Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Israeli Military Officers Wanted for War Crimes in UK -

Israeli soldiers 'disciplined' over UN compound attack in Gaza


An Israeli air strike on Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, during the January 2009 conflict. Photograph: ABDALRAHEM KHATEB/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Israel has delivered a report to the UN defending its actions in last year'sGaza war and insisting its troops did not violate international law, but has not agreed to hold an independent investigation as demanded.

In the 46-page report, submitted on Friday and released late that night, Israeli authorities admitted some "operational lapses and errors in the exercise of discretion". But they strongly denied allegations of war crimesraised by international human rights groups and by two separate UN investigations.

The report reveals there has so far been only one criminal conviction in relation to the war – one soldier was jailed for seven and a half months for stealing a credit card from a Palestinian home and using it to withdraw £250 in cash.

Last September, the South African judge Richard Goldstone published a highly critical 575-page report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council which accused both Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas of "grave breaches" of the fourth Geneva convention, war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. It called on both sides to start their own credible, independent investigations or risk international prosecutions. Neither Israel nor Hamas has done so and the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, will report on this to the UN general assembly in the coming days. The three-week war left nearly 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.

Israel defended its use of US supplied white phosphorus chemical bombs and also found "no basis" to launch criminal investigations over the shelling of UN buildings and staff, even though UN schools were hit during the war, as was the main UN warehouse which was burned to the ground by Israeli white phosphorus shells. Israel has paid more than $10m (£6.25m) to the UN in compensation for the damage.

Israeli military cancels UK visit over arrest fears

Israeli military cancels UK visit over arrest fears

Israel's former foreign minister Tzipi Livni

After a British arrest warrant was issued for Tzipi Livni on war crimes charges – later withdrawn on discovery that she was not in the country – a number of Israel leaders and army officers have cancelled UK visits Photograph: Gil Cohen Magen/Reuters

The Israeli military has cancelled a visit by a team of its officers to Britain over fears that they risked arrest on possible war crimes charges.

It is the latest case in which high-profile Israeli politicians or army officers have pulled out of visits to Britain for fear of arrest over war crimes allegations under laws of universal jurisdiction.

Israeli leaders have grown increasingly frustrated about the threat of legal action against individuals and are pressing the British government to change the law.

Baroness Scotland, the attorney general, was in Israel today and due to meet with the Israeli justice minister, Yaakov Neeman, and deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, to talk about the issue.

A group of officers, reportedly from the rank of major up to colonel, were invited by the British army for a meeting on military co-operation but cancelled last week, the Guardian has learned.

According to the Israeli paper Yedioth Ahronoth, Israeli officials feared possible arrest warrants and contacted British authorities to demand a guarantee that the officers would not be arrested.

Last week, British officials, reportedly, said they could offer no such guarantee and the Israeli military promptly cancelled the visit. The Israel Defence Force declined to comment.

Three weeks ago a British court issued an arrest warrant for Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli foreign minister, at the request of lawyers acting for Palestinian victims of Israel’s war in Gaza. The warrant was withdrawn when it became clear Livni was not in the country but it provoked a storm of protest in Israel.

Ayalon said the issue was damaging Israel’s relations with Britain. “The risk to senior Israeli figures does concrete and immediate damage to bilateral relations,” he told Yedioth Ahronoth.

“Organisations that are hostile to Israel try to exploit the legal channels and legal tools to threaten the Israeli and British decision-makers, including the authorities of the attorney general herself, and to thereby create political facts that should be determined around the diplomatic negotiating table,” he added.

He said he would raise the issue in his meeting with Baroness Scotland.

After the Livni arrest warrant there were discussions in Britain about changing the legal process so that the attorney general would first approve warrants before suspected war criminals could be arrested.

The “safeguards” were to apply to all visiting foreign leaders, not just Israelis, but provoked outrage from lawyers.

In October, Moshe Ya’alon, a former general and current cabinet minister, turned down an invitation to visit London for fear of arrest over an Israeli air strike in Gaza dating back to 2002.

A week earlier lawyers tried to secure an arrest warrant against Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, while he was visiting Britain but it did not succeed since as a serving minister he still has diplomatic immunity.

In 2005 an Israeli general, Doron Almog, was nearly arrested by police at Heathrow airport for a private prosecution again based on military operations in Gaza but he was tipped off, did not leave the plane and flew out of the country avoiding arrest.

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Conflict in Gaza

Palestinians mourn over the bodies of 42 people who were killed yesterday in an Israeli attack on a U.N.-run school building, on Janaury 7, 2009 in Jabalia refuge

Conflict in Gaza

Orthodox Jews from the Naturei Karta group chant slogans as they march through the streets of Jerusalem’s Mea Sharim Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, calling for an end to Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip, Wednesday Jan. 7, 2009. Dozens of members of Neturei Karta, a group that opposes Zionism and the Israeli state, and supports close ties with Arabs, particularly Palestinians, demonstrated against the operations. READ THE SECOND SIGN: ISRAEL HAS NO RIGHT TO RULE OVER ANY PART OF PALESTINE!


