Sunday, March 22, 2009

Gaza war crime claims gather pace as more troops speak out.

The Israeli group Breaking the Silence are set to issue a report in the next few months which appears to come to a similar conclusion to the one made last week by a group of anonymous Israeli soldiers, that war crimes were committed in Gaza by the Israeli military.

"This is not a military that we recognise," said Mikhael Manekin, one of the former soldiers involved with the group. "This is in a different category to things we have seen before. We have spoken to a lot of different people who served in different places in Gaza, including officers. We are not talking about some units being more aggressive than others, but underlying policy. So much so that we are talking to soldiers who said that they were having to restrain the orders given."

Manekin described how soldiers had reported their units being specifically warned by officers not to discuss what they had seen and done in Gaza.

The outlines of the evidence gathered comes hard on the heels of the disclosure by the Oranim Academy's pre-military course last week of devastating witness accounts supplied by soldiers involved in the fighting, including the "unjustified" shooting of civilians.

The claims appear to add credence to widespread claims of Israeli soldiers firing on civilians, made by Palestinians to journalists and international investigators and lawyers who entered Gaza at the end of the conflict and in its aftermath.

With Israeli newspapers threatening new disclosures, the New York Times has weighed in with an interview with a reservist describing the rules of engagement for the Gaza operation. Amir Marmor, a 33-year-old military reservist, told the newspaper that he was stunned to discover the way civilian casualties were discussed in training talks before his tank unit entered Gaza in January.

"Shoot and don't worry about the consequences" was the message from commanders, said Marmor.

That certainly was the attitude which appeared to be on display to someone watching from the other side of the world; the Israelis - having barred all international journalists from the Gaza strip - appeared to be behaving as if the gloves were off, and that is exactly what is being reported here.
Describing the behaviour of a lieutenant-colonel who briefed the troops, Marmor added: "His whole demeanour was extremely gung-ho. This is very, very different from my usual experience. I have been doing reserve duty for 12 years, and it was always an issue how to avoid causing civilian injuries. He said that in this operation, we are not taking any chances. Morality aside, we have to do our job. We will cry about it later."
The special rapporteur to the UN Human Rights Council, Richard Falk, has already complained that Israel has committed a "war crime of the greatest magnitude" during the Gaza campaign. That is not a phrase which any special rapporteur would casually use. And there is already enough evidence - from the use of white phosphorous to the bombing of UN buildings and the incredibly high number of civilian casualties - to suggest that whatever took place in Gaza needs to be looked at again with the possibility of bringing war crime charges.

The Israeli media have wanted to publish the rules of engagement for the Gaza operation, but have been prevented from doing so by the military censor.

There is certainly the feeling that, amongst the IDF, there has been a tendency to dehumanise Palestinians:

An investigation by reporter Uri Blau, published on Friday in Haaretz, disclosed how Israeli soldiers were ordering T-shirts to mark the end of operations, featuring grotesque images including dead babies, mothers weeping by their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosques.

Another T-shirt designed for infantry snipers bears the inscription "Better use Durex" next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A shirt designed for the Givati Brigade's Shaked battalion depicts a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, "1 shot, 2 kills".

There obviously exists a certain black humour amongst people who have been in a war zone, but I can't imagine a context in which American or British soldiers could joke about killing a pregnant Iraqi woman and celebrating the death of her and her child in the way which is depicted in these T-shirts.

One has to see the Palestinians as less than human to be able to make this kind of joke about their deaths. That doesn't, of course, prove that a war crime has been committed here, but it is indicative of the kind of atmosphere in which such crimes become possible.

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4 comments:

Shachar said...

War crimes committed against innocent civilians should be punished. These criminals should be stripped of their influence and put into jail, as murderers.

There is a difference between murder and self-defense, but still, in self-defense there is a limit to how far one can go. Self-defense ends when the aggressor is no longer able to hurt you. The aggressor for the last 61 years has been the Arabs, and they are still able and actively trying to hurt Israelis. In fact, now with Iran's new technologies, Israel's neighbors are as dangerous as they were in 1948, when hardly anyone thought that the Jews would survive the massacres. In 1967, as the Arabs were rallying to destroy Israel, most Israelis doubted that Israel could defend itself, until Israel routed the Egyptian air-force.

It is certain that this war in Gaza was unlike any other war Israel has fought. This time, most Israelis have stopped believing that peace is possible. The outcome of this widespread loss of hope is the attitude of 'Lets do whatever we have to do to defend ourselves, while risking as few of our young men's lives as possible.' Many soldiers in Lebanon were killed because Israel was trying to be careful not to shoot into civilian areas, even as Hezballa was shooting from these villages and schools.

The outcome of this loss of hope is disgusting indeed. I wish Israelis would still have realistic reason to hope. I wish that the Arabs would have accepted Israel before the war in 1948, and before the continued attacks ever since.

Kel said...

The aggressor for the last 61 years has been the Arabs

Israel has been carrying out an illegal occupation since 1967. Do you not think that an occupation is an act of violence?

I wish that the Arabs would have accepted Israel before the war in 1948

Do you know of any other people who would give away half of their land to a largely immigrant population based on the fact that they once lived there 2,000 years before?

I think wishing that they would have accepted that is asking for something which was hugely unrealistic.

Steel Phoenix said...

Shachar, you are the biggest peacemonger I've ever known. Your incurable optimism made you downright hard to live with. How did you come to a point where you are willing to defend the sending of machines of war against mostly civilian populations? Are you now one of those who has stopped believing peace is possible?

Israel filled Lebanon with cluster bombs. There is nothing 'careful' about that. They fired phosphorus into Gaza; not careful. This isn't the work of a few bad soldiers. your government is corrupt to the gills. Every bomb adds to the hate. You have to see that this path only makes things worse in the long run. This bickering over holy land isn't just hurting your two nations, it is overflowing into the rest of the world. It's time to end this. The international community needs to step in, make some hard rulings, and enforce them. Islamic extremism is a huge problem, but this only aggravates it.

Kel said...

It's time to end this. The international community needs to step in, make some hard rulings, and enforce them. Islamic extremism is a huge problem, but this only aggravates it.

Amen, SP.