Israel: Does the army target civilians?

Last month at a military academy, several Israeli soldiers and officers said they are essentially being encouraged to kill civilians.

Israel is being forced to confront some deeply disturbing allegations, said Amos Harel in Tel Aviv’s Ha’aretz: Several Israeli soldiers and officers say they are essentially being encouraged to kill civilians. The men made those explosive claims last month at a military academy, where they were discussing their experiences during the Israeli campaign in Gaza in January. Ha’aretz got hold of the transcript, and it is chilling. One officer said his orders were to kill everyone in an apartment building, under the assumption that they were all terrorists since the Israel Defense Forces had instructed civilians to leave. He said he managed to convince his superiors to give families another chance to get out. Another soldier said that the rabbis assigned to the IDF had persuaded many soldiers that the conflict in Gaza was “a religious war.” Separately, a soldier reported seeing his comrades wearing T-shirts showing Palestinian women with bull’s-eyes on their bodies. Soldiers also described two incidents in which innocent civilians died.

Tragically, these are not isolated events, said the London Guardian in an editorial. The IDF is a highly trained, high-tech operation, with “weapons it can place to within a meter of its intended targets.” Its unmanned drones “have high-quality optics that can see the color of the target’s sweater.” Yet hundreds of civilians died in Gaza, and the only explanation is the “new and deadly relaxation of the rules of engagement.” Right-wing religious groups have taught young soldiers that Palestinian lives are worth nothing, that every child is a potential terrorist and a legitimate target. These are “war crimes,” and should be investigated by an international court.

Here we go again with the “double standard” for Israel, said The Jerusalem Post. The soldiers’ testimony—none of which has been confirmed—cited only two “egregious cases,” and neither was a war crime. In one, a sharpshooter killed a woman and her two children in what everyone agrees was a tragic mistake—it merited discussion only because one soldier believed the shooter hadn’t felt “too bad about it.” In the other, an elderly woman was shot as she approached an army position—most likely because she was wrongly suspected of being a suicide bomber. Such incidents are highly regrettable, but they are aberrant: The IDF tries to target only militants. Hamas, by contrast, plants bombs in crowded buses and shopping malls; a large car bomb was discovered at a mall in Haifa just last weekend, and it was mere luck that it malfunctioned and failed to go off. The difference between Israel and its enemies is undeniable: “We don’t set out to kill innocents, and if we do, our society feels anguish. They set out to kill civilians, and when they fail, they’re disappointed.”

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That old dodge won’t work anymore, said Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz. Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to the allegations with the reflexive slogan, “The Israeli army is the most moral in the world.” We kill militants, goes the refrain, while they kill civilians. That is simply no longer true. Over the past nine years, Israeli soldiers have “killed nearly 5,000 Palestinians, at least half of them innocent civilians, nearly 1,000 of them children and teenagers.” Our pilots don’t fight enemy combat jets, they “bomb residential neighborhoods.” Our tanks don’t confront enemy tanks, they “crush civilian cars.” The crimes in Gaza weren’t the work of “a few bad apples,” they were deliberate. “Until we recognize the Palestinians as human beings, just as we are, nothing will change.”

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