Breaking the Silence: “Israeli war crimes were daily and too numerous to count”

The recently released report of Israeli soldiers in Gaza, “Breaking the Silence,” which attested to war crimes there,  but a March 30 Palestine Monitor report, “Israeli war crimes were daily and too numerous to count,” tells the story in more detail.  It is reproduced below.

Common Dreams, Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Israeli Soldiers in Gaza Describe a ‘Moral Twilight Zone’

by Dion Nissenbaum

JERUSALEM – Israeli combat soldiers have acknowledged that they forced Palestinian civilians to serve as human shields, needlessly killed unarmed Gazans and improperly used white phosphorus shells to burn down buildings as part of Israel’s three-week military offensive in the Gaza Strip last winter.

[Israeli mobile artillery fires shells towards the Gaza Strip on January 9. Israeli soldiers involved in the war on Gaza were told to shoot first and worry about the consequences later, and used Palestinian civilians as human shields, an activist group's report has said. (AFP/File/Jack Guez)]Israeli mobile artillery fires shells towards the Gaza Strip on January 9. Israeli soldiers involved in the war on Gaza were told to shoot first and worry about the consequences later, and used Palestinian civilians as human shields, an activist group’s report has said. (AFP/File/Jack Guez)

In filmed testimony and written statements released Wednesday, more than two dozen soldiers told an Israeli army veterans’ group that military commanders led the fighters into what one described as a “moral Twilight Zone” where almost every Palestinian was seen as a threat.

Soldiers described incidents in which Israeli forces killed an unarmed Palestinian carrying a white cloth, an elderly woman carrying a sack, a Gazan riding a motorcycle, and an elderly man with a flashlight, said Breaking the Silence, a group formed by army reservists in 2004.

Any Palestinian spotted near Israeli troops was considered suspect. A man talking on a cell phone on the roof of his building was viewed as a legitimate target because he could’ve been telling militants where to find Israeli forces, the group quoted soldiers as saying.

“In urban warfare, everyone is your enemy,” said one soldier. “No innocents.”

The 110-pages of testimony – along with 16 video clips – of interviews with 26 unnamed Israeli soldiers offers the most comprehensive look inside a military campaign that’s become the subject of an unfolding United Nations war crimes investigation.

The Israel Defense Forces dismissed the report.

IDF spokeswoman Avital Leibovich said Tuesday that the IDF now is conducting dozens of investigations into troop conduct during the Gaza operation and that more than a dozen cases led to police investigations.

In April, the IDF announced it had concluded five high-level investigations, including one into the use of phosphorus to burn down buildings, and cleared itself.

Yehuda Shaul, a co-founder of Breaking the Silence, said the report didn’t identify the soldiers by name because at least half the men quoted were young conscripts who could be jailed for speaking to the media. He agreed, however, to name the units and where they were operating in several instances.

Two soldiers from the Givati brigade who served in Zeitoun told the story of shooting an unarmed civilian without warning him.

The elderly man was walking with a flashlight toward a building where Israeli forces were taking cover.

The Israeli officer in the house repeatedly ignored requests from other soldiers to fire warning shots as the man approached, the soldiers said. Instead, when he got within 20 yards of the soldiers, the commander ordered snipers to kill the man.

The soldiers later confirmed that the man was unarmed.

When they complained to their commander about the incident, the soldiers were rebuffed and told that anyone walking at night was immediately suspect.

Michael Sfard, an Israeli human rights attorney who reviewed the testimony, said the stories reflected a “dramatic change in the ethos” of the Israeli military that portrays itself as the most moral army in the world.

“What we are seeing now is a deterioration of our moral values and red lines,” Sfard said. “This is a dramatic change in heart and values.”

Israel launched the 22-day military offensive on Dec. 27 in a bid to destabilize the Hamas-led government and deter Palestinian militants who’ve fired thousands of crude rockets and mortars at southern Israel that have killed 12 people in the past four years.

Nine Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza during the fighting, four of them by friendly fire.

By contrast, Palestinian human rights groups and Gaza medical officials said that 1,400 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, were killed by Israeli forces. The Israeli military has questioned that figure, but hasn’t made its own analysis available for review.

Breaking the Silence identified other specific instances in which Israeli forces carried out highly questionable practices.

