The IDF Chief attorney, General Menahem Finkelstein, has recently had a meeting with Eliakim Rubinstein, Israel's Attorney General. The meeting was held after the army demolished dozens of refugee homes in Rafiah, some two months ago. Rubinstein justified the intensive demolition, concluding that "the operation was militarily needed, and that he was convinced in the operation's logic and legality." Still, the relenting Attorney General was not entirely satisfied.
Too many legal complications arose from the IDF's activity in the Gaza strip. Meeting minutes that reached Kol Ha'ir say that Rubinstein "expressed his opinion that regular legal counseling for the Gaza division is needed." Finkelstein promised to "stress" the point to the Southern Command commander, Maj. Gen. Doron Almog.
A month went by. The point may have been stressed, but illegal operations in Gaza continue, raising new legal difficulties that even a relenting AG may find hard to accept.
The army wishes to increase casualties among armed Palestinians and change the ration between Israeli and Palestinian casualties, currently about 1:3. The method adopted for increasing casualties among Palestinians appears as a clause in the IDF's operational orders for recent operations in the Gaza strip.
The army did great early last week in its reoccupation of Jabaliya refugee camp: 17 Palestinians were killed, not one Israeli soldier.
"The idea is to provoke the armed men into shooting at you. Naturally, the moment you enter, they come out. That's the point, that's one of the main objectives, to bring them out the moment you go in," a source in the Gaza division has told Kol Ha'ir.
The IDF's current policy is to view every armed Palestinian, even a Palestinian Policeman, as a terrorist. When infantry enters PA areas, so do snipers whose job is to hit armed Palestinians. It would be interesting to know the AG's take on this.
On 12 Mar. the said operation the army spokesman reported that "In the camp terrorists of various organizations operate, and there exists a broad infrastructure of workshops for the manufacture of Kassam rockets, mortar bombs and other weapons. During the operation tonight the IDF demolished 25 workshops."
Military sources that are intimately familiar with the operation and its execution have told Kol Ha'ir that no trace of Kassam rocket manufacturing, or of the production of any other weapon, was found in the workshops that were demolished, nor were any explosives found in any of them. The demolition of the workshops, some of which are part of residential houses, or next to residences, has rendered dozens of people homeless and caused massive destruction.
The Secret Service, which provided the army with intelligence leading to the workshops, did not know where the rockets were made, that is why they gave the instruction to demolish all the workshops in the camp.
Those who planned this operation, as well as the Chief Military Attorney, may be advised to note a legal opinion that was recently given to the Central Command. According to this opinion only "the existence of intelligence and factual infra structure (such as the existence on the site of materials used to produce weapons) and these workshops be seen as military targets and demolished, in accordance with quantitative requirements." Workshops in Jabaliya, as noted, did not contain any rockets or explosives. Maj. Gen. Almog must have good reasons not to keep a legal advisor near him.
Uri Yaniv, a Nahal soldier who said on a TV interview from a refugee camp that he "cannot understand what a Hebrew boy is doing far away from the homeland," annoyed many people in the IDF. Although Yaniv spoke with permission from the IDF spokesperson, sources in his regiment say the Regiment CO is about to summon him for an interview, and is likely to court martial him for his words.
The same CO has interesting priorities. For over a month he has been seeking, without success, a moment to court martial two soldiers that stole Palestinian property during an IDF operation in Tul Karem refugee camp. The two were caught stealing religious ornaments and other "souvenirs" from Palestinians. Some testimonies claim they took fabrics, and Palestinian flags. One of their commanders has promised to have them court martialed, but his promise remains to be fulfilled.
"I don't think they'll get too much [of a punishment], if it was important they'd already been court martialled," says a soldier from the said regiment. "You do searches, you find a prayer chain, you take it. Usually you take a souvenir here, a souvenir there. After they were caught they told us that if they find looted items on any of us they would punish that soldier severely." So far, no such thing has happened.
Soldiers from the same regiment operated in the last month in quite a few Palestinian Territories, starting with Tul Karem, continuing on to Balata, and down in Ramallah. The soldiers took trophy photos in the houses they searched, most of them turned up side down and thoroughly messed up during searches. Those homes windows are shattered, and the walls fall apart, a result of the method used for moving from one house to the next: using a 10 pound hammer, or explosives. Destruction in the houses did not stop the soldiers from watching TV in the houses, or posing for a photo that would later adorn their family album.
On Wednesday two reserve soldiers were sentenced to prison. Yishai Mor (34) for refusing to serve in the Gaza strip, and Sergio Yahni (35) co-director of the alternative information center, who refused to serve in the army so long as the occupation lasts. The two were sentenced to 28 days incarceration. It was a record breaking week in this way. As of today, eight reserve soldiers and one regular conscript are in military prisons for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories.
I May Have Killed 20 People
One soldiers gave witness to Kol Ha'ir on what took place in the refugee camps: "A house from which shots were fired, or a marked house [where a wanted man is expected to be], you enter aggressively, break the door, you see something suspicious - you break it. You harass people, tie their hands behind their backs with plastic cuffs, interrogate them. I entered thirty, perhaps forty homes, about ten or twelve of these I entered aggressively. Only one time were there women and children present. It's a terrorist's family and you don't treat them as nice, that's obvious."
"For some homes I feel sympathy, I really feel ill at ease there, what am I doing there? What did they do to us that I am ruining their lives. I understand that we have ruined the lives of hundreds of people, folks that make pennies, and all they had was invested in the house. But you enter terrorists' houses, walk around the house, see someone suspicious and overturn him without asking questions. I have a gentle nature, but I'm not going to deliberate about a house from which shots were fired."
Regarding the orders on opening fire the soldier said: "If I am shot at from a house I will not wait for the shooter to stick his head out again, I shoot at the house without deliberating. You may be talking to someone who has killed twenty people, and I may not have killed anyone. When we were in Balata we practiced street fighting, one covered the other with fire even when we weren't shot at. On the other hand, in Nur A-Shams we hardly shot at all. It all depends on the situation, on how they react, on the number of our men that are hit."
Regarding homes where people targeted for executions were expected to be, the soldier said: "About some houses we were told 'there's a wanted man here,' so you enter it the most aggressive way, if you see someone you shoot him. We entered several houses like this, but there was no one there. A little disappointing for us, but not too bad."
The soldier also testified that hardly any debriefing takes place after the operations: "Strangely enough we are hardly debriefed about the operations, simply because there's no time, we move all the time from one mission to the next."
Finally the soldier spoke about what bothered him about the operation: "There's always things that seem like they have no reason, people that were arrested without cause. People who went out of their home after a curfew was imposed, they were told it's forbidden to walk on the streets and that whoever does will be shot. Of course we didn't shoot without reason. Those who went out of their houses were arrested, and taken to the schools, where we set up our command centers. They weren't interrogated. They could have lain there for hours, tied up, with their eyes closed, and no one would even look at them. That's something I didn't like."