unparalleled throughout human history), auto-generated bombing targets — “all suspected operatives in the military wings of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), including low-ranking ones” — with little or no human oversight.

As Abraham explained, based on conversations with “six Israeli intelligence officers, who have all served in the army during the current war on the Gaza Strip and had first-hand involvement with the use of AI to generate targets for assassination”:

During the early stages of the war, the army gave sweeping approval for officers to adopt Lavender’s kill lists, with no requirement to thoroughly check why the machine made those choices or to examine the raw intelligence data on which they were based. One source stated that human personnel often served only as a “rubber stamp” for the machine’s decisions, adding that, normally, they would personally devote only about “20 seconds” to each target before authorizing a bombing — just to make sure the Lavender-marked target is male. This was despite knowing that the system makes what are regarded as “errors” in approximately 10 percent of cases, and is known to occasionally mark individuals who have merely a loose connection to militant groups, or no connection at all.

Moreover, rather than targeting the alleged military targets while they were engaged in military activity, a decision was taken to attack them “while they were in their homes — usually at night while their whole families were present,” with an additional program, operating under the disgusting codename “Where’s Daddy?,” used “specifically to track the targeted individuals and carry out bombings when they had entered their family’s residences.”

Abraham’s investigation also revealed that, for alleged “junior militants,” the army “preferred to only use unguided missiles, commonly known as ‘dumb’ bombs (in contrast to ‘smart’ precision bombs), which can destroy entire buildings on top of their occupants and cause significant casualties.” As one of the sources described it, “You don’t want to waste expensive bombs on unimportant people — it’s very expensive for the country and there’s a shortage [of those bombs].”

In addition, the army also decided, soon after October 7, that, “for every junior Hamas operative that Lavender marked, it was permissible to kill up to 15 or 20 civilians,” superseding previous rules in which its was not regarded as acceptable for there to be any “collateral damage” during the killing of alleged low-ranking militants. The sources also explained that, “in the event that the target was a senior Hamas official with the rank of battalion or brigade commander, the army on several occasions authorized the killing of more than 100 civilians in the assassination of a single commander.”

Not only, as Abraham noted, did this policy shred “the principle of proportionality under international law”; it also led to the shockingly large number of civilian deaths recorded by the Health Ministry in Gaza, and by Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor. When 15 to 20 civilians are acceptable “collateral damage” in targeting one low-level militant, and more than a hundred are deemed acceptable for a senior figure, it’s no wonder that 90 percent of those killed have been civilians.

As Abraham also explained, having jettisoned the complex human-based investigation and authorization required to approve the assassination of a single “human target” before October 7, the AI-generated expansion of that list to include tens of thousands of people — as many as 37,000 at one point, which is more than the entirety of Hamas’s military membership, according to official Israeli statements — meant that, practically, human intervention all but disappeared. “Once you go automatic,” a senior officer explained, “target generation goes crazy.”

This is especially the case when the initial AI programming was so sweeping in its generalizations. As Abraham explained:

The Lavender software analyzes information collected on most of the 2.3 million residents of the Gaza Strip through a system of mass surveillance, then assesses and ranks the likelihood that each particular person is active in the military wing of Hamas or PIJ. According to sources, the machine gives almost every single person in Gaza a rating from 1 to 100, expressing how likely it is that they are a militant.

Lavender learns to identify characteristics of known Hamas and PIJ operatives, whose information was fed to the machine as training data, and then to locate these same characteristics — also called “features” — among the general population, the sources explained. An individual found to have several different incriminating features will reach a high rating, and thus automatically becomes a potential target for assassination.

These “features” might include “being in a Whatsapp group with a known militant, changing cell phone every few months, and changing addresses frequently” — even though the former is no guarantee of militancy, and the latter two might well involve no militancy whatsoever. As the sources explained, the AI program “sometimes mistakenly flagged individuals who had communication patterns similar to known Hamas or PIJ operatives — including police and civil defense workers, militants’ relatives, residents who happened to have a name and nickname identical to that of an operative, and Gazans who used a device that once [unknowingly] belonged to a Hamas operative.”

