Mel Frykberg
Middle East Times
March 23, 2009 - 12:00am

Testimony coming to light, starting last week, from a growing number of Israeli soldiers who took part in Israel's three-week bloody offensive in Gaza in January, codenamed Operation Cast Lead, is confirming what the media and human rights organizations have been saying for several months.

Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, among others, accused Israel of committing extensive war crimes in Gaza and called for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry, and various government spokespeople, repeatedly denied these allegations and argued in defense of the actions of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) during Operation Cast Lead.

The Israeli public, which has been almost 100 percent behind their troops, too lashed out at critics and accused them of left-wing propaganda and anti-Israeli bias.

However, a number of Israeli soldiers who took part in the fighting, made statements during a discussion on Feb. 13, acknowledging that Israeli troops killed Palestinian civilians under permissive rules of engagement and intentionally destroyed their property.

The soldiers concerned are graduates from Israel's Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory course at Oranim Academic College. Dozens of graduates of the course who took part in the discussion fought in the Gaza operation.

The testimony of the soldiers involved, including combat pilots and infantry soldiers, starkly contradicted the claims of the IDF and was published last week in a newsletter for the course's graduates.

One soldier told the Israeli daily Haaretz, "That a Palestinian mother and her two children were shot.

"There was a house with a family inside. We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family. There was a sniper position on the roof," the soldier said.

"The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left.

"But they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was okay, and he should hold his fire; and he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders."

According to the squad leader, "The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away."

"I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given.

"And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to is that the lives of Palestinians, are very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way," he said.

Another squad leader from the same brigade told of an incident where the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman be shot and killed.

She was walking on a road about 100 meters from a house the company had commandeered, reported Haaretz.

After the orders were changed, the squad leader's soldiers complained that "we should kill everyone there. Everyone there is a terrorist."

The squad leader added, "You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won't say anything.

"To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing. To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most."

While further testimony from other soldiers continues to pour in and is due to be published in the Israeli media shortly, a new furor has broken out over Israeli soldiers who were in Gaza printing T-shirts celebrating the "action" there and making fun of the killing of women and children.

A sharpshooter's T-shirt poked fun of shooting a pregnant woman in her belly and says "1 Shot, 2 Kills" in Hebrew and in English versions.

Another T-shirt for infantry snipers has the slogan "Better use Durex" next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear near him, implying the child should never have been born and a condom would have averted this situation.

Another T-shirt shows an Israeli soldier blowing up a mosque with the inscription, "Only God Forgives."

The Lavi battalion produced a shirt which showed a soldier next to a young woman with bruises and the slogan said "Bet you got raped!"

Meanwhile, as talks on a mutual prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas floundered badly last week, Damascus-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told the Sydney Morning Herald that if Israel refused to show flexibility then Hamas would go ahead and capture more Israeli soldiers.

Israel wants Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was captured by Palestinian resistance fighters in 2006, released.

Hamas wants approximately 450 Palestinian prisoners released in return. Israel holds more than 11,000 Palestinian prisoners.

Israel has baulked at releasing dozens of hardcore prisoners who were involved in bloody suicide attacks against Israeli civilians that left hundreds dead.

During the interview with the Australian daily, Meshaal also told the paper that unless U.S. President Barack Obama drastically changed course he would continue to repeat the mistakes of his predecessors.

But simultaneously Meshaal stated that U.S. involvement was crucial in advancing peace in the region.

"I don't mean that Hamas will take a new policy position. I'm talking about a readiness on our part to deal with Washington and Europe. But they have to be serious about dealing with us on Palestinian rights," he was quoted as saying.

Another exiled Hamas leader, Moussa Abu Marzouk, reiterated on Saturday that his organization was willing to renew negotiations for a prisoner exchange and that Hamas wanted to reach an agreement as quickly as possible.


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