The Israeli military plans to investigate claims by Israeli soldiers that Palestinian civilians were killed and Palestinian property intentionally destroyed during Israel’s recent 22-day offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The claims were made by Israeli soldiers who were graduates of a pre-military course at an Israeli college. They were first reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Thursday. At a gathering at the college following the Gaza operation, the newspaper reported, soldiers gave testimony that ran counter to persistent claims by the military that “Israeli troops observed a high level of moral behavior during the operation.” The testimony was taken down by the head of the college’s pre-military program, Danny Zamir. He told Haaretz that he did not know what the soldiers were going to say and that what they heard “shocked us.” According to Haaretz, Zamir passed on the testimony to the Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, saying he “feared a serious moral failure in the IDF.” Contacted by CNN, Zamir said he would not comment to the foreign press on the matter and that the full testimony would be appearing in Haaretz newspaper.
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Portions of the testimony appeared in the Thursday edition of Haaretz and more is expected in coming days. In one account, a squad leader from a brigade serving in Gaza described an incident in which he said an elderly Palestinian woman was shot and killed at the orders of a company commander. According to the testimony, the squad leader protested the rules of engagement, which he said allowed soldiers to fire on Palestinian homes without giving residents a warning. After the rules were changed, his soldiers complained that “we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.” According to Haaretz, the squad leader went on to testify that, “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.” In a statement released Thursday, the Israeli military spokesman’s office said Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, the Israeli military’s advocate general, had ordered an immediate investigation be opened that will “examine” what was said by the soldiers. Israeli Defense minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio Thursday that “Israel has the most moral army in the world” and that the testimonies will be checked carefully.