Shooting indiscriminately, using civilians as human shields and the use of white phosphorus in civilian areas. Anonymous military witnesses have described these practices and the needless death of civilians in a report on the recent military campaign in Gaza, Operation Cast Lead.
Israeli soldiers were ordered to act accordingly, according to testimonies in a report describing the use of 'permissive' rules of engagement released on Wednesday.
They said they had been ordered to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious, that civilians were sometimes used as human shields and that white phosphorus was used in a way some soldiers regarded as gratuitous and reckless. The report consists of 26 anonymous accounts gathered by the campaign group Breaking the Silence, which is made up of Israeli army reservists.
Breaking the Silence is not trying to suggest Israel has committed war crimes, spokesperson Michael Maniken said:
“We just say what happened. The whole war crimes issue we don't deal with.... We have to have a moral compass that says these people are legitimate targets, and those people aren't. That's what armies are for. Otherwise what differentiates us from our enemies, the people who attack our civilians?"
Israel denies breaking the laws of war and has dismissed the report as based on 'hearsay'. In an official reaction to the report, Israeli army spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich, said:
“How do you know they are soldiers? How do you know that these people are soldiers... I don’t know who they are.”
Mr Maniken said the military's denial is "not only problematic from a civilian perspective, but also not that smart."
"Thousands of soldiers participated in that operation. They will start talking eventually. At a certain point denying all wrong just makes the system look bad," he said.
Emeritus Professor of International Law Theo van Boven said he believes the statements in the report are "reliable and consistent". He said the use of human shields and the use of white phosphorus in residential areas were obviously planned and carried out systematically:
"I think these practices are definitely in violation of the rules of war."
Mr van Boven, a former human rights observer for the United Nations, wants to see a criminal investigation launched against Israel. "There are reports from human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and another report will be released by a human rights commission led by Richard Goldstone," he said.
"All these reports together give quite a clear picture of what has happened. In any case, the United Nations will have to give a statement on the issue. A criminal investigation should also be launched, but the question is whether that will happen."
Michael Maniken is aware that "the enemy will probably use this report against us." But that has not stopped the campaign group from publishing the report.
"The problem lies with what has happened, not with talking about what has happened," he said.
|Recently, Gaza health officials and human rights groups reported that more than 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 900 civilians, were killed during the 22-day military offensive. Israel puts the death toll at 1,100 and claims most of them were armed fighters.
The evidence of war crimes on Israel's part is accumulating. Strong appeals on Israel to comply with the rules dictated by the UN have been made numerous times before.
Excerpt from Breaking the Silence (source: NOS):