Furthermore, as one source explained, when “Lavender” was set up, the programmers “used the term ‘Hamas operative’ loosely,” so that “employees of the Hamas-run Internal Security Ministry, whom he does not consider to be militants,” were included. The source added that, “even if one believes these people deserve to be killed, training the system based on their communication profiles made Lavender more likely to select civilians by mistake when its algorithms were applied to the general population.”

The result of all of the above, as one of the sources explained, was that, “In practice, the principle of proportionality did not exist.”

While one source claimed that “the massive bombardment of junior militants took place only in the first week or two of the war, and then was stopped mainly so as not to waste bombs,” no one disputed that, as Abraham described it, “airstrikes against senior ranking Hamas commanders are still ongoing,” with the military still “authorizing the killing of ‘hundreds’ of civilians per target — an official policy for which there is no historical precedent in Israel, or even in recent US military operations.”

One operation, to kill Ayman Nofal, the commander of Hamas’ Central Gaza Brigade, involved the army authorizing, in October, “the killing of approximately 300 civilians” in Al-Bureij refugee camp.

As the Guardian noted in a follow-up article, an international law expert at the US State Department said that they had “never remotely heard of a one to 15 ratio being deemed acceptable, especially for lower-level combatants. There’s a lot of leeway, but that strikes me as extreme.”

Many of the sources for the +972 Magazine investigation also pointed out how the decision to avoid any verification measures — either before or after the attacks — meant that inaccurate information often existed regarding the inhabitants of targeted homes, and also that sometimes — on a handful of occasions when post-attack reports emerged — it became clear that the specific target wasn’t present when the bombing took place. As one source said, “It happened to me many times that we attacked a house, but the person wasn’t even home. The result is that you killed a family for no reason.”

Several of the sources described an atmosphere of “revenge” in the military, with one stating, “No one thought about what to do afterward, when the war is over, or how it will be possible to live in Gaza and what they will do with it. We were told: now we have to f*ck up Hamas, no matter what the cost. Whatever you can, you bomb.”

Why the AI program is fundamentally indistinguishable from naked genocidal intent

While the +972 Magazine investigation is to be commended, as was its earlier investigation into another AI program, The Gospel, which more specifically targeted buildings rather than individuals (and which I wrote about here), there are several potential, and hugely significant problems with it.

Firstly, its exposure of an AI program for warfare might suggest to some warmongering enthusiasts that, rather than being revolting and unjustifiable per se — a nightmare dystopian model for future war — it ought to be regarded as acceptable if its parameters were to be more carefully programmed to pay lip service to international law.

The second reason, however, is that the very existence of the program might gloss over the fact that, on the ground in Gaza, any distinction between an over-enthusiastic AI program and genocidal carpet bombing is largely, if not entirely illusory, because Israel’s aim all along has, solely, been genocidal in intent.

In addition, as Human Rights Watch reported on April 4, the existence of AI programs fails to take into account examples of horrendous bombing raids in which no military targets whatsoever were discernible.

The focus of Human Rights Watch’s report was an “airstrike on a six-story apartment building sheltering hundreds of people in central Gaza on October 31, 2023,” which “killed at least 106 civilians, including 54 children,” and which involved the murders of “children playing football, residents charging phones in the ground-floor grocery store, and displaced families seeking safety.” The organization “found no evidence of a military target in the vicinity of the building at the time of the Israeli attack, making the strike unlawfully indiscriminate under the laws of war” — in other words, a war crime — and called for western governments to suspend arms sales to Israel, and to support an investigation by the ICC (International Criminal Court), which, to date, has proved sadly useless in pursuing Israel for its crimes.

Significantly, Human Rights Watch noted that, in February, Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper, reported that the Israeli military “was investigating ‘dozens of cases’ in which its forces may have violated the laws of war,” although it was unclear whether the October 31 attack was one of those cases.

