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Smoking Guns and Bulls-eyes: Israel rewrote the rules of War for Gaza

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On February 3, 2010, The Independent, reported that a high-ranking officer who served as a commander during Operation Cast Lead, admitted that Israel's army went beyond its previous rules of engagement on the protection of civilian lives and "that he did not regard the longstanding principle of military conduct known as "means and intentions' whereby a targeted suspect must have a weapon and show signs of intending to use it before being fired upon as being applicable before calling in fire from drones and helicopters in Gaza last winter." [1]

A junior officer described the new policy as one of "literally zero risk to the soldiers." [Ibid]

Israeli human rights lawyers, Michael Sfard, commented that the senior commander's acknowledgement was "a smoking gun."

That gun has been smoking since July 2009, when 54 testimonies from Israeli soldiers regarding their experiences during Operation Cast Lead were published by the Israeli human rights group, Breaking the Silence, exposed the gaps between the reports given by the army in January 2009 and "accepted practices; the destruction of hundreds of houses and mosques for no military purpose, the firing of phosphorous gas in the direction of populated areas, the killing of innocent victims with small arms, the destruction of private property, and most of all, a permissive atmosphere in the command structure that enabled soldiers to act without moral restrictions." [2]

Their testimonies illuminated that the soldiers were not given directives regarding the goal of the operation and, one soldier testified, "there was not much said about the issue of innocent civilians."

Many soldiers said that they fought without seeing "the enemy before their eyes."

Another said, "You feel like an infantile little kid with a magnifying glass looking at ants, burning them, a 20-year-old kid should not have to do these kinds of things to other people."

Mikhael Manekin, was discharged from the IDF in 2002 and is now the Foreign Relations Manager for Breaking The Silence/BTS.

In July 2009, Maniken fired and hit the bull's-eye when he stated, "The testimonies prove that the immoral way the war was carried out was due to the systems in place and not the individual soldier...through the IDF the exception becomes the norm, and this requires a deep and reflective discussion. This is an urgent call to Israel's society and leadership to take a sober look at the foolishness of our policies."

On August 8, 2009, Rob Lipton reported that Netanyahu asked Spain, Britain and The Netherlands to stop funding Breaking The Silence, which is made up of former Israeli soldiers who served in the occupied territories over the last ten years.

"The accounts by the soldiers are harrowing and document war crimes. The Israeli government claims that governmental support of "politicized' NGOs undermines democracy in the Jewish state [and] that foreign governmental funding of non-governmental institutions that are ostensibly working "against' the interests of the duly elected government are undemocratic." [3]

Don Futterman, program director of the Moriah Fund, a private American foundation working in Israel to support civil society and democracy, immigrant absorption and education, hit another bull's-eye:

"If our defense minister (Avigor Lieberman) wants us to live up to the claim that the IDF is "the most moral army on earth,' he should welcome soldiers who speak out about illegal acts that they have witnessed or were asked to perform. In our post-war rush to elections, we unfortunately - and perhaps, conveniently - skipped over any discussion concerning the morality of what the army has done. But even our fears of one-sided international condemnation of our actions in Gaza cannot justify official attempts to silence the messenger, especially when that messenger is us."

Don Futterman also argued that, "BTS is not an advocacy organization, it is made up of IDF reservists who have served in the territories during their regular military service over the last nine years. In addition to recognizing the harm we are doing to our Palestinian neighbors, the organization urges us to look closely at the damage we are doing to our own soldiers when they are asked to engage in acts of questionable morality or legality. BTS gathers and then publicizes testimony in both words and pictures from soldiers who are willing to come forward. The organization makes every effort to check the veracity of these testimonies, and will not publish any soldier's comments unless it has corroborating testimony from at least one other reliable source.

"[What] the government and the IDF find intolerable [is] opposition to their attempts to control the discourse concerning Israel's behavior in the territories.

"Our government (Israel) should welcome other expressions of foreign support for our civil society, not attempt to control it. If the United Kingdom or Spain or any other state wants to be a true friend to Israeli democracy, it will renew its commitment to BTS."

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Eileen Fleming,is a Citizen of CONSCIENCE for US House of Representatives 2012 Founder of Staff Member of, A Feature Correspondent for Producer "30 Minutes with Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu" (more...)
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