IDF soldiers' account of Gaza incursion sparks new war crimes investigations

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

During a seminar with students at the Mechinat Rabin in Oranim, Israeli veterans of the 2008–2009 Israel–Gaza conflict revealed accounts of the deaths of unarmed civilians. This has prompted new allegations of war crimes and a review and investigation into the rules of engagement within the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

There are two accounts in which fears of war crimes have been raised. In one, an Israeli commander ordered the killing of an old woman walking down a road and coming within 100 metres of an IDF position. There was no warning that a perimeter existed, no attempt was made at a warning and no attempt was made to ascertain as to whether the old woman posed a threat.

Cquote1.svg ...we should kill everyone there...Everyone there is a terrorist. Cquote2.svg

In a second account a woman and her two children were killed by a sniper when she was ordered to leave a building being occupied by Israeli soldiers. The commander of the unit commandeering the building however failed to inform a sniper placed on a roof top and the three were killed according to standing instructions issued to the sniper.

In addition to specific cases, the veterans spoke of a general contempt towards the Palestinians, and disregard for their lives. One squad leader speaking at the military academy said that the attitude of those both above and below was that"...we should kill everyone there [in...Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist." With his immediate commanding officer advocating the clearing of buildings by shooting all within without warning.

An Israeli spokes person speaking to the BBC said that the incidents spoken of were well known within the brigade responsible and that any actions that took place were within its rules of engagement, however in response to the accusations the Military Advocate General of the IDF, Brigadier General Avichai Mendelblit has instructed the Israeli Military Police Investigation unit to investigate the allegations.

Talking to Israel Radio Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak said that the IDF is "...the most moral army in the world" though individual exceptions may have occurred, and that these would be investigated.

Others in Israel whilst not denying that these incidents might have occurred speak of lack a context in which they have been reported.

Internationally the accusations are not seen as individual soldiers being responsible for war crimes but that war crimes may have been committed by the Israeli military as a whole, that its rules of engagement were drafted and implemented in such a way that they failed to sufficiently distinguish between combatants and civilians.

In response to the allegations Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories, said that the Geneva Conventions required that there had to be a clear distinction between military targets and the civilian population and that "...If it is not possible to do so, then launching the attacks is inherently unlawful and would seem to constitute a war crime of the greatest magnitude under international law..."

If it is to have indeed failed to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians then the Israeli military not only violated international law but its own moral code of conduct as outlined in its tenet of purity of arms.


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