Posts Tagged ‘human shields’

Breaking the Silence on Gaza

July 21, 2009
by César Chelala | CommonDreams.org, July 20, 2009

A new set of revelations by soldiers who participated in the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) operation in Gaza offers a disturbing picture of the actions carried out in that territory. Testimony regarding their conduct in Gaza by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli soldiers, confirms previous denunciations by human rights organizations and signals that urgent attention must be paid to the economic and medical needs of a repeatedly abused civilian population.

Operation “Cast Lead” was initiated December 27, 2008 and ended January 18, 2009. Over 1400 Palestinians were killed, 900 of them civilians (65%), including 300 hundred children (22%). Extensive areas of Gaza were razed to the ground and thousands of people were left homeless, even months after the operation ended. The economy of Gaza was all but destroyed.

Full article

Advertisements

Israel: Old lies no longer work

July 16, 2009
Editorial
Morning Star Online, July 15, 2008

Israel has been knocked off balance by the publication of its own troops’ exposure of the war crimes ordered and carried out during the murderous assault on Gaza just over six months ago.

The zionist establishment has had a ready retort to previous allegations of atrocities, dismissing them as Palestinian propaganda.

But it cannot rely on this convenient fallback position when it is Tel Aviv’s own armed forces who have been disgusted by what they themselves have seen and heard.

It is a bit rich of an Israeli Defence Force spokeswoman to complain about “anonymous, generalised testimony” and failure to give the IDF, “as a matter of minimal fairness, the opportunity to check the matters and respond to them before publication.”

Human rights organisations have consistently supplied evidence of Israeli security forces mistreating or killing civilians, including children, and the political/military response has always been the same.

There is the initial denial that a crime has taken place, usually accompanied by some variant of Defence Minister Ehud Barak’s sickening claim that the IDF “is one of the most ethical armies in the world and acts in accordance with the highest moral code.”

After outright denial comes reference to an official investigation, which invariably reports that the Israeli security forces are innocent of all charges.

Armies acting in accordance with the highest moral code do not coerce civilians into acting as human shields, forcing them to enter buildings which may contain combatants or booby traps.

They do not launch artillery or aerial bombing raids on built-up, populated areas where it is inevitable that civilian casualties will be caused.

They do not use white phosphorus shells in populated areas for the same reason.

Nor do they engage in wanton demolition of homes, workplaces and places of worship simply to create free-fire zones and minimise the capacity of those resisting invasion to hide and return fire.

Israel denies overreaction, yet the casualty figures tell their own story, with over 1,400 Palestinian dead – the IDF says 1,166 – as opposed to 10 Israeli soldiers and three civilians, and four of the 10 soldiers were killed by Israeli fire.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has recorded the deaths of 906 non-combatants, including 288 children under the age of 16, while Tel Aviv asserts a death toll for Palestinian fighters of about twice that for non-combatants, which flies in the face of historical experience from previous military onslaughts against heavily populated areas.

However, as atrocious as Israel’s actions were, the muted response of its allies in the US and the European Union has been more nauseating.

Britain’s cancellation of five contracts, out of 182 current military licences, to supply parts to Israel for its Sa’ar missile boats is insulting in its niggardliness.

It is a meaningless token that gives the green light to Israel to continue its slaughter, ethnic cleansing and colonisation of conquered Arab land.

And it will serve as a reaffirmation for those who declare that Western governments such as our own are hostile to Muslims and who therefore justify terrorist attacks against our citizens.

Britain is already perceived as part of the problem, given that our Prime Minister is a patron of the Jewish National Fund, the property arm of the World Zionist Organisation, which is dedicated to securing land in the occupied territories for settlement by Jews only. It is intrinsic to Israel’s expansionism.

Support for the Palestinian people’s national rights is an essential contribution to the struggle for global peace and justice.

Israeli soldiers reveal the brutal truth of Gaza attack

July 15, 2009

Troops’ testimonies disclose loose rules of engagement and use of civilians as human shields. Palestinian houses were systematically destroyed by ‘insane artillery firepower’

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem

The Independent/UK, Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Children at houses in Gaza which were destroyed during Israel's 22-day offensive
GETTY IMAGES

Children at houses in Gaza which were destroyed during Israel’s 22-day offensive

Israeli troops were repeatedly encouraged by officers to prioritise their own safety over that of Palestinian civilians when they embarked on the ground invasion of Gaza in January, according to the first direct testimonies of soldiers who served in the operation.

