Israeli Soldiers on Callous Disregard for Palestinians in Gaza

Here is another story that’s falling through the cracks today because of the focus right now on AIG and the economic crisis:

Israel’s military was rocked on Thursday by Gaza war veterans’ accounts of soldiers’ killings of civilians and allegations that deep contempt for Palestinians pervaded its ranks.

The soldiers, alumni of a military academy, gathered last month to discuss their experiences in the 22-day Israeli offensive that ended in January, a campaign that Palestinians and human rights groups have said warranted war crimes probes.

Disclosing details of the session, the institution’s director said the soldiers pointed to an atmosphere within the military of “unbridled contempt for, and forcefulness against, the Palestinians.”

“They talked about unwarranted fire on Palestinian civilians. There was also talk of vandalism to property,” Danny Zamir, head of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military program, told Israel Radio.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to the accusations by repeating Israel’s description of its armed forces as the most moral in the world. The military said its judge advocate-general had ordered an investigation of the alleged incidents.

Excerpts from the veterans’ discussion appeared on Thursday on the front page of the left-leaning Haaretz daily. It said the airing of the “dirty secrets” would make it more difficult for Israelis to dismiss such allegations as Palestinian propaganda.

It has been rare for Israeli soldiers to speak out about the killing of Palestinian civilians in the operation that Israel launched in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in December with the declared aim of halting militants’ cross-border rocket attacks.

Details from the Haaretz article:

The testimonies include a description by an infantry squad leader of an incident where an IDF sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian 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. They had set up positions upstairs. There was a sniper position on the roof,” the soldier said.

“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, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was okay, and he should hold his fire and he … he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders.”

According to the squad leader: “The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.

“I don’t think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to … I don’t know how to describe it …. The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way,” he said.

Another squad leader from the same brigade told of an incident where the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman be shot and killed; she was walking on a road about 100 meters from a house the company had commandeered.

The squad leader said he argued with his commander over the permissive rules of engagement that allowed the clearing out of houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. After the orders were changed, the squad leader’s soldiers complained that “we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.”

As cited in the NYT piece:

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights …  has put the Palestinian death toll during the war at 1,434 — 960 civilians, 235 fighters and 239 police officers. Israeli officials have disputed the figures. Thirteen Israelis were killed.

On Thursday, an Israeli think-tank, the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, challenged the conclusion that close to 1,000 civilians were killed. It said that a statistical analysis of PCHR’s list of civilian casualties showed a disproportionate number of young men of fighting age.

The Israeli army has given no figure for Palestinian dead.

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