IDF officers point to mistakes in accusations

While the IDF referred official comment on the Goldstone Report to the Foreign Ministry, senior officers said on Tuesday night that they were not surprised by its severity. Many of the allegations raised by the authors have already appeared in NGO reports on Operation Cast Lead. Here are a few examples: One claim made by Goldstone is that Israelis forces "did not use their best efforts to permit humanitarian organizations access to the wounded and medical relief, as required by customary international law." Israel has argued the opposite, citing numerous examples when IDF soldiers risked their own lives to assist Palestinians in need of medical care. One case came on January 9, when the commander of the Golani Reconnaissance Battalion ceased operations and ordered his men to help load handicapped Palestinians into ambulances sent to evacuate them from Jabalya to Gaza City. In another incident, a soldier from the 401st Armored Brigade was seriously wounded when his tank was hit by an anti-tank missile. While the commanders were coordinating his evacuation, a request was received to allow an ambulance into the area to evacuate a Palestinian woman who had gone into labor. The commander in the field complied. While the fighting was going on, the IDF allowed hundreds of trucks loaded with food staples and medicine into Gaza. Israel ceased military operations for several hours each day to allow humanitarian corridors to be opened, even though Hamas took advantage of the lulls to regroup, transfer weapons and disseminate orders. The Goldstone report also accuses the IDF of intentionally targeting the Quds Hospital, which it says was a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The army investigated the incident, which included an attack on a warehouse that belonged to the hospital. The findings revealed that the warehouse was not known to belong to the hospital and was therefore not marked on IDF maps as were the more than 1,800 known UN and humanitarian structures. In addition, Hamas gunmen fired at troops from inside the warehouse. Another example is the report's conclusion that "by deliberately attacking police stations and killing large numbers of policemen (99 in the incidents investigated by the Mission) during the first minutes of the military operations, [Israel] failed to respect the principle of proportionality between the military advantage anticipated by killing some policemen who might have been members of Palestinian armed groups and the loss of civilian life." These attacks, the report states were a violation of international law. Reports compiled recently by The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center say that most of the policemen killed were actually members of Hamas's military wing, Izzadin Kassam, and other terrorist groups. According to the JCPA report, among the 343 members of the Palestinian security forces who were killed, 286 have been identified as terrorist organization members, more than 80 percent. Goldstone also slammed the IDF's use of white phosphorus during the offensive. "While accepting that white phosphorous is not at this stage proscribed under international law, the Mission considers that the repeated misuse of the substance by the Israeli armed forces during this operation calls into question the wisdom of allowing its continued use without some further degree of control," he wrote. An IDF internal probe into the use of the weaponry discovered that in all cases it was employed in accordance with international law. The weapon was used as a shell fired by mortar squads as well as by the navy, which fired a 76 mm. cannon that every few rounds fires a white-phosphorus shell so the navy can track where it hits. In addition, the IDF fired some 3,000 155 mm. artillery shells - which look like exploding octopuses in the air - that are not white-phosphorus weapons and are used solely to create smokescreens for troop movements on the ground. The Israeli probe revealed that white phosphorus weapons were used only in open areas, and not in urban centers. The weapon was not used against terrorists in the open areas but for marking and ranging when the forces tried to target Kassam rocket cells operating there. The IDF said it knew of only one case where white phosphorus was used in its burn capacity. That incident also took place in an open area, but to burn away shrubbery and uncover tunnel openings. The IDF said that the use of the weapon in that incident was also in line with international regulations.