Beyond the suspicion that numerous bombing attacks took place for which no military justification was provided, that earlier +972 Magazine article I mentioned above noted another crucial component of Israel’s assault on Gaza — the identification of “power targets,” including “public buildings, infrastructure, and high-rise blocks,” whose destruction was, apparently, intended to “‘create a shock’ that, among other things, will reverberate powerfully and ‘lead civilians to put pressure on Hamas.’”

This is as blatantly illegal as carpet bombing residential areas, of course, but Israel has never cared about international humanitarian law, having been allowed to flout it so often since its blood-soaked founding in 1948 that its leaders have developed an arrogant and entitled sense of impunity that, after October 7, definitively tipped over into a never-before-seen genocidal frenzy.

Compare Israel’s greatest violence against the Gaza Strip since it was first sealed off as an “open-air prison” in 2007 — the 50 days in July and August 2014, when over 2,000 Palestinians were killed. As well as exposing the pernicious Israeli lie that the attacks by Hamas and other militants on October 7 occurred in a vacuum, as Israel has repeatedly attacked Gaza over the last 17 years, and even referred to its regular and murderous incursions as “mowing the lawn” — this time the intent, from the beginning, has not been to “mow the lawn,” but to entirely destroy it — to entirely destroy the Gaza Strip as habitable, and to kill as many Palestinians as they can get away with.

The genocidal intent has been spelled out so clearly by Israel’s leaders that when South Africa brought a genocide case against Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Court concluded, at the end of January, that a “plausible genocide” was taking place, in part because of this publicly-declared genocidal intent.

Everything has been destroyed in Gaza — not just “power targets,” and not just residential block after residential block that Israel can, in vain, try to claim were destroyed because of its AI targeting. Those of us paying attention watched, in the early months, as Israel occupied and then blew up universities, not even bothering to pretend that they were “Hamas command centres,” bombed mosques and heritage sites, shops and restaurants, water supplies and factories and agricultural fields — everything that could be used to sustain life.

In particular, the claims that certain targets were “Hamas command centres” was, most cynically, reserved for schools and, in particular, hospitals, which, in perhaps the clearest example of Israel’s genocidal intent, have been systematically destroyed over the last six months, almost always in conjunction with unsubstantiated claims about Hamas involvement, and with, in many cases, the “disappearance” of doctors, surgeons and other senior medical personnel into Israel’s notorious prisons for Palestinians, where thousands of people are held without charge, and where torture and other forms of abuse are rife.

In addition, since the ground invasion began in November, atrocities committed by soldiers — as opposed to the carnage unleashed from a distance by bombs — have been widespread, particularly in the north, as those who have refused to move south as ordered have been subjected to summary executions and enforced disappearances, often after being stripped and humiliated.

There has also been an epidemic of executions by snipers and quadcopters, many of which, as recently reported by returning foreign surgeons, have involved children — very definitively not combatants — being deliberately shot in the head.

In addition, those not bombed, executed, “disappeared,” or shot by snipers or quadcopters are being starved as, despite the ICJ’s provisional measures ordering the unimpeded access of humanitarian aid, Israel has shown no intention of watering down its efforts to kill as many Palestinians as possible by starving them to death.

In response to the ICJ’s provisional measures in January, Israel cynically responded by alleging that a tiny proportion of workers with UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which is the main provider of humanitarian aid to Palestinians, were involved with Hamas, triggering an immediate ban on funding for the organization from most major western countries, only some of which resumed funding after it became evident that, typically, these were groundless allegations.

Is the tide finally turning?

While few of these countries seemed to notice that their actions were deepening their complicity in Israel’s “plausible genocide” — a situation made worse through their refusal to even contemplate halting the supply of weapons to Israel — the premeditated murder, earlier this week, of seven aid workers with World Central Kitchen — six of whom were foreign nationals, including an Australian, a Pole and a joint US-Canadian national, as well as three British ex-military security personnel — seems finally to have awakened outrage in the west in a way that, sadly and shamefully, the deaths of nearly 40,000 Palestinian civilians was unable to achieve.