Israeli Soldiers Testify: We Used Gazans as Human Shields!

Once again, the Israeli army admits of committing war crimes in Gaza.
A Golani brigade soldier confessed that the Israeli occupation forces used Palestinians as human shields during Gaza war last January despite a 2005 High Court ruling outlawing the practice. The soldier said his unit employed a variation of the practice, the so-called “neighbor procedure,” when it checked homes for Palestinian resistance fighters.

The soldier’s testimony appears in a collection of accounts being published this week by Breaking the Silence, an organization that collects Israeli soldiers’ testimony on human rights abuses by the military.

In a print and video testimony published on Wednesday by the activist group, the 30 soldiers say they were commanded to shoot first and then worry about civilian causalities adding that the Israeli army’s imperative was to minimize its own casualties to ensure Israeli public support for the Gaza operation. A Palestinian rights group has stated that 1,417 Palestinians were killed, 926 of them civilians, during the Israeli war on Gaza. But Israel has put the death toll at 1,166 and estimated 295 dead were civilians. Ten occupation soldiers and three settlers were also killed.

The soldier, a staff sergeant, said that in his unit and others, Palestinians were often sent into houses to determine if there was anyone inside. “The practice was not to call it ‘the neighbor procedure.’ Instead it was called ‘Johnny,’” the soldier said, using Israeli military slang for Palestinian civilians. The Israeli occupation employed this practice extensively during the second intifada, before it was outlawed by the High Court of Justice in 2005.

In an incident his commanders told him about, three “armed militants” were in a house. Attack helicopters were brought in. “They … again sent the [Palestinian] neighbor in. At first he said that nothing had happened [to the armed men],” the soldier said. “Again they brought in attack helicopters and fired. They again sent in the neighbor. He said there were two dead and one still alive. They then brought in a bulldozer and began to knock the house down on him until [the neighbor] entered.” The soldier said he had been told that the only militant remaining alive was captured and turned over to the Shin Bet security service.

The Golani soldier also testified that his commanders reported incidents in which Palestinians were given sledgehammers to break through walls to let the army enter through the side of houses. The army feared that the doors were booby-trapped.

The soldier said he had heard of other instances in which Palestinian civilians were used as human shields. One time, for example, a Palestinian was put at the front of an Israeli military force with a gun pointed at him from behind.

The Israeli military Spokesman’s Office, for its part, said that “the IDF regrets the fact that a human rights organization would again present to the country and the world a report containing anonymous, generalized testimony without checking the details or their reliability, and without giving the IDF, as a matter of minimal fairness, the opportunity to check the matters and respond to them before publication.”

For his part, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak responded to the report saying that “if anyone has any criticism, information of reservations over the IDF’s operations, they must direct them to me as the State of Israel’s defense minister and to the Israeli government, which was the one to order to IDF to restore calm in the southern communities.” Minister Barak added, “Criticism directed at the IDF by one organization or another is inappropriate and is directed at the wrong place. The IDF is one of the most ethical armies in the world and acts in accordance with the highest moral code.”
Barak asserted after the war that Israel had the “most moral army” in the world.

Moreover, a number of Israeli occupation soldiers who took part in Israel’s recent Gaza aggression were quoted by Breaking the Silence group as saying that they were urged by commanders to shoot first and worry later about sorting out civilians from combatants. Accordingly, they say, the force went into Gaza with guns blazing.

The 112-page report by Breaking the Silence includes testimonies of 30 soldiers “who served in all sectors of the operation”.

“Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy,” is a typical description by one unidentified soldier of his understanding of instructions repeated at pre-invasion briefings and during the 22-day war, from Dec. 27 to Jan. 18.

“If you’re not sure, kill. Fire power was insane. We went in and the booms were just mad,” says another. “The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire at suspect places. In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents.”

“We did not get instructions to shoot at anything that moved,” said one soldier. “But we were generally instructed: if you feel threatened, shoot. They kept repeating to us that this is war and in war opening fire is not restricted.”

The report repeats charges denied by Israel that white phosphorus was fired indiscriminately into Gaza streets. It cites “massive destruction was unrelated to any direct threat to Israeli forces” and “permissive” rules of engagement.

One soldier said that his unit had received an order to “ignite” an area. “The way to do that was to actually fire phosphorus shells from above,” he said. “What the phosphorus does is to let out an umbrella of fire over the target and naturally that ignites the whole house.” The results of a white phosphorus bombardment were “upsetting” another soldier said, “because in training you learn that white phosphorus is not used, and you’re taught that it’s not humane”.

The report also mentions armored bulldozers razing whole areas including gardens, and olive and orange groves. “We didn’t see a single house that was intact … that was not hit. The entire infrastructure, tracks, fields, roads, was in total ruin. The D-9 (bulldozer) had gone over everything,” the report quotes a soldier as saying.

Outcry Against Gaza “War Crimes” Grows: CBS News