Throughout the January war on Gaza, Palestinians in Gaza reported that the Israeli military was intentionally harming civilians, obstructing medical assistance, and destroying and vandalizing homes and property. Following the end of the active assault, human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, among others, gathered extensive testimonies from Palestinians describing these crimes in detail. (See these two sites for more information: http://www.hrw.org/en/features/israel-gaza and http://www.amnesty.org/en/news-and-updates/un-urged-039find-truth039-about-gaza-conflict-20090316)
On March 19th, Ha'aretz confirmed the Palestinians' claims in published testimonies given by soldiers who fought in Gaza. In news reported around the world, Ha'aretz published excerpts of testimonies by IDF soldiers who confessed that they'd knowingly shot civilians to death in Gaza, that they'd intentionally vandalized Palestinian homes, and that the rules of engagement in the war - rules handed down from above - were exceptionally permissive. Amos Harel, the reporter who broke the story in Ha'aretz, is known as a military correspondent and is not considered a critic of the IDF. You can read his articles on the soldiers' testimonies here:
- "IDF in Gaza: Killing civilians, vandalism, and lax rules of engagement" 3/19/2009 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072040.html
- 'Shooting and crying' 3/20/2009 http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072475.html (From Ha'aretz's Friday magazine, this article contains lengthy excerpts from the soldiers' testimonies)
- "Testimonies on IDF misconduct in Gaza keep rolling in" 3/22/2009 http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072811.html
As Amira Hass explained on Democracy Now, the significance of the soldiers' testimonies is that "the soldiers actually confirm what Palestinians have been telling for the past three months, and journalists who listen to Palestinians and believe Palestinians and know their work of taking affidavits and testimonies from Palestinians have done so during the last three months. This is the main importance." (http://www.democracynow.org/2009/3/20/israel_promises_internal_probe_after_soldiers) Hearing from the soldiers is important because in Israel, Hass writes, the conventional wisdom is that "Palestinians lie, so their statements should not be taken seriously." (Amira Hass, "Time to Believe Gaza War Crimes Allegations, 3/24/2009, http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1073469.html).
The IDF responded by denying the soldiers' testimonies or claiming that, if some incidents were true, they were isolated (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1073208.html). The IDF also launched an investigation into the soldiers' testimonies (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072511.html).
On Monday, March 30th, Ha'aretz published this headline: "IDF ends Gaza probe, says misconduct claims are 'rumors' ". (http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1074981.html) (The headline could have almost been straight out of The Onion, the satirical American newspaper.) Calling the soldiers' reports of grave misconduct "based in hearsay," the IDF concluded that it is, in fact, "the most moral army in the world." Defense Minister Ehud Barak went so far as to say that "'There is no other army in the world that is as introspective as the IDF'." (http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1075221.html) One could be surprised that it took the IDF all of 11 days to draw such conclusions. Various international bodies haven't reaches such hasty conclusions and are gearing up to pursue war crimes allegations.
By ending the investigation, the IDF undermines the veracity of its soldiers and officers, whose testimonies it discounted; and foiled their attempts to report and discuss those crimes their country sent them to perpetrate. The IDF laid bare the double-speak of their military leaders, whose claims of introspection and morality fall flat in the face of the soldiers' testimonies, the human rights reports and the reports about soldiers' horrific, racist t-shirts, which came out the same weekend as the testimonies (see here for JPN posts on the t-shirts: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com/2009/03/worried-aunt-in-abu-ghosh.html and here for pictures: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com/2009/03/photos-of-idf-training-graduates-t.html). The international media covered these stories about the IDF, including reports in the Wall Street Journal, BBC, and Huffington Post, just to name a few.
And most of all, the IDF once again dismissed its Palestinian victims and their spokespeople as legitimate sources of information and advocates of their own needs.
A Ha'aretz article from yesterday, April 1, is a fitting coda to these events: "Sharp rise in number of reports of soldiers harming Palestinian civilians" (http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1075493.html). The number of assaults - the number of assaults that were reported - in 2008 was double the number from 2007, which was itself double the number reported in 2006.
Sarah Anne Minkin
Rela Mazali adds:
Jewish society in Israel has repeatedly produced testimonial collections of this type (the first of which may have been Siyach Lochamim [Warriors' Discourse] published after the war of 1967). Invariably following this or that military campaign, these have been instituted by now as a cultural-social ritual. While providing important, and in fact potentially incriminating, knowledge, the individual agonizing enacted by these ritual testimonials has equally, I feel, worked to maintain a deceptive façade of morality and decency. The level of organized violence applied against Palestinians under the auspices of the state (by Israel's military and police, by Israeli settlers, through Israeli courts and legislature) has, it seems to me, increased severely over the decades of, and in parallel with, this recurrent personal agonizing. Apparently, the testimonies have not stemmed the use of violence by soldiers, settlers or state. Neither have they been transformed into incriminating evidence
courts. On the other hand, while failing to achieve such practical consequences, they may have actually reinforced the imperviousness with which state violence is deployed; in publicizing cases of soldiers' moral deliberation and sensitivity (although always after the violent facts), they have imparted and reiterated an image of Israel's army as, supposedly, highly moral. There is no doubt that some individual soldiers are deeply troubled by the decisions and actions they have taken and which they report in such testimonies. Overall, however, Israeli militarization has, I think, been served well by the ritual. Its substance has been coopted by the hegemony which, diffusing its critical import, has utilized it to both obscure and enable yet more actions of the kind originally called into question by the testimonies.
Jewish Peace News editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
Jewish Peace News archive and blog: http://jewishpeacenews.blogspot.com
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