Last night, after six months of appalling support for Israel’s every action, and a never-ending supply of weapons, President Biden finally called for an “immediate ceasefire,” and, as the White House said in a statement, “made clear”, in a phone call with Benjamin Netanyahu, “the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering and the safety of aid workers.”

So is the tide finally turning? We can only hope that the answer is yes, as Israel’s depravity otherwise seems to know no bounds. In the UK, over 600 legal experts, including four former members of the Supreme Court, have just sent a letterto the government demanding an immediate end to all arms sales to Israel, and the government is also struggling to contain fury, within their own ranks, and in the media, over the critically uncomfortable truth that three British ex-military personnel were not only killed by Israel in what the TV presenter Richard Madeley called an “execution,” but were also, it appears, killed by drones containing engines manufactured in the UK.

In addition, in a pushback against the pernicious Israeli influence that permeates western political circles, former Tory minister Alan Duncan called for Tory Lords and MPs who are acting in the interests of another country (Israel), not that of the Parliament in which they sit, to be removed from power — an appeal aimed at members of Conservative Friends of Israel, but equally applicable to the members of Labour Friends of Israel.

Proving his point, Duncan was immediately put under investigation, but in a degraded political environment in which Israel’s lobbyists exercise unprecedented and unjustifiable influence, and systematically insist on patently false witch hunts against supposed anti-semitic critics, who are, in fact, doing nothing more than criticizing the actions of the State of Israel, it is supremely important that genocidal Zionists are no longer allowed to exercise the disproportionate influence on western domestic politics and foreign policy that they have been wielding for decades, particularly in the US, the UK and Germany.

Today, Israel received another blow, when the UN Human Rights Council, following up on a UN Security Council resolution last week, in which, for the first time, the US didn’t apply its veto, “adopted a resolution calling for Israel to be held accountable for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity,” as the Guardian noted, and also called for an arms embargo.

The Guardian added that the resolution “marks another moment in the slow global ostracization of Israel over its war in Gaza,” but failed, of course, to note that part of the slowness of this process of ostracization involves its own failure (and that of almost the entirety of the mainstream western media) to condemn Israel back in October, just a few weeks into its attacks, when the genocidal scale of its response to the events of October 7 was already readily apparent.

Of course, all of this means nothing if Biden doesn’t follow up on his sternly worded message to Netanyahu. The hypocrisy of having issued this warning just days after presiding over the approval of another $18bn worth of arms sales to Israel has not been lost on perceptive commentators, but it’s noticeable too that, within hours of his phone call with Netanyahu, the Beit Hanoun/Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel was opened for the first time since 7 October, to facilitate the passage of humanitarian aid, Ashdod port in southern Israel was also opened, and Israel also “agreed to allow an increase in Jordanian aid through the Kerem Shalom crossing point.” As the Palestinian commentator Mouin Rabbani noted, “Israel is so utterly dependent on the US it literally takes just one phone call to reverse Israeli policy 180 degrees.”

Keep talking about Palestine, and keep pushing on all possible fronts. Biden is perhaps finally coming to understand that his unconditional support for Israel will lose him the forthcoming election to Donald Trump unless he changes his policies, and the change in tone in parts of the western media, while fundamentally racist in so many cases (because it took the murder of white people to awaken their outrage), also probably indicates a dam breaking, as the murder of westerners, and the shock it has generated in the west, has finally allowed some commentators, previously constrained by blanket instructions to fundamentally support Israel at all costs, to finally vent their frustrations with this genocidal status quo.

If a rising tide of “official” opposition to Israel is finally building, it probably makes sense to try and capitalize on it, rather than to dwell too much on the hypocrisy of those involved, based on their previous positions. Politics and the mainstream media are dirty businesses, and while everyone should, above all, pay attention to the Palestinians themselves, and to anyone else who has been calling this a genocide since the middle of October, the fundamental changes we need right now depend on these bigger forces shifting their positions and finally ending Israel’s 76-year impunity, and, by whatever means, ending its current, and unprecedented genocidal slaughter.

Andy Worthington

Andy Worthington is an investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers). Worthington is the author of "The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison"

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