According to the soldiers, the Israeli military fired white phosphorus mortars and artillery shells to set suspicious buildings ablaze and destroyed scores of Palestinian homes for questionable reasons. The white phosphorus supplied by the U.S. is supposed to be used to illuminate targets or provide smoke cover for advancing troops.

“Phosphorus was used as an igniter, simply make it all go up in flames,” one soldier said.

A second soldier – said by the reservists’ group to have been in a tank brigade stationed in the Atatra neighborhood – told Breaking the Silence that at least one officer fired unauthorized white phosphorus mortars because it was “cool.”

The use of white phosphorus to destroy buildings was part of a larger campaign to demolish parts of Gaza to make it more difficult for Palestinian militants to fire rockets at Israel, the soldiers said.

One soldier, who served in an infantry reserve unit of the Negev Brigade near Netzarim, said they were repeatedly told by officers to raze buildings as part of a campaign to prepare for “the day after.”

“In practical terms, this meant taking a house that is not implicated in any way, that its single sin is the fact that it is situated on top of a hill in the Gaza Strip,” said one soldier.

“In a personal talk with my battalion commander he mentioned this and said in a sort of sad half-smile, I think, that this is something that will eventually be added to ‘my war crimes,” he added.

In the Ezbt Abd Rabbo neighborhood, Israeli combatants said they forced Palestinians to search homes for militants and enter buildings ahead of soldiers in direct violation of an Israeli Supreme Court ruling that bars fighters from using civilians as human shields.

“Sometimes a force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a civilian’s shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield,” said one Israeli soldier with the Golani Brigade. “Commanders said these were the instructions, and we had to do it.”

Each Palestinian forced to work with the Israeli military was given the same nickname: Johnnie.

The story was confirmed by four other Israeli soldiers who seized control of the Gaza neighborhood, but declined to speak on the record, Shaul said.

The testimony matches with that of nine Palestinian men who told McClatchy last winter that Israeli soldiers forced them into battle zones during the offensive in their northern Gaza Strip neighborhood.

One Palestinian, Castro Abed Rabbo, said Israeli soldiers ordered him to enter buildings to search for militants and booby traps before they sent in a specially trained dog with high-tech detection gear.

Two other Palestinian men told McClatchy that Israeli soldiers used them as human shields by forcing them to kneel in a field during a firefight as they exchanged fire with Gaza fighters.

“I was down on my knees and they fanned out in a ‘V’ behind me,” Sami Rashid Mohammed, a Fatah-leaning former Palestinian Authority police officer, said in an unpublished interview in February. “It wasn’t more than 10 or 15 minutes of shooting, but it was so scary.”

One of the Israeli soldiers interviewed described the offensive was necessary.

“We did what we had to do,” he said. “The actual doing was a bit thoughtless. We were allowed to do anything we wanted. Who’s to tell us not to?”

One Israeli reservist said a brigade commander gave them stark orders as they were preparing for combat.

“He said something along the line of ‘Don’t let morality become an issue; that will come later,'” the soldier said. “He had this strange language: ‘Leave the nightmares and horrors that will come up for later – now just shoot.”

“You felt like a child playing around with a magnifying glass, burning up ants,” another Israeli soldier said. “A 20-year-old kid should not be doing such things to people. . . . the guys were running a ‘Wild West’ scene: draw, cock, kill.”

(McClatchy special correspondent Cliff Churgin contributed to this article from Jerusalem.)

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Palestine Monitor, March 30, 2009

“Israeli war crimes were daily and too numerous to count”

In the past few days various internationally recognized associations have heavily condemned the Israeli actions in Gaza, shedding light on the recurrent crimes. Alleged accusations are becoming more certain now and are being backed up with evidence and testimonies from both sides, including the Israeli soldiers themselves. Even war has rules and they were repeatedly breached. What is justice waiting for?

Two months after the end of the deadly Israeli assault on the Gaza strip tongues are loosened and several human rights organizations, along with journalists and UN officials, are now releasing reports gathering evidences on war crimes carried out by Israel.

Human Right Watch, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights and many more are now seeking for inquiry with a common aim: shedding documented light on Israel’s human rights violations and war crimes during the Cast Lead operation. Their message is united and clear: an international independent investigation is needed. Time has finally come for the State to give accountability for the 23 days of continuous, barbaric actions in the Strip.

For the first time since its creation in 1948, and after 40 years of occupation of Palestinian land, the Israeli government is facing serious allegations of war crimes, issued by respected figures throughout the world. Even war has rules and they have been breached several times.

Today detailed evidence of alleged war crimes committed by Israel has been released. It includes various inhuman actions such as the use of Palestinian children as human shield, firing upon medical teams on duty and the willful use of prohibited weapons.

If these allegations have been publicized since the beginning of the aggression what has change now is that facts are now being backed up by Israeli soldiers’ narratives and irrefutable evidence.

Detailed reports now attest that it is pointless and naïve to still believe in the Israeli assumption that Cast lead aimed only at Hamas. The reality is that it left one in every 250 residents of the Strip killed or severely injured. [1]

Similarly, the Israeli claim of acting strictly within the frame of the international law sounds hollow too.

They said their snipers were moral and well trained, they said their artilleries were amongst the most sophisticated in the world, their targets were so accurate and their drones so precise that their operators can tell the color of the clothes worn by a target. They claimed this would prevent any mistake.

In Gaza, over 900 ‘mistakes’ were committed.

As time passes and reports flow, it is becoming obvious that many ‘mistakes’ were intentional and planned. By commanders consciously using weapons they shouldn’t, by firing upon harmless targets or by giving orders that bypassed the rules of war. Facts and evidence below speak for themselves. The decimated population can no longer be considered as ‘collateral damage’. It was deliberate.

We have claimed this since the very beginning of the attacks. But apparently Palestinian voices count less than international ones, so we have collected them for you. This is what they have reported:

The first obvious feature that characterized the assault since its very first hour was the disproportionate use of force against civilians as a response to the rocket attacks.

Internationally impartial human rights groups commonly attested that the majority of the offenses have been committed by Israel. In terms of victims, there were 1,400 Palestinian killed in Gaza in 23 days while since 2002, there have been 21 Israeli deaths by rockets fired from Gaza. During Cast Lead Operation three Israeli civilian deaths were reported, six Israeli soldiers were killed by Palestinian fire and four by friendly fire.

The tactic used on Gaza was broadly inhuman as Israel had imposed a heavy siege on the Strip for the eighteen months that preceded the Cast Lead attack and totally severed entry in the days leading up to the operation. Besieged and closed from the rest of the world, no one could escape. Neither harmless civilians seeking safety, nor the injured, turning Gaza into an open-air jail. There was nowhere to escape further bombing for Gaza’s residents while Israel failed to differentiate between civilian and military targets.

Richard Falk, a senior UN official recently suggested that Israel should be held accountable for a “new crime against humanity” during its January assault on the Gaza strip, mentioning that Israel had confined Palestinian civilians to the combat zone in Gaza, a unique move which should be outlawed.

“Such a war policy should be treated as a distinct and new crime against humanity, and should be formally recognised as such, and explicitly prohibited,” Falk said in a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as part of a much longer report from nine UN investigators including specialists on the right to health, food, adequate housing and education, as well as on summary executions and violence against women.

1. Children as human shield

The UN special Rapporteur for Children in armed conflict reported this week that the Israeli soldiers used an 11 year-old boy as a human shield during the latest Israeli aggression against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the Cast Lead operation. According to the UN human rights experts, the Israeli soldiers forced the child to walk in front of them in the Tel Hawa neighborhood in Gaza city, using him while breaking into buildings and homes.

Later then, the Guardian reported the same inhuman tactic involving three Palestinian brothers, who gave their testimonies to the British journalist.

Al’a, Ali and Nafiz described how they were taken from their home at gunpoint, made to kneel in front of tanks to deter Hamas fighters from firing and sent by Israeli soldiers into Palestinian houses to clear them.

“They would make us go first, so if any fighters shot at them the bullets would hit us, not them,” said 14-year-old Al’a al-Attar. His brothers further described how when the three of them were being led through built-up areas in their home town the soldiers would order them to suddenly stop – then fire their rifles over the brothers’ shoulders and between their legs.

The use of “human shields” is prohibited under article 28 of the fourth Geneva Convention, ratified by Israel and therefore bound by it. The use of human shields was further outlawed by Israel’s supreme court in 2005 following several clearly identified incidents. But human rights groups insist the Israeli military continues to use civilians in this way.

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13 year-old Mohammad Badwan was tied by the arm to an Israeli military jeep in Biddo in April 2004.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the UN Rapporteur stated that several similar incidents took place during the war, with Israeli troops reported to have shot at harmless children, bulldozing homes –including a home were a woman and her child were still inside- as well as shelling a building after forcing dozens of civilians from the same family to gather into it a day earlier.

“Violations are carried out on a daily basis”, she commented, “they are too numerous to count”. But the UN experts will investigate the claims nonetheless.

The 43-page report was mostly denied by the Israeli ambassador to the UN, claiming that it “demonizes” Israel, stating that the UN is becoming “an informal bloc of African and Islamic Nations, supported by Russia and Cuba”.

2. “Fire upon rescue” – easing the rules of war

Physician for Human Rights, the Israeli human rights association, also released a report this week highlighting several attacks against medical teams on duty and medical centers in Gaza. The report also calls for an independent, unbiased international investigation into the Israeli violations of human rights in Gaza, especially violations against patients, the wounded and medical teams.

Medical teams on duty, Gaza 2009

The report detailed the work of doctors under fire, adding that attacks on medical teams were not isolated cases but recurrent actions.

According to the association the Israeli army barred medics, including the Red Cross movement, Amnesty International and UNRWA personnel from reaching wounded residents, further preventing first aid from reaching injured Palestinians. This led to a number of deaths and increased the already dramatic statistics.

The Israeli army never respected the rules of humanitarian law endorsed by 4th Geneva Convention that prohibit harming civilians and attacking medical facilities and medical personnel. Doctors and medical crew were often deliberately targeted. Soldiers killed 16 doctors and injured 25 in addition to shelling 34 medical centers, including overcrowded hospitals, and 26 first aid clinics.

Medical Human Rights groups affirm now that there was “certainty” that Israel violated the international humanitarian law during the war, with attacks on medics, damages to medical buildings and indiscriminate attacks on civilians, and delaying medical treatment for the injured.

“We have noticed a stark decline in IDF morals concerning the Palestinian population of Gaza, which in reality amounts to a contempt for Palestinian lives,” said Dani Filc, chairman of Physicians for Human Rights Israel.

The Israeli army responded to those allegations, saying they were under orders to avoid harming medics, but: “However, in light of the difficult reality of warfare in the Gaza Strip carried out in urban and densely populated areas, medics who operate in the area take the risk upon themselves.”

What is this supposed to mean? That because Israel is firing upon Gaza, one of the most tiny and densely populated areas on the planet, doctors should stop carrying out their duty?

In Ha’aretz, Amira Hass backed up the human rights group’s claims by reporting that, days after the end of the hostilities a sheet of paper entitled “Situational assessment” was found in one of the Palestinian homes the IDF took over, with a handwritten notice mentioning “rules of engagement: Open fire upon rescue”, both in Hebrew. A reservist officer who did not take part in the Gaza offensive believes that the note is part of orders from a low-level commander written before giving his soldiers their daily briefing.

This week the Guardian reported that the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz discovered that the IDF’s international law division (ILD), the body responsible for advising Israeli forces on the legality of their actions, had authorised an easing of the rules of engagement in Gaza, including the targeting of medics.

A copy of the rules of engagement for Operation Cast Lead was obtained by Ha’aretz in the days before the offensive began. According to a journalist who saw the document the new, less stringent rules were approved at the highest levels of the Israeli military.

Ha’aretz was repeatedly blocked from publishing the document by the military censor.

3. White Phosphorus and unmanned drones distinguishing civilians

Several investigations into the high number of civilian deaths have found that Israel used a variety of weapons in illegal ways. Indiscriminate munitions, including shells packed with white phosphorus, were fired into densely populated areas, while precision missiles and tanks shells were fired into civilian homes.

Richard Falk, the UN special Rapporteur for the Human Rights in the oPt, made, during and after the invasion, countless declarations and statements denouncing the Israeli violations in Gaza. In his latest paper on alleged war crimes during the Cast Lead operation he describes why the 23 days of attacks in Gaza stand shockingly apart from much prior recourse to force by Israel to uphold its security and strategic interests.

In terms of battlefield practices Falk re-affirms the various allegations associated with the use of phosphorus bombs in residential areas of Gaza, as well as legal complaints about the use of a new cruel weapon, known as DIME (Dense Inert Metal Explosive), that explodes with such force that it rips body parts to pieces.

The controversial use of the lethal snow powder

Human Rights Watch made the news this week by providing documented evidence in its latest report entitled “rain of fire, Israel’s unlawful use of White Phosphorus in Gaza”, claiming war crimes were committed.

Since the beginning of the ground offensive in Gaza, several media sources reported the possible used of the chemical military ordnance, despite the IDF’s constant claim that no such thing has been used. “I can tell you with certainty that white phosphorus is absolutely not being used”, said an IDF spokesperson on CNN on the 7th of January, during the midst of the war.

Today HRW affirms it firmly: “Israel’s repeated firing of firing white phosphorus shells over densely populated areas of Gaza was indiscriminate and is evidence of war crimes.”

The 71-page report provides witness accounts of the devastating effects that the munitions have had on civilians and civilian property in Gaza. Its researchers went on the ground immediately after hostilities ended and found spent shells, canister liners and dozens of burnt felt wedges containing white phosphorus on city streets, apartment roofs, residential courtyards and at UN schools -a substance that has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect and can severely burn people and set structures, fields, and other civilian objects in the vicinity on fire. Its principle is easy: the phosphorus burns anything it touches. The potential for harm to civilians is further magnified by Gaza’s high population density, among the highest in the world.

It is Israel’s tactical use of White Phosphorus that is controversial, as the ordnance in itself is not prohibited. Used as an “obscurant” (a chemical used to hide military operations) is permissible in principle under international humanitarian law (the laws of war). However, when used deliberately in open areas, white phosphorus munitions are illegal.

“In Gaza, the Israeli military didn’t just use white phosphorus in open areas as a screen for its troops,” said Fred Abrahams, senior emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “It fired white phosphorus repeatedly over densely populated areas, even when its troops weren’t in the area and safer smoke shells were available. As a result, civilians needlessly suffered and died (…). For the needless civilian deaths caused by the white phosphorus, senior commanders should be held to account”, Abrahams said.

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White Phosphorus shells fall on a UN school converted into shelter, Jabalya/Gaza, January 2009
Picture: AP

According to HRW, in the recent Gaza operations Israeli forces frequently air-burst white phosphorus in artillery shells in and near populated areas. Each air-burst shell spreads 116 burning white phosphorus wedges in a radius extending up to 125 meters from the blast point. White phosphorus ignites and burns on contact with oxygen, and continues burning at up to 816 degrees Celsius until nothing is left or the oxygen supply is cut. When white phosphorus comes into contact with skin it creates intense and persistent burns.

Conclusion is reached that IDF repeatedly exploded it unlawfully over populated neighborhoods, killing and wounding civilians and damaging civilian structures, including a school, a market, a humanitarian aid warehouse and a hospital.

According to HRW, The IDF knew that white phosphorus posed life-threatening dangers to civilians. A medical report prepared during the recent hostilities by the Israeli ministry of health said that white phosphorus “can cause serious injury and death when it comes into contact with the skin, is inhaled or is swallowed.” Burns on less than 10 percent of the body can be fatal because of damage to the liver, kidneys and heart, the ministry report says. Infection is common and the body’s absorption of the chemical can cause serious damage to internal organs, as well as death.

Israel at first denied it was using white phosphorus in Gaza but, facing mounting evidence to the contrary, said that it was using all weapons in compliance with international law. Later it announced an internal investigation into possible improper white phosphorus use.

Precise unmanned drones hitting harmless families

White phosphorus was not the only controversial weapon used: Israel’s unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – were also reported to have killed civilians.

The drones are operated from a remote position, usually outside the combat zone. They use optics that are able to see the details of a man’s clothing and are fitted with pinpoint accurate missiles, Israel claims. If this is so, why then has it been reported that drones have killed at least 48 civilians, as claimed earlier this week by the Guardian presenting the conclusions of its investigations in Gaza?

Mounir al-Jarah’s family was decimated by the unmanned weapon.

On the 16th of January a rocket fired from an unmanned aerial vehicle killed Mounir’s sister, her husband and four of her children, who drinking tea in their small courtyard in Gaza. All six members of the family were blown to pieces. “We found Mohammed lying there, cut in half. Ahmed was in three pieces; Wahid was totally burnt – his eyes were gone. Wahid’s father was dead. Nour had been decapitated. We couldn’t see her head anywhere”, she reported to the Guardian.

Drones are known to be extremely accurate. If Israel was effectively only aiming fighters, then why was a peaceful family drinking tea in a garden blown to pieces? Why were a group of girls walking in the street targeted too? Along with children playing in a field? These are only few cases reported by the Guardian on the use of unmanned drones killing harmless civilians.

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Israeli-made Drone, known as Hermes 450
Picture: AFP/Getty Images

Though Israel still claim their use of weapons conforms with international law and denied having used unmanned drones on Gaza, the Guardian found in the online version of an Israeli army magazine, Major Gil, the deputy commander of the first UAV squadron, describes using the drones to carry out attacks during this offensive. He describes being able clearly monitor accurately everything and to clearly distinguish fighters from women and children and other civilians.

On the drone’s use, as it is the case for the White phosphorus, teams of human rights investigators and international law experts are now building the case for war crimes charges against Israel for having killed so many civilians.

4. Home destruction ‘wanton’

During the 23-days of what should be better named an aggression than a war, UNDP estimated that 14,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed, along with 219 factories and 240 schools.

But most of them, said human right groups, were not necessary but rather deliberate destruction aimed at ruining Palestinian lives and economy.

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Over 14,000 homes have been destroyed during the Cast Lead operation, Gaza 2009
Picture: AP

Amnesty International challenges the Israeli main narrative that “buildings were destroyed because of the military operation needs”, by releasing evidences of the use of mines. Fragments of anti-tank mines have been found in the rubbles of destroyed properties, highlighting that houses were blown from below, rather than being destroyed from above in an airstrike.

“Israeli troops have to leave their vehicles to plant the mines, indicating that they faced no danger and that there was no military or operational justification. (…) Unless those operating on the ground felt not just 100% but 200% secure – that the places were not booby trapped, that they wouldn’t come under fire – they could not have got out of the vehicles,” she said. “They would not have used that method”, said Donatella Rovera, the head of the AI fact-finding mission to Southern Israel and Gaza.

This allegation is furthermore backed up by the conclusion of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli group, stating that “many demolitions had been carried out when there was no immediate threat” and that “from the testimonies that we’ve gathered, lots of demolitions – buildings demolished either by bulldozers or explosives – were done after the area was under Israeli control,” said Yehuda Shaul, one of the group’s members.

Though destruction of civilian property is not illegal in itself under international law, it must be justifiable on military grounds – for example if the building was booby trapped or being used as cover for enemy fighters which was apparently not always the case.

But wanton destruction on a large scale would qualify as a war crime, emphasized Amnesty. Could 15,000 private homes constitute a ‘large scale’? It is likely so.

5. Inhumanity among the Israeli army, dehumanizing the Palestinians – the mature fruit of the occupation

Another investigation from Ha’aretz made a lot of noise this week, embarrassing strongly the Israeli commanders when the newspaper published striking testimonies from Israeli soldiers involved in the Gaza fighting, in which they described the shooting of civilians and the low regard held among the troops for Palestinians.

Over 20 documented occasions have been reported on which Israeli soldiers were seen firing at women and children carrying white flags.

Their horrendous tales includes the killing of an elderly and harmless Palestinian woman walking on a road and the willful killing of a woman and her two children, after been told they would be safe.

A young sharpshooter witnessed his colleague’s crime and testified: “I don’t think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to … I don’t know how to describe it …. The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way,” he said.

Though we had already assumed this, it has now been revealed by several testimonies from the army itself that soldiers acted in complete disregard to the Palestinian lives in Gaza.

Rules of engagement were also reported to have been eased, such as allowing the clearing out of Palestinian houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. An IDF squad leader is quoted in the daily newspaper Ha’aretz as saying his soldiers interpreted the rules to mean “we should kill everyone there [in the centre of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.”

Acts of unjustified vandalism where also common such as writing ’death to the Arabs’ on the walls of a family house or to take family pictures and spit on them. “I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It’s what I’ll remember the most”, testified a squad leader, who took part in the operation.

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A Palestinian man looks through a door as he stands in a home commandeered by Israeli soldiers during the recent Gaza offensive, in Gaza City, Monday, March 23, 2009. The Hebrew graffiti on the wall reads “The eternal people has no fear”, bottom, and “Shaked”, a name referring to an army battalion. In recent testimony, several Israeli soldiers confirmed they were engaged in unnecessary destruction.
Picture: AP

Those testimonies further challenge the IDF claim that “The Israeli army is the most moral army in the world”, and, as more and more emerge by the day, it is also very unlikely to believe in the argument that these are isolated incidents.

They are far from being isolated. And further away from being incidents.

If it is satisfactory that the eyes of the world have now been opened to the Israeli violations, one should never forget that they neither start nor stop with the Gaza operation. Those who have monitored the situation in Gaza and the West Bank for months or years know that everything started long before this and violations are not limited to the tiny, besieged strip.

Further from Gaza, in the towns and cities of the West Bank it isn’t much different. Illegal bombs or drones are not used, but prohibited bullets are shot at close range to peaceful demonstrators and the constant humiliation and the killing of the innocent is routine.

The dehumanization of the IDF troops is the result of a long lasting process. It is the result of dozens of years of occupation in which an entire generation of soldiers has grown into a context of impunity where demolishing Palestinian houses or killing children has become common.

Gideon Levy, a well-know Ha’aretz columnist further noted that “Most of the soldiers who took part in the assault on Gaza are youths with morals. They will escort an old woman across the street or rescue earthquake victims. But in Gaza, when faced with the inhuman Palestinians, the package will always be suspicious, the brainwashing will be stupefying and the core principles will change. That is the only way they can kill and engage in wanton destruction without deliberating or wrestling with their consciences, not even telling their friends or girlfriends what they did.”

It is an entire trend that has to be reversed. And it can only be done by challenging the impunity that the Israeli army and government had benefited from for over six decades.

We do not want the IDF to investigate their crimes. We want an impartial, independent investigation that would ask for individual accountability

Gathering these cases above, we now have what we need: facts and evidence.

During the Operation so many citizens around the world expressed their solidarity with Gazans and their tiredness of Israel being far above every rule and killing with total impunity. Thousands and thousands of world citizens, led by their conscience and beliefs in social justice, stood up in the cold to pressure their government. The message was unique: “Act to End This Now.”

The laws of war obligate states to investigate impartially allegations of war crimes. The IDF won’t be impartial. Israel has to be under independent investigation for the war crimes, along with the governments which supplied Israel with its munitions.

Though the Israeli army, now embarrassed, claimed it would investigate such violations it appears to be very unlikely that any serious steps towards justice will be taken by the army itself.

Without a proper independent investigation there will be no deterrent. We need a binding, compulsory conclusion that would finally mean something on the ground. If not, the message of the international community will remain the same, “keep on doing what we don’t like, there will be no sanctions.”

To change this we need a political will and courage. Various bodies announced their will to investigate the Israeli crimes and charged the State for war crimes.

Judges who participated in investigation committees into crimes in Darfur, the former Yugoslavia and East-Timor, decided to set up a similar international committee to investigate “all the parties” in the IDF offensive on Gaza, concluding that these events go beyond isolated incidents and that “the problem is not only soldiers’ behavior, but the instructions from the senior military ranks and the minister in charge.”

Similarly, the UK has announced unofficially this week the impossibility to hold its promise to Israel to cover up their war crimes. As the British law permits private citizens to press charges against foreigners on war crimes the legislation permits the arrest of IDF officers visiting Britain on war crimes. The UK promised the Israeli government to amend the law, protecting the State from any investigation from their side.

But the UK just stepped back under the pressure of its public opinion, claiming that “as a result of the decline in Israel’s public image following the Cast lead Operation, the government believes it will be unable to pass the amendment to the legislation before the next elections”, understanding that for its citizens, backing up Israel blindly is not synonymous with gaining voices anymore.

This is a discrete trend, but a good sign, that impunity might not last any longer.

If international NGO’s, the United Nations, and the citizens are behind us What are we waiting for? What are you waiting for?

[1] 1,450 Palestinians were killed, including at least 960 were civilians and among them 431 children and 114 women.

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