James Hider / The Times Online & Uzi Mahnaimi / The Sunday Times – 2009-03-26 09:04:16
Israeli Soldiers Admit to Deliberate Killing of Gaza Civilians
James Hider / The Times Online i
JERUSALEM (March 20, 2009) — The Israeli army has been forced to open an investigation into the conduct of its troops in Gaza after damning testimony from its own front line soldiers revealed the killing of civilians and rules of engagement so lax that one combatant said that they amounted on occasion to “cold-blooded murder.”
The revelations, compiled by the head of an Israel military academy who declared that he was “shocked” at the findings, come as international rights groups are calling for independent inquiries into the conduct of both sides in the three-week Israeli offensive against Palestinian Islamists.
The soldiers’ testimonies include accounts of an unarmed old woman being shot at a distance of 100 yards, a woman and her two children being killed after Israeli soldiers ordered them from their house into the line of fire of a sniper and soldiers clearing houses by shooting anyone they encountered on sight.
“That’s the beauty of Gaza. You see a man walking, he doesn’t have to have a weapon, and you can shoot him,” one soldier told Danny Zamir, the head of the Rabin pre-military academy, who asked him why a company commander ordered an elderly woman to be shot.
“I gathered the graduate students of the course who fought in Gaza, to hear their impressions from the fighting. I wasn’t prepared for any of the stuff I heard there. I was shocked,” Mr Zamir said. “I think that the writing was on the wall, but we just didn’t want to see it, we didn’t want to face it.”
One non-commissioned officer told Mr Zamir, himself a deputy battalion commander in the reserves, that the army “fired a lot of rounds and killed a lot of people in order for us not to be injured or shot at.
“When we entered a house, we were supposed to bust down the door and start shooting inside and just go up storey by storey… I call that murder. Each storey, if we identify a person, we shoot them. I asked myself – how is this reasonable?”
The same unnamed NCO said that his commanding officer ordered soldiers on to a rooftop to shoot an old woman crossing a main street during the fighting, which a Palestinian rights groups said left 1,434 people dead, 960 of them civilians.
“I don’t know whether she was suspicious, not suspicious, I don’t know her story,” the NCO said. “I do know that my officer sent people to the roof in order to take her out… It was cold-blooded murder.”
Another NCO recounted a military blunder that led to a mother and her two children being shot dead by an Israeli sniper. “We had taken over the house… and the family was released and told to go right. A mother and two children got confused and went left… The sniper on the roof wasn’t told that this was okay and that he shouldn’t shoot… you can say he just did what he was told… he was told not to let anyone approach the left flank and he shot at them.
“I don’t know whether he first shot at their feet or not, but he killed them,” the soldier said.
The soldiers’ accounts were submitted anonymously at a meeting at the academy around a month ago. The Israel army said that it had started an investigation, but that this was the first time it had heard such testimony, despite having debriefed troops itself.
Breaking The Silence, an organisation of former soldiers who gather witness accounts from troops in the Palestinian territories, said that its own investigation into Operation Cast Lead, as the war was known in Israel, had revealed a similar picture of the fighting.
“It’s definitely in line with what we are hearing,” said one of the researchers.
Another disturbing element reported by the soldiers was the role of military rabbis in distributing booklets that framed the fighting as a religious war. “All these articles had a clear message: we are the Jewish people, we have come to the land by miraculous means, and now we have to fight to remove the Gentiles who are getting in our way and preventing us from occupying the Holy Land… a great many soldiers had a feeling throughout this operation of a religious war,” said one soldier.
There were also accounts of soldiers being ordered to throw all the furniture out of Palestinians’ homes as they were taken over.
“We simply threw everything out the windows to make room and order. The entire contents of the house flew out the windows: refrigerator, plates, furniture. The order was to remove the entire contents of the house.”
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights released the names of 1,417 Gazans that it says were killed in the war, saying that 926 were civilians. The Israeli Government contends that most of those killed were combatants or legitimate targets.
Israel’s New Defence Minister Accused of War Crime
Uzi Mahnaimi / The Sunday Times
TEL AVIV (March 15, 2009) — A hawkish general, who cancelled a trip to London four years ago because he feared being arrested on war crime charges, is expected to become Israel’s new defence minister.
Moshe “Boogie” Ya’alon, 58, former chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces, is reported to have accepted an invitation from Binyamin Netanyahu, the incoming prime minister, to serve in the new government.
Renowned as a tough-minded commander, Ya’alon’s legal problems stem from a decision in July 2002 to assassinate Salah Shehadeh, the commander of the military wing of Hamas, the hardline Islamic organisation that now controls Gaza.
Shehadeh, 49, who was blamed for scores of deaths and who masterminded the production of Qassam rockets that were fired into Israel, was killed by a 2,200lb bomb dropped on a building in Gaza City, where he and his family were hiding.
Fourteen other people also died, including his wife and nine children.
Ya’alon was accused by Palestinian groups of helping to plan the raid. In September 2005, in the wake of reports that warrants were being sought for his arrest, he was forced to call off a visit to Britain, where he was planning to attend a fundraising event for an Israeli soldiers’ welfare association.
Ya’alon, a graduate of the British Army’s staff college in Camberley, Surrey, was furious. In an open letter to Tony Blair, the then prime minister, he wrote: “As long as I, the son of a soldier who fought in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade . . . who has dedicated his life to fighting those who threaten Israel, the West and its culture, must refrain from travelling to Britain in order to avoid the embarrassment of arrest for unfounded propagandist charges of ‘war crimes’, there is no chance for success in our battle against jihadist Islam.”
An advocate of bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, Ya’alon was the head of Sayeret Matkal, Israel’s elite commando brigade, when Netanyahu was one of its reserve officers. He joined Netanyahu’s Likud party in November and was elected to the Knesset – the Israeli parliament – in February.
After his national service, Ya’alon, who is from a working-class background, became a dairyman on a kibbutz in the Negev desert, close to the Jordanian border. He rejoined the military after the Yom Kippur war in 1973, in which he served as a reservist. He still sometimes returns to the milking sheds at weekends.
In April 1988, Ya’alon led a daring raid on the Tunis villa of a leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Khalil al-Wazir, also known as Abu Jihad. He was Yasser Arafat’s deputy and in charge of the Palestinian uprising against Israel.
Ya’alon’s men approached the villa, slashed the bodyguard’s throat and surprised Jihad in his study. He was shot dead in front of his wife and children.
Ya’alon and his commandos then disappeared without a trace.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.