Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Time to believe Gaza war crimes allegations

By Amira Hass

Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has difficulty believing the soldiers' testimonies that they intentionally harmed Palestinian civilians, because the Israel Defense Forces is a moral army, he said on Sunday.
On the other hand, he believes the soldiers because they "have no reason to lie." Then again,

Ashkenazi is convinced that if what they said is true, these are isolated incidents.
Ashkenazi reacted like most Israelis - as though the reports, including those in Haaretz and Maariv, were the first about the Gaza offensive that were issued by someone other than the military spokesman or the military reporters, who rely on him for their information.

But ample information was available from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reports, based on statements collected from hundreds of people in the Gaza Strip in January and February.

Ashkenazi, like other Israelis, could have read the Red Cross' protest during the offensive, that the IDF prevented medical teams from reaching wounded Palestinians by shooting at them. He or his aides could have gone to the Web site set up by Israeli human rights organizations, which was full of reports and testimonies.

His aides, had they wanted to, could have found the many questions foreign reporters sent to the IDF spokesman, seeking Ashkenazi's comments before they filed their stories. They had details about families killed by IDF shells and bombs in their homes, about the lethal white phosphorus shells and about the shooting of civilians waving white flags. The had cataloged the massive destruction of plants, orchards, fields, cowsheds and apartment buildings. Much evidence of these outrages was also published inside Haaretz.

The IDF's legal advisers must have read it all. Including, perhaps, that judges who participated in investigation committees into crimes in Darfur, the former Yugoslavia and East Timor want to set up a similar international committee to investigate "all the parties" in the IDF offensive on Gaza. These people have concluded that the events go beyond isolated incidents and that the problem is not only in the soldiers' conduct, but the instructions from the senior military ranks and the ministers in charge.

It's hard to believe that the chief of staff, defense minister and their aides haven't read at least some reports that were not issued by the IDF. But even if they did, why should they let on? After all, they are the ones who gave the orders.

Ashkenazi chose to look surprised, as though he were an ordinary Israeli citizen disregarding reports from parties other than the IDF, because they were based on Palestinian testimonies. Most Israelis "know" Palestinians lie, so their statements should not be taken seriously.

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