IDF to probe soldiers' Cast Lead accounts

Troops call Gaza op ethics into question; soldiers' testimonies include shooting at civilians, vandalism.

idf soldiers gaza walking beach 248.88ap (photo credit: AP [file])
idf soldiers gaza walking beach 248.88ap
(photo credit: AP [file])
The IDF will investigate reports by graduates of the Oranim-Yitzhak Rabin Pre-military Academy of violations of the IDF Code of Ethics during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. The testimonies include reports of soldiers shooting at people known to be noncombatants, evacuating families to zones the military had defined as no-entry zones and where it therefore would open fire at any person entering, vandalizing homes, and abuse of humanitarian aid. The accounts were first published in a brochure put out by the Kiryat Tivon-based academy, and then its head, Dani Zamir, turned the material over to the office of IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi. The military advocate general, Brig.-Gen. Avichai Mandelblit, has instructed the Military Police's Criminal Investigative Division to investigate the soldiers' claims, the IDF announced on Thursday. "Several weeks ago, Zamir sent a letter to the IDF Chief of the General Staff's office describing claims made by soldiers at a gathering held at the [Rabin] preparation center," the IDF Spokesman's Office said. "Brig.-Gen. Eli Shirmeister, the IDF chief education officer, was made responsible to address the matter. Brig.-Gen Shirmeister met with Mr. Zamir and described the process of investigating operational and moral issues within the IDF. Additionally, the chief education officer continued addressing the issue along with the relevant IDF commanders." But it was only on Thursday morning that Mandelblit received the testimonies for review, after which he determined that there were grounds for opening an investigation. The testimonies were given during a gathering at the academy a month ago and were later published in an academy pamphlet. An IAF pilot and infantrymen participated in the gathering. Zamir said that the gathering was planned to discuss the Gaza offensive, but that he was surprised to hear the soldiers' accounts. One soldier recounted an incident in which a squadron commander ordered a family to leave its house, go out to the street and turn right. "One mother and her kids didn't understand and they turned left... [The commander] forgot to tell the sniper on the roof that [the family] was released and that he should hold fire, so he... you can say he did what he should have, according to instructions... The sniper sees a woman and children coming at him and crossing no-entry limits, so straight away, he fired at them. "I don't know if he fired at their legs first, but eventually they died. I don't know if he felt too bad. After all, he was just doing his job," the soldier said. Another fighter described destruction of Palestinians' property: "We just threw everything through the window to make room. The entire house's contents just flew out: Fridge, plates, furniture. The order was to extract the house's contents." Infantrymen described an unusually high level of intervention by both IDF and civilian rabbis in the fighting, including distribution of booklets and pamphlets that described the war in religious terminology. "All the articles had one clear message," one soldier said. "We are the people of Israel, we arrived in the country almost by miracle. Now we need to fight to uproot the gentiles who interfere with reconquering the Holy Land... Many soldiers' feelings were that this was a war of religion." Initially, the military had said no testimonies similar to the ones collected by Zamir were collected by the army's internal documentation departments. Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio he was certain the IDF would examine the findings "with all necessary seriousness...I still say we have the most moral army in the world. I have seen what happened in Yugoslavia, I read reports of incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I nevertheless maintain that ours is the most moral military. Of course there may be exceptions [in the conduct of soldiers and officers], but I have absolutely no doubt this will be inspected on a case-by-case basis," the defense minister said. Following the release of the reports on Thursday, Arab MKs including Muhammad Barakei (Hadash) and Ahmad Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al) called on the government to establish a special investigative commission to probe the army's actions, and Yesh Din-Volunteers for Human Rights called on both the IDF and Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz to establish an external probe to examine the soldiers' claims.