Israel is continuing to fight back in the public relations war against the Goldstone Report’s claims that it committed war crimes in last year’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
A report last week by the Israeli nonprofit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center concluded that Hamas terrorists had used children as human shields, worn civilian clothes, fired rockets from mosques, placed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) around civilian homes and booby-trapped schools during the 22-day war.
Also last week, the Israeli Consulate here brought to The Jewish Week six Israeli soldiers who fought in that war.
“We don’t need that report to tell us what happened, we were there,” one of them said. “I saw firsthand what is documented there.”
The soldiers, all officers, asked not to be identified for security reasons.
They insisted that Israeli forces exercised utmost caution in their war against Hamas to avoid civilian casualties in one of the most heavily populated areas of the world.
Israel reported that a total of 1,166 Palestinians were killed in the fighting; Palestinians put the figure at 1,417. But unlike the Goldstone Report, which said that 80 percent of the Palestinians killed were civilians, Israel has evidence that nearly 900 of the Palestinians killed were Hamas fighters, according to one of the soldiers. Palestinians insist that 926 civilians were killed.
“What is important to note is that Hamas used children as combatants,” one soldier stressed. “The line between who is a combatant and who is not is sometimes difficult to tell.”
Another soldier said he saw Hamas fighters using children to load ammunition, missiles and weapons onto trucks. If the fighters spotted Israeli soldiers, they would open fire “knowing that we would not shoot back” for fear of injuring the children.
The Goldstone Report accused Israel of also using Palestinian civilians as human shields. Last week, two Israeli soldiers were indicted by Israeli military prosecutors for ordering a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open several bags the soldiers believed were booby-trapped. The military said in a statement that such action is strictly prohibited and that, if convicted, the soldiers face up to three years in prison.
The probe of the soldiers was triggered by a complaint from a United Nations investigator and the Israeli branch of Defense for Children International.
One other Israeli soldier has also been criminally prosecuted by Israel for his actions during the war — he stole and then tried to use a Palestinian’s credit card. In addition, two senior Israeli officers were reprimanded for firing artillery shells that hit a UN compound during the war.
The Israeli government, which refused to cooperate with the Goldstone commission, gave no official input before the commission’s findings were released, a fact the soldiers said was a political decision.
“My guess is that when you have a biased creditor, you can’t get a fair check,” one of them said. “And to claim that both Hamas and Israel committed war crimes sets up a false parallel. Hamas was indiscriminately firing at Israel, not caring where their rockets landed — the more damage, the better. Israel responded with precision strikes against the enemy. Hamas tried to maximize civilian deaths; Israel worked to be more humane even at a risk to our forces. … I don’t know if a lot of military forces do things like that. Israel did not commit war crimes in this operation.”
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