Israel refutes claims of Gaza misconduct

Document obtained by 'Post' meant to help present Israeli version of events during Operation Cast Lead.

idf reservists enter gaza 248 88 (photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Office [file])
idf reservists enter gaza 248 88
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson's Office [file])
In a new effort to present Israel's version of Operation Cast Lead to the world, the defense establishment has, for the first time, composed a counterreport to a damming document on the IDF's conduct published by Physicians for Human Rights earlier this year. The 10-page report - obtained exclusively by The Jerusalem Post - was composed by the Defense Ministry's Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration (CLA) and circulated to top IDF officers. It lists the different claims made by PHR, and in an adjacent column attempts to refute them. One of PHR's claims was that Israel prevented wounded Palestinians from leaving the Gaza Strip for medical treatment. The Defense Ministry, however, said in its report that the Palestinian health authorities had refused to cooperate with the CLA to coordinate the transfer of wounded to Israel. "This was despite numerous requests by the CLA," the Defense Ministry report stated. One of the more serious accusations in the PHR report related to the deaths of 16 Palestinian medical personnel killed during the operation. "It seems that army soldiers no longer regard medical personnel as entitled to the special protection they are granted during the performance of their duties," PHR wrote. In response, the Defense Ministry report presented a Hamas statement, published on affiliated Web sites, that nine of the 16 medical personnel killed were Hamas operatives and fighters. In addition, pictures of some of them were even shown on Hamas Web sites holding weapons such as RPGs and Kalashnikov rifles. In response to this claim, PHR said that even if the medical personnel were Hamas members, since they were inside ambulances they were not operating as fighters. Another claim by PHR - that Israeli ambulances entered Gaza to evacuate members of Dr. Azaddin Abu al-Aish's family, who were wounded in a tank attack in Gaza - was factually wrong, the Defense Ministry report claimed. "Israeli ambulances never entered the Gaza Strip during operation," the report countered. "The Abu al-Aish family was evacuated by Palestinian ambulances to the Erez Crossing and then from there was transferred to Israeli hospitals by Magen David Adom." The PHR report further claimed that the Palestinian health system "collapsed" during the operation and failed to provide adequate medical care for the wounded. "During the operation, unprecedented amounts of medical supplies entered Gaza," the Defense Ministry report said, citing a World Health Organization report that the PA health system continued to operate fairly well during the operation. The WHO report also noted that there was no shortage in medicine or medical supplies and that hospitals were never more than 75% full. PHR further claimed that Israel kept the Erez Crossing closed throughout the operation. In response, the Defense Ministry noted that the Erez Crossing was open throughout the entire operation and that the proof was the departure of several hundred foreigners from Gaza. Another claim made by PHR was that the operation left over 100,000 Palestinians homeless. The Defense Ministry report refuted the claim and noted that according to IDF estimates only a few thousand people had been left homeless. A similar statistic - 5,000 - was recorded by the Red Cross. An official Palestinian Authority report also refuted the PHR claim and noted that 100,000 had been "affected" by the operation but had not been left homeless. The PHR report went on to accuse the IDF of failing to assist in the evacuation of wounded Palestinians from the battlefield, claiming that the army had "created countless obstacles for the rescue teams in the field who attempted to evacuate trapped and injured persons." One such example was given in the PHR report of the Shurrab family. According to PHR, on January 16 at approximately 2 p.m., three members of the Shurrab family - the father, Mahmoud, and two sons - were hit by automatic fire on their car as they were trying to gather supplies during a humanitarian cease-fire. One son died immediately and the other bled to death. The father said that his son cried and asked him to call an ambulance and that the soldiers cursed him and threatened that if he did not put down his cell phone, they would shoot him. Mahmoud Shurrab and the bodies of his two children were finally evacuated on January 17 at noon, almost 24 hours after the shooting incident. In response, the Defense Ministry report claimed that the IDF Gaza CLA had thoroughly investigated the Shurrab family incident and discovered that at 2:35 p.m. - just a half-hour after the shooting - the IDF received a request to allow an ambulance to arrive at the scene to evacuate the wounded. After coordinating with the Palestinians, an ambulance arrived at the scene at 15:37 but could not find the family. After searching for some time, the Palestinian medical team left the scene. "It is unfortunate that that all of this great effort escaped the eyes of the authors of the PHR report," the Defense Ministry report said. "Unfortunately, they chose to write about the one-sided and false claims and to present a misleading version of events that does not accurately represent the humanitarian situation in Gaza." In response to the Defense Ministry report, PHR released the following statement: "It is unfortunate to discover that this is the official military and defense establishment response to the detailed PHR report published in March. If the military probe is similar to the information received from The Jerusalem Post then it is a superficial inspection, which partially confirms the PHR report and is also inaccurate and does not deal specifically with the claims. "The answers do not present sources, are anonymous and hide behind unnamed people. It is improbable that a 50-page report would receive less than 20 lines and that the defense establishment believes that this is a serious response. "We regret that a respectable newspaper publishes such claims."