The picture that emerges from the testimonies, which have been seen by The Independent, is one of massive fire power to cover advances and rules of engagement that were calculated to ensure, in the words attributed to one battalion commander, that “not a hair will fall of a soldier of mine. I am not willing to allow a soldier of mine to risk himself by hesitating. If you are not sure, shoot.”

The first eye-witness accounts of the war by serving Israeli reservists and conscripts describes the Israeli use of Palestinian civilians as “human shields”. They detail the killing of at least two civilians, the vandalism, looting and wholesale destruction of Palestinian houses, the use of deadly white phosphorus, bellicose religious advice from army rabbis and what another battalion commander described to his troops as “insane firepower with artillery and air force”. The reports amount to the most formidable challenge by Israelis since the Gaza war to the military’s own considered view that it conducted the operation according to international law and made “an enormous effort to focus its fire only against the terrorists whilst doing the utmost to avoid harming uninvolved civilians”.

They are contained in testimonies from about 30 soldiers that were collected by Breaking the Silence, an army veterans organisation that seeks to “expose the Israeli public to the routine situations of everyday life in the occupied territories”. Although the organisation has collected hundreds of testimonies from ex-soldiers before, this is the first time that it has done so from serving soldiers so soon after the events they describe.

They tell how:

* Unprecedentedly loose rules of engagement were put in place to protect Israeli troops. One soldier said his brigade commander and other officers made it clear that “any movement must entail gunfire”. He added: “I don’t remember if the brigade commander said this or someone else. I’ m not sure. No one is supposed to be there. If you see any signs of movement at all, you shoot. These, essentially, were the rules of engagement. Shoot if you like if you are afraid or you see someone, shoot.” Another soldier said his battalion commander had said the operation was not “a limited confrontation such as in Hebron, and not to hesitate if we suspected someone nor feel bad about destruction because it is all done for the safety of our own soldiers… if we see something suspect and shoot, better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy”. One soldier said the “awareness of each soldier going in is simply… a light finger on the trigger. You see something and you’re not quite sure? You shoot”.

* Houses were systematically demolished. Despite official accounts that homes were only destroyed for strictly “operational” reasons, one reservist, a veteran of the conflict in Gaza since before 2005, said “I never knew such fire power” used by tanks and helicopters for the “constant destruction” of houses. The soldier said that some houses had been destroyed for normal operational reasons, such as because they had been booby trapped or used by militants to fire from, or had contained tunnel openings. But he said others were destroyed for the “day after” – to make a “very large” area “sterile”, to allow better “firing capacity, good visibility and control” once the operation was over. This meant, demolishing houses “not implicated in any way, whose single sin is that it is situated on a hill in the Gaza strip” .

* A civilian man between 50 and 60 who was unarmed but carrying a torch was shot dead after the unit’s commander ordered his soldiers not to fire warning shots but to hold their fire until he was 50m away. The soldier said the company commander announced over the radio after the incident: “Here’s an opener for tonight”. The soldier said that the commander was challenged over why he had not authorised deterrent fire when the man was further away: “He didn’t agree and couldn’t give a damn, and finally the guys felt that even if they could take this up with the higher echelons it wouldn’t be effective.” Another soldier said his unit commander shot dead an old man hiding with his family under the stairs of a house. While the soldier said that the killing of the man was a mistake, it had happened as the unit entered the house using live fire.

* Palestinian human shields – or “johnnies” as they were termed by soldiers on the ground – were suborned to enter surrounded houses ahead of troops, including houses known to contain armed militants. One account corroborates the story of one such human shield that was exposed in The Independent, that of Majdi Abed Rabbo in Jabalya in northern Gaza, who was ordered three times to enter a house to report on the condition of three armed Hamas militants inside.

* Military rabbis prepared troops for battle. One soldier said an army rabbi had “aimed at inspiring the men with courage, cruelty aggressiveness, expressions as ‘no pity. God protects you. Everything you do is sanctified’… there were specific scenarios discussed… but from the context it was pretty obvious he came to tell us how aggressive and determined we need to be, that we must win because this is a holy war”. Leaflets distributed at military synagogues had stated that “the Palestinians are like the Philistines of old, newcomers who do not belong in the land, aliens planted on the soil which should clearly return to us”.

