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(photo credit: AP)
The IDF boycotted a Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) conference after discovering that a petition would be signed during the conference to establish an independent inquiry committee to investigate war crimes charges, a senior IDF officer said Tuesday.
The IDF rejected an official request made by the RHR over a month ago that either the chief education officer or the head of international law in the Judge Advocate General's Office participate in the RHR conference.
The rejection came after the IDF learned that RHR executive director Arik Ascherman would encourage participants during the conference to sign a petition to establish an inquiry committee into Operation Cast Lead independent of the IDF.
"The conference is about slamming the IDF," explained a senior officer. "We were not willing to allow our officers to be used as dÃ©cor for this group and its agenda."
Ascherman said in response that it was true that RHR was in favor of establishing an independent inquiry committee that was completely transparent.
"We believe the IDF cannot check itself in an objective way," said Ascherman.
"However, I would say that another important goal is to encourage a public soul-searching discussion about moral issues connected with warfare, such as the purity of arms," he went on, adding that the purpose of the conference was not to level accusations against the IDF.
"While RHR has serious questions about IDF conduct during Cast Lead, we are holding the conference because we do not know all of the facts. We believe that the testimonies provided by Breaking the Silence and others are reliable enough and the issues serious enough so as to require the state to conduct an open and independent investigation into the IDF's actions toward civilians," Ascherman said.
Breaking the Silence, an organization that gathers anonymous testimonies from IDF soldiers about purported war crimes committed by themselves or other soldiers, and organizations such as B'Tselem and Human Rights Watch have accused the IDF of perpetrating war crimes.
"We pray that such an investigation will reveal that the events covered in testimonies were isolated events," he said.
At least one participant, Muki Betzer, head of the Ma'agen Michael Pre-military Academy, decided at the last moment to cancel his participation.
Funding for the RHR's conference and its Internet site, Gazawar.co.il, is provided by Trocaire, an Irish Catholic organization opposed to Israel's military operations in Gaza.