Israel’s War Against Palestine: Documenting the Military Occupation of Palestinian and Arab Lands

Haaretz Editorial: Unsatisfactory Probes [on IDF ’Self-Investigation’ of Gaza War Crimes]

24 April 2009

Haaretz Editorial – 24 Apr 2009

Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Harel has presented the public and media with the conclusions of the Israel Defense Forces’ investigations into its strikes on Palestinian civilians and property during Operation Cast Lead. The tone was one of self-congratulation for both the probes and their content.

According to the General Staff, the IDF is not only the world’s most ethical army, but also the most investigated. This view was backed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who was quick to praise the conclusions. The military does not hesitate to expose its weaknesses, internally at least, to correct its mistakes and improve. And much to its satisfaction, it discovers over and over that it does not have too many weaknesses.

There is no reason to stir up a debate here on whether a major Gaza operation was justified. In any case, the effort to minimize IDF casualties should not serve as a justification for wanton and rash strikes against civilians. Even based on the data the deputy chief of staff presented, the IDF killed 295 Palestinian civilians and 162 other men “who were not identified as militants.” That’s a heavy price in lives that cannot be justified with the usual arguments that terrorist groups operate close to civilian populations, so they bear sole responsibility for any suffering. It’s hard to accept the claim that only mistakes and a handful of undisciplined people were responsible for the killings, while “a high ethical and professional level” was maintained, to quote Maj. Gen. Harel.

The fact is, soldiers who took part in the operation, and not only Israeli and foreign observers suspected of self-righteousness or hypocrisy, were revolted by what they saw, heard, and sometimes even did in the Gaza Strip. This revulsion, which the IDF officially rejects and seeks to contain, was recorded in Haaretz by Amos Harel and stirred up a storm. The presentation of the probes’ findings sounded like a belated defensive move, partly because senior people in the army and government are concerned about legal measures against them overseas.

The IDF investigated itself and exonerated itself. According to its judgment there were problems and irregularities, but only a few compared with the large operation in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians, the IDF says in a belated admission, were sometimes right, even if only a few of their claims of unjustified strikes against civilians were correct. Among those were, for example, the cases Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass exposed. Or the case of the phosphorus weapons, whose use the IDF was late in admitting and which followed a series of denials.

One of the more troubling aspects of the investigations is the disconnection between the army’s higher and lower echelons, which emerged during soldiers’ discussions at a pre-military training course. At the top, in the General Staff in Tel Aviv or at Southern Command in Be’er Sheva, an orderly process of thought, planning and instruction took place, but on the way down policy dissolved, orders became foggy and execution distorted. There are no signs the IDF has improved in this area since it fought in Lebanon during the summer of 2006. The aspiration of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to rehabilitate the army still has a way to go.

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