* Mortars – rarely if ever used in Gaza before – were widely deployed. They included 120mm mortars of the sort that killed up to 40 civilians outside the UN el-Fakhoura school in Jabalya which was being used as a shelter, and in a nearby house. One soldier explained that while “with light arms you’ve got an 80 per cent chance of hitting the target with your first shot, with mortars it is much less”. Another said: “I finally understood. We were firing at launcher crews in open spaces. But it didn’t take much to aim at schools, hospitals and such. So I see I’m firing literally into a built-up area. I don’t know to what degree it was still inhabited because the army made considerable attempts to get people to leave. But I understand that… [tails off].”

The testimonies appear to reinforce evidence from Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and journalists who visited battle zones just after the war in January that white phosphorus was used for purposes other than “marking”, “range-finding” and “smoke screening”. Those purposes included to ignite homes suspected of being booby trapped.

Houses that troops occupied were vandalised. One testimony stated: “One of the soldiers… opened the child’s bag… he took out notebooks and ripped them. One guy smashed cupboards for kicks out of boredom. There were guys arguing with the platoon commander before we left the house why he wouldn’t let them smash the picture hanging there…” A reservist soldier said that there was a “big difference between the way we treated the contents of the house and the way the regulars did. The regulars wouldn’t take care even of the most basic sanitary stuff like going to the toilet, basic hygiene. I mean you could see that they had defecated anywhere and left the stuff lying round”.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovitz, sought to challenge the motives and credibility of the report. She said “more than a dozen” military police investigations were under way into incidents that took place during Operation Cast Lead. While the IDF continued to operate according to “uncompromising ethical values”, it was ready to investigate allegations of misconduct but not on the basis of anonymous testimonies which she could not be sure were from soldiers.

The Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said the report showed that the Gaza operation violated the “number one principle in international laws of war”: that of distinguishing between the civilian population and combatants.

Yehuda Shaul, a founder of Breaking the Silence, said the group had names and details for all the testimonies – all of which had been taped – and that anonymity was to protect the testifiers from any disciplinary or criminal proceedings. The army already knew the name of at least one, he said.

Gaza invasion: Witnesses on the front line

On military briefings ahead of the invasion

“We talked about practical matters… but the basic approach to war was very brutal, that was my impression… He said something along the lines of ‘don’t let morality become an issue. That will come up later’. He had this strange language: ‘Leave the nightmares and horrors that will come up for later, now just shoot’… The basic approach was that there were no chances taken. If you face an area that is hidden by a building, you take down the building. Questions such as ‘who lives in the building?’ are not asked.”

On problems with identifying targets for bombing

“It got to the point where we would try to report to field intelligence about a figure sticking out its head or a rocket being launched, and the girl [at field intelligence] would ask, ‘Is it near this or that house?’ We’d look at the aerial photo and say, ‘Yes, but the house is no longer there’. ‘Wait, is it facing a square?’ ‘No more square.’… Later I went in to the look-out war-room and asked how things worked, and the girl-soldiers there, the look-outs, resented the fact that they had no way to direct the planes, because all their reference points were razed… It’s highly possible that now the pilot will bomb the wrong house.”

On the rules of engagement

“[The Brigade commander] went so far as to say this was war and in war, no consideration of civilians was to be taken. You shoot anyone you see. I’m paraphrasing here, not literally quoting, but the gist of the matter was very clear.”

On the rabbinate’s role in the conflict

“The rabbi said we are actually conducting the war of ‘the sons of light’ against ‘the sons of darkness’. This is in fact a statement with highly messianic language… It turns the other side as a generality into ‘sons of darkness’ while we become ‘sons of light’. There is no differentiation which we would expect to find between civilians and others. Here is one people fighting another people, with all the messianic implications. But that’s the point: this is also religious propaganda. In other words, the army is not a revival meeting. They do not put on a uniform in order to be Judaized.”

On soldiers’ responsibility

“Anything we did there, we’d answer ourselves: there’s no other choice, but this is how we shirk our responsibility. You bring yourself to this kind of deterministic situation, a moment that I have not chosen, where I no longer have any responsibility for my own actions. Even if your choice is the right one, you must admit you chose it. You have to admit you chose to go into Gaza. As soon as you did, you’ve brought people into a moral twilight zone, you’ve forced them to handle dilemmas and part of that confrontation failed. As soon as you say ‘there is no other choice’, you’re shirking your responsibility. Then you don’t need to investigate, to look into things.”

