by Our Own Correspondent (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 38, No. 2, Rabi' al-Thani, 1430)
Slowly but surely the truth about Israel’s war crimes in Ghazzah is emerging from the very people who perpetrated them: Israeli soldiers. That the Palestinians, the direct victims of Israel’s crimes, and much of the rest of the world knew this because this was so clearly evident from television footage provided by Al-Jazeera and Press TV, Israel and its apologists, especially in the West, continued to insist that Israel not only had the “right” to defend itself against Hamas rockets (regardless of how ineffectual they were) but that Zionist Israel carried its operations with utmost regard to civilian life. The Israel-doting West could not question the purity of its intentions or the nobility of its actions. “Israel is a democracy” and its “army has a high moral standing” were some of the mantras repeated endlessly. Israel can do no wrong, regardless.
Inside Israel, people were not so sure. This explains why Israeli Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced a ban on the publication of names of military officers from the rank of brigadier-general down that were involved in the Ghazzah onslaught. He feared, quite rightly, that this would expose them to war crime charges and possible arrest and prosecution in any of several European countries that claim universal jurisdiction in such matters. In the past, Israeli generals have had to seek refuge inside El Al planes that stopped over for refueling at European airports. They did not exit the plane for fear of being arrested and charged with war crimes relating to their role in the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon or Jenin in the Israeli occupied West Bank. In 1998, the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was arrested in London, England, on an arrest warrant issued by a judge in Spain.
On March 19, news emerged that Israeli soldiers had admitted that they were allowed and in some cases even ordered by their superiors to shoot unarmed Palestinian civilians. These constitute war crimes. Israeli apologists are likely to turn these revelations into an obscene ritual of extolling the “virtues” of Israel’s democracy and its openness without addressing the underlying causes of its state’s racist policies. One Israeli soldier described how an officer ordered the shooting of an elderly woman 100 meters from a house commandeered by troops. Reporting from Jerusalem for the British daily, The Independent, Donald Macintyre wrote on March 20, 2009: “Another soldier, describing how a mother and her children were shot dead by a sniper after they turned the wrong way out of a house, says the ‘atmosphere’ among troops was that the lives of Palestinians were ‘very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers’.”
These accounts are not anecdotal or culled from Palestinian sources but were given at a post-operation discussion on February 13 by graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military course at the Oranim Academic College in northern Israel. They also described how Palestinian property was indiscriminately destroyed. Amos Harel, military correspondent for the Israeli daily, Ha‘aretz, published on March 19 details from the transcript of the session conducted by the head of the course Danny Zamir. The daily went on to state that airing of the “dirty secrets” would make it more difficult for Israelis to dismiss the claims as Palestinian propaganda.
Providing details from the February 13 session, Harel reported a squad leader as saying: “At the beginning the directive was to enter a house with an armored vehicle, to break the door down, to start shooting inside and — I call it murder — to shoot at everyone we identify. In the beginning I asked myself how could this make sense? Higher-ups said it is permissible because everyone left in the city [Gaza City] is culpable because they didn’t run away.”
Here are details from another account where an infantry squad leader described how troops released a family that had been held in a room of their house for several days. He 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... The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him. He shot them straight away. I don’t think he felt too bad about it, because, 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, the lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers.”
A second squad leader, who described the killing of the elderly woman, is reported to have said he argued with his commander over loose rules of engagement that allowed the clearing out of houses by shooting without warning residents beforehand. After the orders were changed, soldiers had complained: “we should kill everyone there [in the centre of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.” The squad leader said: “To write ‘death to the Arabs’ on walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics.”
When confronted with these accounts, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said: “I say to you that from the chief of staff down to the last soldier, the most moral army in the world stands ready to take orders from the government of Israel. I have no doubt that every incident will be individually examined.” It is not surprising that Barak would extol the non-existent virtues of the “most moral army in the world” when Barak himself has been involved in egregious crimes during his long, tortuous military career. How is that Barak spoke about an inquiry into the conduct of his soldiers only after the story was published by Ha‘aretz, when the relevant material had reached the Chief of Staff of Israel’s army, General Gabi Ashkenazi three weeks earlier? Israeli human rights organizations — B’Tselem and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, for instance — have raised similar concerns and called for an independent investigation into the conduct of soldiers, questioning the military police’s ability to carry out an impartial inquiry.
To understand how Israeli soldiers could be so beastly, one has to examine the nature of the Zionist ideology itself. It is predicated on the belief that God “promised” Palestine to the Jewish people and others — that is, Palestinians, whether Muslims or Christians — are intruders in the Holy Land. There is also a racist notion among some rabbis that it is permissible to shed the blood of Gentiles. This is what some Israeli soldiers have reported that rabbis in the Israeli army told them during the Ghazzah offensive they were fighting a “religious war” against gentiles, based on one army commander’s own account published by Reuters (March 20). “Their message was very clear: 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,” he said. This is also the message the fathers of Zionism propagated. It matters not whether it was military commanders like Moshe Dayan, Aerial Sharon, Rafael Eitan or Ehud Barak or “civilians” like David Ben Gurion, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and Ehud Olmert. An abiding hatred of the other drives their megalomania for conquest and domination underpinned by the spurious claim that God “promised” them this land. Therefore, they can do whatever they like. Such demonic beliefs lead to perpetrating crimes against humanity.
While Palestinians have historically suffered at the hands of the Zionist invaders even prior to the creation of the Zionist state in 1948, in recent years, this has escalated to new levels of brutality. In the 22-day onslaught on Ghazzah (December 27, 2008-January 18, 2009), the Israeli invading army murdered 1,417 Palestinians, of whom 926 were civilians, 236 fighters and 255 police officers, according to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR). Similar figures have been given by the United Nations. The UN Human Rights Rapporteur for thePalestinian Territories, Professor Richard Falk, who is Jewish-American, has described Israeli actions in Ghazzah as constituting war crimes. It must be borne in mind that even prior to this onslaught, the narrow coastal strip had been under siege for nearly two years, causing massive suffering to ordinary people through lack of food, medicines and water (for details, seeCrescent International February and March 2009 issues).