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IDF's Spokesman's Office/AP
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Soldiers' Testimony Raises Questions About Army's Conduct in Gaza

March 24, 2009 10:30 AM
by Kate Davey
Human rights groups are outraged after the publication of a meeting transcript in which members of the Israel Defense Forces discuss the killing of civilians in Gaza.

Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies Released

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On Thursday, Israeli newspaper Haaretz published testimonies from Israeli Defense Forces soldiers about killing civilians in Gaza. In February, Dany Zamir, head of the Yitzhak Rabin premilitary preparatory program, had asked soldiers who had served during Operation Cast Lead—Israel’s name for the conflict in Gaza—to discuss their experiences with program graduates.  Zamir decided to publish a transcript of the event because he felt his concerns over the Gaza killings were not taken seriously by the military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi.

One of the soldiers interviewed explained his concerns about the death of an elderly Palestinian woman: “That’s what is so nice, supposedly, about Gaza: You see a person on a road, walking along a path. He doesn’t have to be with a weapon, you don't have to identify him with anything and you can just shoot him.”

Breaking the Silence, an organization of former Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifadah, states that the testimonies Haaretz has published “are not unique, but represent a trend in the behavior of soldiers in Gaza.”

The publication of the testimonies has set off an outcry from Israeli human rights groups, who are calling for Attorney General Menachem Mazuz to reconsider his refusal to establish an independent investigative body to review military conduct.

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According to Al Jazeera, soldiers are wearing t-shirts that celebrate the killing of civilians in Gaza; one of them depicts a pregnant Palestinan woman through the lens of a sniper with the statement, “One shot, two kills” written underneath it.

The Israeli army issued a statement that said that the t-shirts were “tasteless and should be condemned”; according to Bar-Ilan University professor Orna Sasson-Levy, the t-shirts represent a trend in Israeli culture to dehumanize the Palestinians.

Related Topic: Soldiers speak out

This is not the first time soldiers have reported human rights violations in time of war. In the Haaretz transcript, Dany Zimar notes that soldiers from the Six-Day War in 1967 grappled with issues similar to those of soldiers from Operation Cast Lead.

Appearing on “Meet the Press” in 1971, Vietnam War veteran and future Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry spoke out against what he considered human rights violations by U.S. soldiers against Vietnam civilians. Kerry said, “I committed the same kind of atrocities as thousands of other soldiers have committed … All of this is contrary to the Geneva Conventions and all of this ordered as a matter of written established policy by the government of the United States from the top down.”

Human Rights Watch released a 2006 report with testimonies from U.S. soldiers who protested the abuse of Iraqi detainees and were told that the Geneva Conventions did not apply.
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