IDF accused by own soldiers

A new report alleging that IDF soldiers carried out war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead includes testimony from soldiers who claim that their units used human shields , a practice banned by the Israeli Supreme Court, while searching Palestinian homes.

The report, by the human rights group Breaking the Silence, is based on interviews with 30 soldiers.

The organisation is run by IDF veterans and it bases its evidence only on soldiers who claim to have witnessed the events.

Breaking the Silence is mainly financed by European governments and foundations. Its leaders are savvy PR operators and the publication of its report has been planned months in advance.

Most details are old and include instances of vandalism of property, demolitions of buildings as a precaution against enemy fire and use of white phosphorus shells in civilian areas.

An IDF officer said: “These are only small details, taken out of context. They look like war crimes to someone politically inclined to see things that way.”

The only new charge in the report was detailed eyewitness accounts of the army using the “neighbour protocol” which the Supreme Court ruled illegal in 2005.

One soldier from the elite Golani Brigade claimed: “At every house we surrounded, we made the neighbour go in and if there were armed men inside, we started a siege, trying to get everyone out alive and to arrest the gunmen.”

A senior IDF commander said that in the case described by the soldier, two local Palestinian men had volunteered to go into the buildings so that all the civilians could be brought out alive.

An IDF spokesman said in response: “We regret that a human rights group chooses to present a report containing anonymous, general and unverified accounts, without allowing the IDF the chance to check facts and respond before publication.

“The IDF has carried out five expert investigations into aspects of the operation and is investigating dozens of cases in which specific complaints were received. In a small number of cases, criminal investigations are being carried out by the military police.”

Last updated: 5:00pm, July 17 2009