* Breaking The Silence

Will Israel be brought to book?

March 25, 2009

The evidence of war crimes in Gaza is a challenge to universal justice: will western-backed perpetrators ever stand trial?

Evidence of the scale of Israel‘s war crimes in its January onslaught on Gaza is becoming unanswerable. Clancy Chassay’s three films investigating allegations against Israeli forces in the Gaza strip, released by the Guardian today, include important new accounts of the flagrant breaches of the laws of war that marked the three-week campaign – now estimated to have left at least 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis dead.

The films provide compelling testimony of Israel’s use of Palestinian teenagers as human shields; the targeting of hospitals, clinics and medical workers, including with phosphorus bombs; and attacks on civilians, including women and children – sometimes waving white flags – from hunter-killer drones whose targeting systems are so powerful they can identify the colour of a person’s clothes.

Naturally, the Israeli occupation forces’ spokesperson insists to Chassay that they make every effort to avoid killing civilians and denies using human shields or targeting medical workers – while at the same time explaining that medics in war zones “take the risk upon themselves”. By banning journalists from entering Gaza during its punitive devastation of the strip, the Israeli government avoided independent investigations of the stream of war crimes accusations while the attack was going on.

But now journalists and human rights organisations are back inside, doing the painstaking work, the question is whether Israel’s government and military commanders will be held to account for what they unleashed on the Palestinians of Gaza – or whether, like their US and British sponsors in Iraq and Afghanistan, they can carry out war crimes with impunity.

It’s not as if Clancy’s reports are unique or uncorroborated by other evidence. Last week, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that a group of Israelis soldiers had admitted intentionally shooting dead an unarmed Palestinian mother and her two children, as well as an elderly Palestinian woman, in Gaza in January. As one explained: “The lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way”.

They also tally with testimony of other Israeli soldiers from the Givati Shaked battalion, which operated in the Gaza city suburb of Zeitoun, that they were told to “fire on anything that moves”. The result was that one family, the Samunis, reported losing 29 members after soldiers forced them into a building that subsequently came under fire – seven bleeding to death while denied medical care for nearly three days. The Helw and Abu Zohar families said they saw members shot while emerging from their homes carrying white flags. “There was definitely a message being sent”, one soldier who took part in the destruction of Zeitoun told the Times.

Or take the case of Majdi Abed Rabbo – a Palestinian linked to Fatah and no friend of Hamas – who described to the Independent how he was repeatedly used as a human shield by Israeli soldiers confronting armed Hamas fighters in a burned-out building in Jabalya in the Gaza strip. The fact of Israeli forces’ use of human shields is hard to gainsay, not least since there are unambiguous photographs of several cases from the West Bank in 2007, as shown in Chassay’s film.

Last week Human Rights Watch wrote to European Union foreign ministers calling for an international inquiry into war crimes in Gaza. In the case of Israel, the organisation cited the siege of Gaza as a form of collective punishment; the use of artillery and white phosphorus in densely populated civilian areas, including schools; the shooting of civilians holding white flags; attacks on civilian targets; and “wanton destruction of civilian property”.

Israel and others also accuse Hamas of war crimes. But while both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have echoed that charge, particularly in relation to the indiscriminate rocketing of towns such as Sderot, an exhaustive investigation by Human Rights Watch has found no evidence, for example, of Hamas using human shields in the clearly defined legal sense of coercion to protect fighters in combat. And as Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinian Human Rights, argued recently, any attempt to view the two sides as “equally responsible” is an absurdity: one is a lightly-armed militia, effectively operating underground in occupied territory – the other the most powerful army in the region, able to pinpoint and pulverise targets with some of the most sophisticated weaponry in the world.

There is of course no chance that the UN security council will authorise the kind of International Criminal Court war crimes indictment now faced by Sudan’s leaders over Darfur. Any such move would certainly be vetoed by the US and its allies. And Israel’s own courts have had no trouble in the past batting away serious legal challenges to its army’s atrocities in the occupied territories. But the use of universal jurisdiction in countries such as Spain or even Britain is making Israeli commanders increasingly jumpy about travelling abroad.

With such powerful evidence of violations of the rules of war now emerging from the rubble of Gaza, the test must be this: is the developing system of international accountability for war crimes only going to apply to the west’s enemies – or can the western powers and their closest allies also be brought to book?


%d bloggers like this: