IDF Commanders respond to Goldstone’s retraction

IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson

“I think the army proved it is a body that doesn’t try to cover up for itself, but one that will go to depths investigating incidents until it reaches the truth,” said former commander of the Gaza Division

Date: 27/04/2011, 1:30 PM     Author: Bar Dadon, Idan Seger, Meital Sini, Dan Tamir and Iska Kornfeld of Bamahane magazine

“Goldstone’s recent conclusions and expression of regret don’t enable us to operate the way we’d like to now,” said Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, who served as Commander of the Gaza Division during Operation Cast Lead, to Bamahane magazine. “They will allow us to fight against terrorist organizations in the future, including those whose agents hide among civilian populations.”

Under these circumstances, Brig. Gen. Eisenberg emphasizes that the IDF (Zahal) acts through warnings, escalation and immediacy. “You start with a warning, after which the situation may escalate and cause you to act immediately within a civilian population. During the entire operation these three criteria worked against our best interest and against that of our combat soldiers. You can’t use cannon against terrorists operating within civilian populations. You start with small arms [or any personal weapons a soldier may carry], later use machine guns and, eventually, can use the cannon. It’s a situation in which you come in direct contact with the civilian and sometimes have to say something’s going to happen here, it’s best if you leave.”

As one who led combat soldiers through the crowded alleys of the Gaza Strip, Brig. Gen. Eisenberg stressed that soldiers do not need Goldstone’s exertion to know that they had backing. “A soldier needs to know he has his commanders’ full support,” said Brig. Gen. Eisenberg. “We gave that support for every mission taken on, of course, by orders, morals and ethics. Where was support not given? When soldiers operated against the IDF (Zahal)’s moral code. In those cases the order was to punish those soldiers.”

“I, as a commander who sent his soldiers into battle, feel like my conscious is clear,” added the former Commander of the Gaza Division. “With all due respect to Goldstone, he is not the one to hold up a mirror and say our soldiers act morally and ethically. We know very well how our soldiers were raised. Beyond that, I think the army proved it is a body that doesn’t try to cover up for itself, but one that will go to depths investigating incidents until it reaches the truth.”

Too little, too late

The IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson Unit, too, addressed Judge Goldstone’s expression of remorse in the Washington Post under the title “Reconsidering the Goldstone Report on Israel and war crimes”. “Too little, too late,” said IDF (Zahal) Spokesman Brig. Gen. Avi Benyahu. “The Goldstone report did a great deal of damage for Israel, and it was unjustified in doing so. With that, the retraction is important in many ways and we must respect this step, especially considering that next time we go into battle, we will have to do so in urban areas with civilians and use of people as human shields again.”
In his article, the South African judge says that the State of Israel harmed civilians unintentionally, unlike Hamas which always shoots rockets toward innocent civilians with the intent of harming them. “We know a lot more today about what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09 than we did when I chaired the fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council that produced what has come to be known as the Goldstone Report,” wrote the judge. “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
Throughout the article, Goldstone addressed the fact that the committee based its recommendations on allegations brought to it beforehand. To his regret, these did not include evidence to the contrary from Israel’s government. After the article was published, the IDF (Zahal) stated that the decision not to cooperate with the committee was made by the Israeli government and not by the army. “The investigation committee wrote that it aimed to investigate Israeli war crimes, not to investigate whether or not these crimes were committed,” explained Brig. Gen. Benyahu. “And as a result it was decided not to cooperate. Simultaneously, we made sure the committee received facts and figures that were important to us, but it didn’t use them.”

Less scary flying abroad

Goldstone’s expression of regret was a sort of a public authorization of the IDF (Zahal)’s investigation policy, the criminal investigation division of the Military Advocate General’s Corps was among those vindicated. After the operation, special committees were created to investigate the lawfulness of different units’ actions. Among them, complaints made by human rights organizations and Palestinian bodies regarding specific events were looked into.

“We investigated every event mentioned in the report in every possible way,” says a senior official from Southern Command. “Most of them were disproved. We did the work Goldstone didn’t, we checked and investigated the events in depth, to the level of who shot and from where. The reason he retracted what he said is because of the understanding that our policy was not to harm civilians. Mistakes were made, but that’s the reality of combat.”

As part of the policy of investigation and entrance of judges into the battlefield, soldiers and junior officers were subject to legal criticism for their actions during combat. Since the publication of the report, as many as 400 soldiers and officers were questioned and as many as 50 police files opened, some of which were done so as a result of the report.
At the end of the past year, a list of 200 soldiers and officers who took part in the operation was anonymously posted on the internet under the heading “war criminals”. Addresses, personal information and pictures of officers and soldiers were published, some of the victims afraid for their personal safety.

“There were those who considered whether or not they could travel to certain countries,” admitted Lt. Col. Yeki, who was a commander of one of the combat battalions during the operation. “When you’re labeled something and pictures of you are published on the internet it creates the feeling that someone is entering your personal life. These last publications change the picture and from now on flying in the world will be less frightening.”

Despite the relief that some of the officers feel, Brig. Gen. Eisenberg says though he’s glad that Goldstone expressed remorse, the report has yet to be recalled. “We have to be careful not to celebrate just yet,” he pauses. “The report still stands and whoever gave him the order to write it is the only one who can recall it.”

At the Military Advocate General’s Corps, Goldstone’s apology did not cause excitement. According to a senior official of the international law division, the apology came following many, many IDF (Zahal) investigations and judicial offices. “There have been many investigations since and facts published addressing events mentioned in the report,” said the official. “Our being transparent about the facts proves that Israel can hold itself accountable.”

Additionally, the IDF (Zahal) and Israeli government are considering how to use the remorseful article. Over the past few days, the IDF (Zahal) Spokesperson Unit taught Spokesperson officers how to be interviewed for various international media outlets and news agencies. “We need to see Goldstone in the context of a huge battle to de-legitimize the State of Israel,” explained Brig. Gen. Benyahu. “We need to take this article in stride and continue preparing for this battle.”