Friday, March 20, 2009

Israeli soldiers admit to war crimes in Gaza

When human rights NGOs, the Red Cross, UN officials and ordinary people pointed out the obvious about Israel's recent indiscriminate campaign of murder in Gaza - that it was a war crime - they were dismissed by Israel's cheerleaders as victims of Palestinian propaganda or as anti-Semites (the default fallback for when the facts are inconvenient). Now another group is saying it: Israel's own soldiers:

Israel was last night confronting a major challenge over the conduct of its 22-day military offensive in Gaza after testimonies by its own soldiers revealed that troops were allowed and, in some cases, even ordered to shoot unarmed Palestinian civilians.

The testimonies – the first of their kind to emerge from inside the military – are at marked variance with official claims that the military made strenuous efforts to avoid civilian casualties and tend to corroborate Palestinian accusations that troops used indiscriminate and disproportionate firepower in civilian areas during the operation. In one of the testimonies shedding harsh new light on what the soldiers say were the permissive rules of engagement for Operation Cast Lead, one soldier describes how an officer ordered the shooting of an elderly woman 100 metres from a house commandeered by troops.

Another soldier, describing how a mother and her children were shot dead by a sniper after they turned the wrong way out of a house, says the "atmosphere" among troops was that the lives of Palestinians were "very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers".

But I guess they're "anti-Semites" too, right?

As the Haaretz editorial points out, these are not stories Israel can ignore or dismiss. Israel's own soldiers have no reason to lie about what they did. The IDF has of course promised an investigation, but that's simply the fox investigating the henhouse again. The only way there will really be justice for war crimes in Gaza is through a full international investigation and trial in The Hague.