Thanks to reader Peter Drubetskoy for alerting me to a riveting Haaretz report (in Hebrew) describing a “reunion” of IDF soldiers who discussed their combat experience during the Gaza war. The eyewitness accounts give the lie to the IDF and its supporters who touted the army’s adherence to the highest moral standards in prosecution of the war against Gaza.
The English edition gives a truncated version of the original Hebrew. I’ll translate below the portions that were left out of today’s English language story. It’s possible that Thursday and Friday’s editions will include translations of this material. But I’d like to get it all out there now for people to read.
Here’s the introduction from today’s English edition:
During Operation Cast Lead, Israeli forces killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property, say soldiers who fought in the offensive.
The soldiers are graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College in Tivon…Their statements [were] made on Feb. 13…Dozens of graduates of the course who took part in the discussion fought in the Gaza operation.
The speakers included combat pilots and infantry soldiers. Their testimony runs counter to the Israel Defense Forces’ claims that Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation. The session’s transcript was published this week in the newsletter for the course’s graduates.
Here is the portion of the Hebrew story that is untranslated (I’ve omitted several passages I thought were peripheral):
The sniper sees a woman and children approaching him across the tracks over which they told him no one was allowed to approach. He shot straight at them. At any rate, what happened finally–he killed them. They advanced and suddenly he saw them, people moving in an area in which it was prohibited to move. I don’t think he felt particularly bad about this, because from his point of view he did his job according to the orders given to him. The atmosphere in a general sense among my people [in such a situation] was to go out and speak with them [Palestinian civilians]…I don’t know how to define it. Lives of Palestinians, let’s say, are something far, far less important than the lives of our boys. That’s how they, from their perspective justified this.
Another commander from the same company told about an incident in which an officer shot and killed an adult Palestinian woman who walked along the road at a distance of 100 meters from a house the platoon captured. He said he was forced to argue with his superior officer about the permissive terms for opening fire which made possible the “‘cleansing’ of the homes with rifle fire, without prior warning to the residents. After the orders were changed, the soldiers under this officer complained about it, reasoning “you had to kill every human being found there. Anyone found there was a terrorist.”
According to him, “you don’t sense from the captains that there’s any logic to this [the order to open fire on anything that moved], but they didn’t say anything. To write sentences on the wall: “Death to Arabs,” to take family snapshots and spit on them, to burn everything belonging to the family, just because you could. I think that this was the most central thing: to understand how much the IDF had fallen concerning its ethics. No matter how much we say that the IDF is a an ethical army, let’s just say it didn’t work that way in the field, not at the regimental level. That’s the thing I will most remember.
The head of the preparatory program, Danny Zamir, said he didn’t know beforehand what the soldiers would say at the conference and that the content “struck them dumb.” He approached the chief of staff and warned him of his fear of a severe degradation of ethics in the IDF…Zamir got the impression that the IDF intended to deal with the issue seriously: “They don’t intend to cover it up,” he said.
An IDF spokesperson provided a response: in light of Danny Zamir’s approach to the chief of staff, a meeting was set up between the former and the chief educational officer, who informed him of the activities that happened before, during and after the operation intended to impress upon the troops and their officers the ethical considerations involved in battle.
The chief education officer added that the IDF was preparing profound and fundamental investigations and that officers were encouraged to have discussions about these subjects. The IDF had no knowledge that confirmed these events. It will investigate their truth as needed.
The human rights group, Yesh Din, called tonight for the chief military prosecutor and the government’s legal advisor to announce the formation of an external body to investigate these incidents. The group declared further that it was necessary to give this body the necessary tools to bring criminal charges, whose clear purpose would be to establish blame and responsibility.
“Up till now, one and a half months after the Operation, not a single criminal investigation has been opened despite there being hundreds of testimonies which raise a clear suspicion that there were violations of the laws of war and war crimes. These published testimonies cast a dark shadow not only on the soldiers who participated in the operation, but the senior echelons who created the rules of engagement for opening fire. As has become clear recently [a reference to the indictment of Sudan’s president], in the event that the State of Israel fails to investigate its own abuses other nations will [do it for them].
One thing that strikes me here is the almost nostalgic yearning among the troops and Zamir for a truly ethical IDF, harkening back to an earlier era when such things were taken much more seriously (supposedly). Both Zamir and the IDF education officer speak with the gravest seriousness about the subject when it should be clear to them, as it is to most of the rest of the world, that ethics are a lost cause as far as the army is concerned. There is lip service paid. Words are uttered. Intentions are confirmed. But as anyone who is a serious observer of the IDF knows, words are cheap. Deeds are the currency of the realm. And the IDF’s deeds in Gaza and its refusal to investigate them tell you how much value the army really places on ethics.
Something about the entire closing portion of this story in which the army and Zamir each share their profound concerns about ethical violations, reminds me of an elaborate charade carried out for the benefit of the impressionable young boys who witness such terrible events in Gaza. The goal seems to ease troubled consciences rather than getting at justice. For the IDF, justice is a dead Palestinian and a live Israeli. All else is meaningless.