Leading article: Israel must root out the canker of military brutality

These soldiers' allegations demand an independent investigation

Share
Related Topics

One of the values enshrined in the code of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is that its soldiers will behave with scrupulous morality, even in the heat of combat. So the testimony published in a college newsletter from some Israeli soldiers who served in the recent military engagement in Gaza will come as a severe shock to a public taught to trust in its army's "purity of arms".

What these soldiers describe from their experience of the three-week long Operation Cast Lead is not scrupulous morality, but an almost complete absence of it. They cite wanton destruction of Palestinian property and a chilling indifference to civilian casualties. They also relate how such abuses were made possible by the permissive rules of engagement established by their superiors.

This is not the first time allegations of possible war crimes by Israeli soldiers during the Gaza operation have been made. Until now the IDF has shrugged off such claims, accusing those human rights groups which related tales of illegal killing and destruction of either being duped by Hamas or pursuing their own anti-Israeli agenda.

But that avenue is not open to the army on this occasion. This testimony cannot be dismissed as enemy propaganda because it comes from a respected Israeli college. And the soldiers themselves have no reason to lie about what they saw, and, in some cases, carried out. The question is how Israel itself will respond to such incendiary testimony; with a resolve to get to the truth, or denial?

It is true that all armies suffer occasional breakdowns in discipline. And we should not make the mistake of holding Israeli soldiers to a higher standard of conduct than we expect from our own. We in Britain should remember that Baha Mousa, an Iraqi hotel receptionist, was beaten to death in the custody of British troops in Basra in 2003 and none of our soldiers was convicted of this killing. American military personnel were guilty of appalling abuses of prisoners in Baghdad's Abu Ghraib prison.

We should bear in mind too that this testimony was made public by a concerned Israeli academic. Whatever crimes might be laid at the door of the IDF, it should not be Israeli society on trial here. Indeed, it is a tribute to the openness of Israel's democracy, that we have learned of these allegations. Nor does the conduct of Israeli troops invalidate the overall objective of Operation Cast Lead, namely to stop Hamas firing rockets into towns in southern Israel.

All this is true. Yet none of it excuses what has apparently happened in Gaza. It is vital that the Israeli government should investigate these allegations and do so openly. The process should certainly not be left in the hands of the IDF.

The army's failure to investigate previous allegations of misconduct by its troops in a serious fashion leaves no confidence that it is about to change its ways now. An outside investigator should also look into the IDF's distribution to soldiers of a pamphlet containing vile religious extremism prior to the Gaza invasion.

The strength of Israel is measured not only in the sophistication of its military technology, but in the openness of its society and the clarity of its values. If Israel fails to root out the canker of brutality and ill-discipline from the IDF, it will deal itself a heavier blow than any of its enemies in Hamas or Hizbollah have thus far managed to inflict.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

Recruitment Genius: Senior .Net Programmer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Bridgend based software de...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Printer

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A specialist retail and brand c...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Mininster: I would legislate for abortion on demand and abolish VAT on sanitary products

Caroline Criado-Perez
 

Election catch-up: Just what the election needs – another superficially popular but foolish policy

John Rentoul
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence