Time to believe Gaza war crimes allegations
Israel is grappling with accusations of war crimes committed by its army during the recent bloodbath in Gaza. Some soldiers are coming clean, but the brass is doing its best to downplay these confessions. This story is from Haaretz
Time to believe Gaza war crimes allegations
Last update – 07:16 24/03/2009
By Amira Hass
Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has difficulty believing the soldiers’ testimonies that they intentionally harmed Palestinian civilians, because the Israel Defense Forces is a moral army, he said on Sunday.
On the other hand, he believes the soldiers because they “have no reason to lie.” Then again, Ashkenazi is convinced that if what they said is true, these are isolated incidents.
Ashkenazi reacted like most Israelis – as though the reports, including those in Haaretz and Maariv, were the first about the Gaza offensive that were issued by someone other than the military spokesman or the military reporters, who rely on him for their information.
But ample information was available from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, based on statements collected from hundreds of people in the Gaza Strip in January and February.
Ashkenazi, like other Israelis, could have read the Red Cross’ protest during the offensive, that the IDF prevented medical teams from reaching wounded Palestinians by shooting at them. He or his aides could have gone to the Web site set up by Israeli human rights organizations, which was full of reports and testimonies.
His aides, had they wanted to, could have found the many questions foreign reporters sent to the IDF spokesman, seeking Ashkenazi’s comments before they filed their stories. They had details about families killed by IDF shells and bombs in their homes, about the lethal white phosphorus shells and about the shooting of civilians waving white flags. The had cataloged the massive destruction of plants, orchards, fields, cowsheds and apartment buildings. Much evidence of these outrages was also published inside Haaretz.
The IDF’s legal advisers must have read it all. Including, perhaps, that judges who participated in investigation committees into crimes in Darfur, the former Yugoslavia and East Timor want to set up a similar international committee to investigate “all the parties” in the IDF offensive on Gaza. These people have concluded that the events go beyond isolated incidents and that the problem is not only in the soldiers’ conduct, but the instructions from the senior military ranks and the ministers in charge.
Shades of Abu Ghraib. Those in charge are intent on covering their tracks, blaming all the problems on a few bad apples. The morality of an army is not worth anything if those in charge turn the worst impulses of mankind loose upon the Enemy. People like to hide from the cold hard facts of just how brutal soldiers can be, especially when their heads are filled with propaganda about the evil Enemy who must be crushed. The people of Gaza chose Hamas in free elections, which many Israelis took as a direct provocation, since Hamas resists the Israeli occupation, earning the label terrorist. Isolating Hamas did not accomplish the desired goal of ousting them from power, so Israel took more direct action, attacking a virtually defenseless people in the guise of stopping the rocket fire from Gaza. The attack was so disproportionate and one-sided, there really was not a battle. The Israeli Army basically got free rein to take out its frustrations on innocent people, though in the eyes of many Israelis, the Gazans were not innocent, because they voted for Hamas, avowed enemies of Israel. Even if that could justify the attack, there are rules of war, which Israel seems to take great pride in violating, as if any tactic is justified to crush the enemies of Israel.
One might hope something good will come of this, but unless USA sees fit to reprimand Israel, Israel will treat the fallout of the Gaza attack as just another public relations problem to be swept under the carpet. Israelis routinely scoff at world opinion, claiming those who criticize Israeli actions are anti-Semitic, or do not understand the facts on the ground. Internal dissension, such as skepticism of the pronouncements of authority often found in Haaretz, is more likely to have an impact on Israeli policy. US criticism could have a great impact, but US politicians rarely have the nerve to go beyond gentle chiding of Israel, since Israel is supposedly such a wonderful ally. In a way, that is true, since Israel and USA are notorious international scofflaws, so they stick together.