Barak slams criticism of IDF conduct

Responds to report in which soldiers allege army used Gazans as human shields during Cast Lead.

IDf arrest Hamas Gaza 248/88 ap (photo credit: )
IDf arrest Hamas Gaza 248/88 ap
(photo credit: )
Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Wednesday responded to a new report which accused the IDF of committing war crimes during Operation Cast Lead against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip. "Any criticism of IDF operations should be directed to me, as the Israeli defense minister," Barak said. "Criticism directed at the IDF by one group or another is inappropriate, and misdirected," he went on, stressing, "The IDF is one of the most ethical armies in the world, and acts according to the highest moral code." The defense minister also noted that the IDF operation had "restored calm to southern communities." The 'Breaking the Silence' report released Wednesday morning included soldier testimonies alleging that the IDF forced Palestinians to serve as "human shields" during searches of homes in Gaza, amongst other charges. The full report, compiled by an organization established several years ago by IDF veterans to collect testimonies of soldiers who have participated in operations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, was provided exclusively to a Hebrew-language newspaper. The report contains a number of testimonies from anonymous soldiers about different operations in the Gaza Strip. In one testimony, a soldier from the Golani Brigade's elite Egoz Unit claimed that the IDF had used a Palestinian as a human shield during a raid on a Gaza Strip home. The soldier told the organization that troops had sent the Palestinian into a home where the IDF believed terrorists were hiding. But according to Avi Peled, the Golani Brigade commander colonel, such an event never happened, and the soldier who offered the testimony was not even in combat at that time. During the operation, Israel "always guarded our values as both a state and army," Peled said during an interview with Israel Radio. "What is important to say is that this soldier was not in the field at the time," he continued. "He told his commander about a week which he wasn't even in the field. He reported about what he heard happened." "I can say that at no point was there any civilian which was used as a human shield," Peled said. "We never sent anybody in ahead of us to any place." "There was one incident where a civilian asked if he could go into his house first so that he could guard against whoever was in there and keep us from destroying his house," the commander explained. "And therefore he asked to go in first to tell those inside to get out of the house so that they won't be hurt. The commander of the unit personally approved his request." "That is the only incident," Peled said. "Nobody pointed a gun at him, and he didn't go in ahead of the soldiers." In another testimony, a soldier from the Paratroopers Brigade claimed that soldiers had opened fire indiscriminately at Palestinian civilians during a raid on a Gaza home. The soldier said one civilian had been killed. The IDF Spokesman said in response to the report that it was regretful that a human rights organization such as Breaking the Silence had again issued a report that contained anonymous testimonies without checking their veracity and without allowing the IDF, with minimal decency, the opportunity to review the findings prior to publication. The army called on the organization to encourage the soldiers who had provided the alleged testimonies to submit specific complaints to the IDF so the matter could be dealt with in depth and properly investigated, as opposed to "hiding" behind anonymous testimonies. In its statement, the IDF noted that it had "launched Operation Cast Lead after eight years of incessant rocket attacks against southern Israel. The IDF operation caused severe damage to the Hamas terror organization and restored normal life to Gaza belt communities." According to preliminary findings by the Judge Advocate-General's Office, the army said that similar to the testimonies published by the Rabin Academy several months ago, the allegations raised in the Breaking the Silence report were based on hearsay and anonymous testimonies that lacked identifying details such as rank, the first letter of the name, the name of the unit, the place and the date. "The organization's decision to collect testimonies this way creates a feeling that the organization is not genuinely interested in a thorough investigation of its claims, like the one the IDF is committed to," the statement said. "To our regret, this is not the first time that this organization has chosen this method." The army said it was committed to investigating every complaint based on information that allows a thorough probe. The military said it expected every soldier or commander who suspected they had witnessed a violation of military code to pass on the information to the relevant authorities. The Breaking the Silence report is the latest in a number of reports that have been severely critical of Israel's three-week operation against Hamas earlier this year. Last month, in the span of a week, Human Rights Watch, the International Red Cross and Amnesty International released reports accusing Israel of perpetrating war crimes against the Palestinians. In response to those reports, the IDF said soldiers had done their utmost to minimize harm to innocent civilians. "During Cast Lead, the IDF used technologies, combat methods and advanced platforms all intended to minimize the risk to the civilian population," the military said at the time. The IDF said that in many cases, before entering an area in Gaza, it had dropped millions of flyers, made personal phone calls to homes of Palestinians and broken into the radio waves to warn civilians of the impending operation. "The IDF aimed all of its operations against military targets and refrained from deliberately attacking civilians who were not involved in the fighting, while putting its own soldiers at risk," the statement said.