‘Israelis Prepared for Violations’ in Gaza

TEL AVIV – After the internal investigation into the misconduct of Israeli soldiers in the course of the Gaza assault was closed suspiciously fast, a brief overview of publications by army officials, published months before the start of the war, suggests the reported misconduct was policy and not coincidence.

The Military Police investigation into the misconduct of Israeli soldiers during the Gaza war was closed at the beginning of this month after only 11 days of investigation. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were forced to open the investigation after Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz published testimonies by combat soldiers Mar. 19 that revealed that troops deliberately targeted unarmed Palestinian civilians and vandalized property.

The individual accounts from the soldiers were gathered at a course at the Rabin military academy. The testimonies revealed that an unarmed old woman was deliberately shot at a distance of 100 yards, another woman and her two children were killed after Israeli soldiers ordered them from their house into the line of fire of a sniper, and soldiers reportedly cleared houses by shooting anyone they encountered on sight.

One of the combatants was quoted saying that lax rules of engagement on occasion amounted to “cold-blooded murder”.

In a press release issued Mar. 30, Military Advocate General Brigadier-General Avichai Mendelblit dismissed the soldiers’ accounts of alleged misconduct and serious violations of the army’s rules of engagement as “hearsay and not first-hand experience.”

Human rights organizations B’Tselem, Yesh Din and Physicians for Human Rights responded with a joint statement, saying “the speedy closing of the investigation raises suspicions that the very opening of this investigation was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity during Operation Cast Lead.”

According to the statement made public by the Israeli human rights organizations, the internal investigation disregarded “allegations that several of the commands given during the military operations were illegal.” And further: “the Military Police Criminal Investigations Department has decided to focus on the individual soldier, a measure which is neither effective nor reliable.”

In other words, by focusing on the misconduct of individual soldiers, the Military Police maintained the claim made by former defense minister Ehud Barak that the IDF acted to the “highest moral and ethical standards.” Barak made these comments in a radio interview after the publication of the testimonies.

“The response to the Qassam rockets was disproportionate and the soldiers’ testimonies only show how brutal it was on the field,” legal expert Valentina Azarov told IPS. Azarov works for HaMoked – Center for the Defense of the Individual, a human rights organization based in East Jerusalem.

“The operations were part of the military strategy called the ‘Dahiyah policy’, being that of indiscriminate killing and the use of excessive, disproportionate force,” said Azarov, clarifying that this was her personal view.

But Azarov pointed to several publications showing that the IDF was putting together a new military strategy, named after and based on the bombardment of Dahiyah, the Shia residential quarter of Beirut considered a stronghold of Hezbollah during the second Lebanon war in 2006.

A description of the doctrine appeared for the first time in an interview with IDF Commander of the northern troops Gadi Eizencout in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Oct. 3, 2008.

In this interview Eizencout confirms the willingness of the Israeli army to apply a military strategy based on display of power and indiscriminate targeting of civilians and non-military sites. “What happened to the Dahiyah neighborhood of Beirut in 2006 will happen to each village from which Israel is fired on. We will apply disproportionate force and inflict huge damage and destruction. In our mind, these are not civilian villages but army bases…the next war must be decided quickly, aggressively, and without seeking international approval.”

And further: “this is not a recommendation, this is a plan and it has already been approved.”

This military doctrine was later confirmed by two other strategists. Colonel Gabriel Siboni wrote a report published Oct. 2, 2008 by the independent military think thank ‘Institute for National Security Studies’ (INSS) in Tel Aviv in which he said: “With an outbreak of hostilities, the IDF will need to act immediately, decisively, and with force that is disproportionate to the enemy’s actions and the threat it poses. Such a response aims at inflicting damage and meting out punishment to an extent that will demand long and expensive reconstruction processes.”

Another report from INSS, written by Major-General Giora Eiland, goes a step further. He argues that Israel was fighting the wrong enemy (Hezbollah) during the second Lebanon war, and in the next war should target the government and civilian infrastructure.

In an article on Ynet, an influential Israeli news site, IDF Major-General Eiland argues: “The only good thing that happened in the last war was the relative damage caused to Lebanon’s population. The destruction of thousands of homes of ‘innocents’ preserved some of Israel’s deterrent power.”

“It transpires that there was no intention to comply with basic principles of international humanitarian law, such as the principle of distinction or the obligation to use appropriate precautions before launching an attack,” says Azarov. “The soldiers’ testimonies are what unequivocally exemplifies the fact that this was the overarching goal of the whole war – it was systematic and based on policy decisions, and it would therefore be extremely difficult to base the claim that certain actions were a mere coincidence.”

Reports published in Haaretz a few days after the start of the war had already revealed how IDF’s International Law Division had harnessed the law to legitimately harm Palestinian civilians. The report revealed that IDF’s plan to bombard the closing ceremony of a police course was being internally discussed months before the start of the war.

Israeli human rights defenders are renewing their call for an independent and comprehensive investigation into the way IDF handled the conflict. “We do not think the army is capable of investigating itself,” Melanie Takefman, spokesperson for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel told IPS. “It is clear there was disproportionate force and we believe it should be investigated, as we are living in a transparent and democratic society.”

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Daan Bauwens

Daan Bauwens writes for Inter Press Service.