Once again, the IDF has issued a report exonerating itself of any wrongdoing in Operation Cast Lead. Interestingly, the very next day, government spokesman Mark Regev bemoaned the unfortunate name of the attack on Gaza, saying that in translation it loses the positive image the name has in Hebrew.
Leaving aside whether Regev is even correct about the Hebrew name (I was in Israel when the attack was so christened, and I, along with just about all the Israelis I talked to about it, found the title ironic in a very ugly, not to say obscene, way), his statement reflects the general Israeli response to global outrage over the Gaza action.
The problem, in Israel’s view, is simply one of marketing. It has nothing to do with anger over the massive destruction Israel wreaked. So, Regev’s comment is very much in line with the latest “investigation” performed b y the IDF.
The issues in the Gaza war were complex. It is necessary, in any investigation, to look very carefully into allegations of Hamas using civilian sites for military purposes and willfully putting civilians into harm’s way to deter Israeli attacks. That the fighting took place almost entirely in densely populated areas needs to be examined, as does the reality created by the Israeli blockade of the Strip which made it difficult or impossible for Palestinian non-combatants to flee the fighting.
But the fact is that many civilians were killed, many civilian sites were destroyed or severely damaged, the civilian infrastructure was crippled, white phosphorous was used in populated areas. All of these must be justified by military necessity and it must be established that in all cases, Israel did its utmost to use the least damaging methods to
civilians and tried its best to minimize civilian damage and casualties. As with its predecessors, the new report states that Israel did comply with international humanitarian law, but fails to explain why all this damage happened.
B’Tselem’s conclusion in its critique of the report reveals the problems:
“The investigation gives no answer to the demands of international law, according to which such destruction is illegal when intended as a preventive measure and when there are alternative means to achieve the same purpose. Given the extent of the destruction, and without having proved that the military abided by these conditions and without an explanation of the goal of the destruction, the sweeping determination that the destruction was “proportional” is unpersuasive.
But really, giving such answers isn’t the point. The point is public relations. I’m wondering if there is a single person who did not already believe that the IDF acted correctly in Gaza who is persuaded by these various investigations.
The accused cannot investigate itself. Again, our report frames this issue quite eloquently:
“No agency, including the military, can investigate itself under such complex circumstances, and the fact that the investigative teams were headed by officers who “were not a direct part of the chain of command” does not change this fact. Additionally, the military framework raises additional problems, as these officers are part of the military’s chain of command and know those responsible for the operation personally. Clearly, only in exceptional circumstances, that appear not to have existed here, could such officers conclude that other officers, at times higher ranking than themselves, acted in violation of the law.
Additionally, the military does not have the ability to collect evidence inside Gaza and interview Palestinian witnesses who were harmed by the military’s conduct. Therefore, the investigations were primarily based on military documents and interviews with soldiers. Investigations based on such partial information cannot reach an understanding of the truth.”
Israel has a perfect opportunity for a credible investigation, led by a renowned individual known to have close ties to Israel, who is still regarded far and wide as a fair man, Richard Goldstone. If Israel wants to be exonerated, both technically and in the public eye, of any of the charges against it stemming from Gaza, it will authorize and cooperate with Goldstone’s investigation.
These transparent attempts to avoid a serious investigation are fooling no one.