IDF: Case closed on Gaza testimonies

Military Police probe concludes Rabin Academy graduates' Cast Lead accounts based on hearsay.

IDF reservist  Gaza border 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
IDF reservist Gaza border 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Judge Advocate-General Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit exonerated the IDF on Monday and closed a Military Police investigation into accounts of alleged serious human rights violations during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip earlier this year. Mandelblit launched the investigation last week after "testimonies" from soldiers, leaked to the media by head of the Rabin Pre-Military Academy, Danny Zamir, claimed that soldiers had deliberately shot and killed innocent Palestinians during the operation. On Monday, the IDF said that the so-called testimonies offered at an academy conference were rumors and had been deliberately exaggerated to make a point to the participants at the conference. The "testimonies" were reported widely in the international media - appearing, for example, on the front page of The New York Times. In particular, the results of the investigation referred to a testimony from a soldier named Aviv, who claimed to have known of a soldier who had been given orders to fire at an elderly Palestinian woman. During his interrogation, the IDF said, Aviv admitted he had never witnessed such an incident and that he'd based his statement on a rumor he had heard. In an unrelated investigation, it was found that in a similar incident, a woman suspected of being a suicide bomber approached IDF troops, who opened fired at her after repeatedly trying to stop her from advancing. Aviv admitted that he had not witnessed additional incidents he had described during the conference. A claim made by a different soldier, Ram, who had supposedly been ordered to open fire at a woman and two children, was also found by the probe to be false. After checking the claim, it was found that IDF troops had opened fire in a different direction, toward two suspicious men who were unrelated to the civilians in question. The army also stressed that soldiers at the academy conference admitted to basing their claims relating to the use of phosphorous munitions during the operation on what they had heard in the media, and not from personal experience or knowledge. Mandelblit said it was "unfortunate" that none of the speakers at the conference had been careful to be accurate in their claims. "It seems that it will be difficult to evaluate the damage done to the image and morals of the IDF and its soldiers who participated in Operation Cast Lead," he concluded. Israeli human rights organizations protested the closure of the probe. In a statement, groups including B'tselem, Adalah, Yesh Din and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel said, "The speedy closing of the investigation immediately raises suspicions that the very opening of the investigation was merely the army's attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity during Operation Cast Lead." The groups said that the investigation ignored evidence and failed to recognize the illegal nature of some of the orders given during the operation. They called on the attorney-general to allow for an independent non-partisan investigative body to be established to examine IDF activity in Gaza during the offensive. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.