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Israel, in Concession to Goldstone, Disciplines 2 Senior IDF Officers for ‘Endangering Human Life’

Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg (Roee Edan)

I don’t know whether this is a case of throwing a piece of meat to howling dogs to get them off your scent or whether this is a meaningful admission by Israel (or both), but I find this story potentially quite important:

An Israel Defense Forces brigadier general and another officer with the rank of colonel endangered human life during last year’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip by firing white phosphorous munitions in the direction of a compound run by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the Israeli government says.

The finding aknowledges [sic], at least in part, allegations by international organizations. It was contained in a report that the government provided to the United Nations over the weekend in response to last September’s Goldstone Commission report.

Gaza Division Commander Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg and Givati Brigade Commander Col. Ilan Malka, were the subject of disciplinary action by GOC Southern Command Maj. Gen. Yoav Gallant after headquarters staff found that the men exceeded their authority in approving the use of phosphorus shells that endangered human life, the Israeli government report said.

Col. Ilan Malka (Dudu Azoulay)

The incident in question occurred on January 15 of last year, two days before the end of Operation Cast Lead, in the southern Gaza City neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa, at a time when the Givati brigade and other Israeli forces were in the area.

…The munitions disperse hundreds of pieces of felt impregnated with phosphorus and at least some of the pieces fell into the UNRWA compound, causing injury to an UNRWA employee there as well as to two Palestinian civilians who took cover at the location.

UNWRA compound shelled during Cast Lead (AFP)

A few interesting observations: first, Ynetnews adds that hundreds of Gaza civilians were sheltering in the UNWRA compound when it was shelled, which means they all could’ve been burned alive.  Second, the facility shelled contained most of the food used to feed Gazans, which also easily could’ve gone up in smoke.  Third, endangering human life appears to be the IDF equivalent term for “war crimes,” though you’ll notice that the officers were “reprimanded” for their actions. A reprimand seems quite a lenient judgment for the use of white phosphorus.  Fourth, this was the incident which led Israel to pay the UN $10.5 million for damages to the facility.  Fifth, nice to see that the IDF acknowledges that Palestinians are “human” life (as in “endangering human life”).

It goes without saying that both the IDF and Israeli government will use this incident to prove that they are policing their own and that IDF internal investigations are sufficient to satisfy the demands of Goldstone. This simply won’t do and the Israelis have got to know this. And it’s in this sense that possibly these two officers are sacrificial lambs thrown to the UN in order to try to save Israel from the worse fate of being hauled before the ICC.

What is interesting about this finding and what must frighten IDF senior command and Israeli politicians is that the admission of “endangering human life” may be a first creeping step toward the admission of war crimes if the uproar over Goldstone doesn’t let up and Israel feels forced to make further concessions/admissions. Given this, it is no accident that Israel’s foremost Doberman Dershowitz has been on the prowl calling Justice Goldstone a “traitor to the Jewish people” and an “evil, evil man.”

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  • evildeor February 1, 2010, 3:05 AM

    A point to take in consideration is that ‘disciplinary action’ is not even a trial in military court, but a hearing presided by one’s ranking officer. There are no lawyers, and the maximum penalty possible is five weeks in the brig. Furthermore, it is discretionary and the accused has the right to refuse the process. It’s totally ridiculous to have ‘disciplinary action’ for someone suspected of war crimes.

    It’s beyond ridiculous. They are probably doing it because they were given legal advice that they can present these joke hearings as an argument for preempting the seizure of international courts.

  • ckeeler February 1, 2010, 7:47 AM

    While I do see the Israeli admission as a good sign, the skeptical side of me is still in control. After reading about the way in which Israel investigated its actions (done by IDF or those related to IDF, followed by a commission without the ability to recall witnesses), I have a difficult time believing that Israel is doing anything other than trying to squirm out of the international backlash.

    Furthermore, the UN would need to refer Israel to the ICC and there is little reason to believe that this would get through. US and Israeli pressure was able to table debate on the Goldstone Report. Even if the world sees Israel as skirting its responsibilities, precedent says that the UN will bend again and not refer it to the ICC.

  • mary February 1, 2010, 7:55 AM

    Out of all the incidents reported by NGO’s, soldiers, civilians and UN employees, this is all the could come up with? “Reprimands” for two officers? Hey, why is this a surprise?

  • fiddler February 1, 2010, 8:28 AM

    They’re now denying they disciplined anyone at all, in contradiction of their own report to the UN:
    http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1146638.html

    h/t Jerry Haber

    • mary February 1, 2010, 9:05 AM

      No doubt they are denying it because their report to the UN was a lie. Under scrutiny, it would not hold water. Every passing second, the IDF loses credibility.

  • Miriam February 1, 2010, 9:04 AM

    Anyone willing to bet that perhaps a ‘deal was cut’. Find good soldiers who would willingly will fall on their sword –to silence criticism and give the appearance of self examination..as once again the fox examines the hen house….forgive my cynicism…but seems a strong possibility.

  • Robin February 1, 2010, 10:50 AM

    http://dover.idf.il/IDF/English/News/today/10/02/0102.htm

    That says more “investigations” are forth coming

    Approximately 500 Soldiers and Officers will be Investigated

    The investigatory committees are examining incidents which were the exception to the rule during Operation Cast Lead at the same time that the Military Police is investigating about 150 different claims of inappropriate behavior. In these incidents, allegedly, unsuitable behavior of IDF soldiers towards Palestinian civilians and property is being examined. 12 cases like these were mentioned in the Goldstone Report, and the majority of incidents were discovered during independent IDF operational investigations or on behalf of human rights organizations or private civilians. Approximately 500 soldiers and officers and close to 100 Palestinian civilians will be investigated by the Military Investigation Forces. As of now 36 criminal investigations are being executed.

    Waiting with baited breath:(