Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Incriminating Evidence of Israeli War Crimes in Gaza

March 25, 2009  - by Stephen Lendman

Throughout its history, Israel has willfully and repeatedly committed crimes of war and against humanity, always with impunity. Yet under customary legal standards and norms (including Geneva, Hague, the UN Charter, S.C. and G.A. resolutions), it's lawless, a serial abuser, a threat to the region and humanity, mostly as an oppressive occupier. Attacking Gaza is the latest episode in its six-decade reign of terror satisfying the definition of genocide against defenseless Palestinian civilians. This article covers more evidence from some disturbing but unsurprising newly published information.

On March 19, in the first of a series of articles, Haaretz headlined: "IDF killed civilians in Gaza under loose rules of engagement." Military correspondent Amos Harel revealed Israeli soldier and pilot ("dirty secret") testimonies of being ordered to kill unarmed civilians and destroy their property - accounts at variance with official claims that only military targets were attacked and that "Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation." Defense Minister Ehud Barak calls the IDF "the most moral army in the world."


"Moral" examples included an infantry squad leader recounting the shooting of a mother and her two children: "There was a house with a family inside....We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family....The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left," after which a rooftop sniper "shot them straight away....I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he (followed orders, and, besides, Palestinian lives are) less important" than our own soldiers.


Other incidents included:
-- a squad leader telling of a company commander ordering an elderly Palestinian woman to be shot and killed;
-- soldiers saying "we should kill everyone (in the center of Gaza); everyone there is a terrorist;"
-- soldiers writing "death to the Arabs on walls" and spitting on family pictures;
-- a squad leader saying: "At the beginning, the directive was to enter a house with an armored vehicle, break the door down, (and) start shooting inside - I call it murder - to shoot at everyone we identify;" commanders called it OK "because everyone left in the city is culpable because they didn't run away;"
-- soldiers ordered to indiscriminately destroy property and farmland;
-- orders given to enter a house, "switch on loudspeakers and tell (occupants) you have five minutes to run away and whoever doesn't will be killed;"


These and other accounts typify regular incidents in occupied Gaza and the West Bank. When revealed, official denials follow or in response to clear evidence, officers, like military advocate general Avichai Mendelblit, say the incidents will be investigated, after which everything is whitewashed, quietly forgotten, none of the guilty are prosecuted, and security forces keep using disproportionate force against defenseless Palestinian civilians.
In a March 19 analysis, Harel concluded that this "happen(s) in the field most of the time (and) as usual, reality is completely different from the gentler version provided by the military commanders to the public and media during (an) operation and after. The soldiers are not lying, for the simple reason that they have no reason to" and every reason to stay silent. The rule is: "You don't ask, we won't tell," but these soldiers, squad leaders, pilots and commanders did.


Further, there's a "continuity of testimony from different sectors that reflects a disturbing and depressing picture" of a rogue military willfully committing war crimes because they know they can get away with them. Harel concluded: "The IDF's ethical problems did not start in 2009." They go back decades, but according to some, military "deterioration" has been continuous from the 1967 war to Operation Cast Lead. Worse still is that Israeli history reveals six decades of relentless and continuous terror. Attacking Gaza for 22 days is just the latest episode.


On March 21, the London Independent's Donald Macintyre wrote: "Israelis (were) told to fight a 'holy war' in Gaza....a religious war" against Arabs, according to a soldier citing "the martial role of military rabbis during the operation." In rabbinate literature distributed to the troops, the message was: "We are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land, and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land."


According to the Israeli human rights group, Yesh Din, IDF head chaplain, Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, a brigadier general, distributed booklet material saying that it was "terribly immoral" to show mercy to a "cruel enemy" and that soldiers were fighting "murderers." Imagine rabbis claiming to be men of God, yet violating core Jewish dogma by preaching hate, premeditated murder, and lying about innocent civilians they're vilifying. Another example of the viciousness of a so-called civilized state, acting like barbarians (in the name of God) and calling it just.

There's more. On March 22 in Haaretz, Amira Hass headlined: "IDF soldiers ordered to shoot at Gaza rescuers" in citing a Hebrew handwritten document, "Rules of Engagement - Open fire also upon rescue." It confirms numerous reports and testimonies like the above that soldiers shot Palestinian civilians in cold blood, murdered them (and their rescuers), or in cases where they were still alive prevented their evacuation and let them bleed to death.


Hass stated: "The (above-mentioned) document provides written proof that IDF commanders ordered their troops to shoot at rescuers" besides ordering the killing of unarmed civilians and destruction of their property.


On March 22, London Observer writer Peter Beaumont headlined: "Gaza war crime claims gather pace as (still) more troops speak out." He cited a yet to be published "Breaking the Silence" report containing statements from 15 former soldiers. From their contacts with Operation Cast Lead participants, they corroborate the above claims of random killings and vandalism.

According to the group's Mikhael Manekin:
"We have spoken to a lot of different people who served in different places in Gaza, including officers. We are not talking about some units being more aggressive than others, but underlying policy. So much so that we are talking to soldiers who said that they were having to restrain the orders given." According to one, Amir Marmor, orders from a Lt. Col. who briefed the troops were: "Shoot and don't worry about the consequences."


On March 20, Haaretz reporter Uri Blau disclosed that IDF soldiers ordered T-shirts marking the end of Operation Cast Lead featuring grotesque images of dead babies, mothers weeping at their children's graves, a gun aimed at a child and bombed-out mosque, and a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull's eye depicted on her stomach with the English slogan, "1 shot, 2 kills."

These aren't just anecdotes from what Ehud Barak calls "the most moral army in the world." On March 22, Haaretz correspondent Gideon Levy wrote: "IDF ceased long ago being 'most moral army in the world.' " Moreover, imagining the military will investigate the charges is "propagandistic, ridiculous (and) meant not only to deceive the public, but also to offer shameless lies" as part of a cover-up the way these revelations are always handled.


These practices have gone on for decades. Orders come right from the top - to kill Arabs and commit atrocities and vandalism, and according to one Operation Cast lead soldier: "That's what is so nice, as it were, about Gaza - You see a person on a road....and you can just shoot him." This message is ingrained in young recruits, to see Jews as superior, Arabs as sub-humans, so it's "morally" OK to slaughter them.


Yet on March 22, Haaretz published GOC Home Front Command General Yair Golan's reply saying: "The reports were exaggerated and any deviations from the IDF's moral standards will be dealt with."


Then on March 23, it added IDF Chief Gabi Ashkenazi's claim that he did not believe Israeli soldiers harmed Palestinian civilians in "cold blood." He and Golan lied the way top commanders and government officials always do.


Yet Ashkenazi echoed Ehud Barak saying that "the IDF is the most moral army in the world" despite volumes of clear evidence to the contrary. He added that any "incidents" were "isolated," but Haaretz stated:
"The soldiers' testimonies run counter to the IDF's claims throughout the operation that troops observed a high level of moral behavior. A number of officers told Haaretz....that the testimonies did not surprise them, as 'anyone with eyes in his head knows that these things happened during the fighting in Gaza,' and they weren't 'isolated' incidents…"


… Again, the evidence is clear, unequivocal, overwhelming, and conclusive that high-level Israeli government and military officials planned and willfully committed systematic crimes of war and against humanity of such gravity that justice demands they be held to account in an international court of law - either the ICC in the Hague or a special International Criminal Tribunal for Israel (ICTI).


Doing so will warn future Israeli governments and all others that no one is exempt from the law and they, too, will be prosecuted if evidence provides justification. The rule of law is sacrosanct, especially for wanton killing that when ongoing for sustained periods satisfies the definition of genocide. Israel long ago passed that threshold. No longer can its lawlessness go unpunished.

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