Rattling the Cage: The IDF fog machine at work

Even if the civilians in question never were shot, it wouldn't change the big picture emerging from Operation Cast Lead - that Israel acted callously toward civilian life.

larry derfner 88 (photo credit: )
larry derfner 88
(photo credit: )
Now that the IDF says there was nothing to those soldiers' stories about women and children getting shot to death deliberately, on orders, during the war in Gaza, I want to update what I wrote a week ago. Then, I presumed the soldiers from the Rabin pre-military academy knew what they were talking about. Now I'm not sure. It's very possible the two shooting incidents described by "Aviv" and "Ram" never happened and were based on unfounded rumors, as the IDF's internal investigation concluded. But it's also possible there was something to them. Still, neither I nor any other journalist who presumed that the soldiers' stories were accurate have anything to apologize for or retract. If I had it to do over again, knowing only what I knew before the IDF investigation came out, I'd write the same column I wrote last week. More importantly, though, even if the old woman, the mother and the two children in question never were shot, it would hardly alter the big picture emerging from Operation Cast Lead - that Israel, in the main, acted callously toward civilian life. I DON'T WRITE off the army's probe. I don't think IDF internal investigators would tell bald-face lies; I don't think they would calculatedly turn black into white. But neither, of course, can this be considered an impartial probe. Those soldiers claimed their comrades shot and killed two women and two children who'd entered a no-go zone, and did so under orders. I think the IDF might be willing to expose a couple of loose cannons who'd done such a thing, but to find that they were acting under orders would be catastrophic for this country. I don't believe IDF internal investigators could reach such a conclusion even if it were true. That's why in-house investigations of purported scandals are inherently suspect - because the investigators are inherently biased. But again, even if those shootings never took place, what does it say that at least some IDF soldiers evidently thought that those were their orders? In the excerpts of the discussion published in Haaretz, the soldiers disagreed over whether it was right to shoot Palestinians in such circumstances, but there was no disagreement that those were their orders. After Aviv talks about how his comrades shot an old, unarmed woman ("The order was to take that woman out, the moment you see her...") his comrade "Zvi" says the following: "Aviv's descriptions are accurate, but it's possible to understand where this is coming from. And that woman, you don't know whether she's... She wasn't supposed to be there, because there were warnings and there were bombings. Logic says she shouldn't be there. The way you describe it, as murder in cold blood, that isn't right. It's known that they have lookouts and that sort of thing." ZVI ISN'T saying they weren't ordered to shoot Palestinians in the no-go area on sight, he's not saying such killings didn't take place - he's saying they were ordered, they did shoot and it was all justified. This is what's so hypocritical about the public's outrage over the coverage of the soldiers' statements and the public sense of vindication from the IDF probe: People were angry that Israel was made to look bad, but as for the morality of what those soldiers described, most of the outraged public had no problem with it. Read the talkbacks. Ask around. Regarding the media's widespread assumption that the soldiers' recollections were credible, why shouldn't the media, especially here, have assumed that? Journalists, certainly here, publish IDF soldiers' war stories all the time. They believe them as a matter of course, and so does the public. I've written up accounts by IDF soldiers about being attacked by the enemy, about being tortured by the enemy, and I believed them and I'm sure readers did, too. I believed and still believe the stories told by soldiers from Operation Cast Lead about being ordered not to shoot civilians, about going out of their way to help them. The IDF isn't a monolith; different units, different commanders and different soldiers behave in different ways. There cannot be one journalistic standard for the treatment of "positive" war stories and another for "negative" war stories, yet that's what the public seems to demand. Well, too bad for the public. But beyond the automatic credibility that goes to IDF soldiers, there's another reason why these particular stories rang true, and why even conclusive proof that they were false shouldn't make any Israeli feel vindicated - because you don't need Aviv's, or Ram's or Zvi's accounts to know that Operation Cast Lead was a travesty. Even if you assume that every single Gazan, human rights NGO and foreign journalist was telling nothing but pure lies, what we know from military and government officials themselves is bad enough. We bombed any number of Gazan government buildings and courthouses because they were "symbols of Hamas power." We bombed a graduation ceremony for traffic police. We bombed Islamic University because weapons were being developed there. We fired white phosphorous, which burns flesh to the bone, that hit densely-populated areas. And this is just what the IDF acknowledges; it doesn't include the destroyed families, homes, schools and hospitals which it says were either used by Hamas as "human shields" or ended up as "collateral damage." That's the big picture from Gaza. The statements by the soldiers from the Rabin pre-military academy fit in. Now the IDF investigation casts doubt on those statements. But it doesn't change the big picture.