On his eponymous BBC TV show this morning, I listened open-mouthed as Andrew Marr invited Tory foreign affairs spokesman William Hague to express his views about the pretty appalling looking reports coming out of Israel where members of the Israeli Defense Force who were involved in the Gaza operation have talked about effectively being told to shoot at civilians.
Well those are absolutely appalling stories. There is no question about that. We don't yet know the truth of them. I think it's very important to say that. This is evidence that now has to be looked at, of course, by Israel's military investigations unit; and it is a good thing that Israel does have provision for that, for investigating these things and for bringing to book any who were responsible for behaving in such a way. But we will expect. I think across the world, we will expect Israel to deal decisively with anybody who committed such crimes. It will be very important for Israel to do that if it is to keep any moral authority in these situations in the future. So we're all appalled by that and we hope that it will be dealt with.
Of course Hague was careful to say the truth of this evidence was not yet known. But there is no evidence. So far, there is simply nothing to prove or disprove from these reports of the soldiers' discussion carried in Ha'aretz last week, here and here -- just innuendo, rumor and hearsay, demonstrably (read the second account) wrenched out of context and refracted through the patent prejudice of the soldiers' instructor Danny Zamir, an ultra-leftist who had previously been jailed for refusing to guard settlers at a religious ceremony and who said of the soldiers who spoke at the meeting in question that they reflected an atmosphere inside the army of "contempt for, and forcefulness against, the Palestinians."
So what are these pretty appalling looking reports and absolutely appalling stories?
There are precisely two charges of gratuitous killing of Palestinian civilians under allegedly explicit orders to do so. One is what even Ha'aretz made clear was an accidental killing, when two women misunderstood the evacuation route the Israeli soldiers had given them and walked into a sniper's gunsights as a result. Moreover, the soldier who said this has subsequently admitted he didn't see this incident -- he wasn't even in Gaza at the time -- and had merely reported rumor and hearsay.
The second charge is based on a supposedly real incident in which, when an elderly woman came close to an IDF unit, an officer ordered that they shoot her because she was approaching the line and might have been a suicide bomber. The soldier relating this story did not say whether or not the woman in this story actually was shot. Indeed, he says, from the description of what happened, it would appear this was merely hearsay once again. And his interpretation was disputed by another soldier who said:
She wasn't supposed to be there, because there were announcements and there were bombings. Logic says she shouldn't be there. The way you describe it, as murder in cold blood, that isn't right.
So two non-atrocity atrocities, then. What else?
Soldiers mouthing off -- in conversations of near-impenetrable incoherence -- that instructions to kill everyone who remained in buildings designated as terrorist targets after the IDF had warned everyone inside to get out amounted to instructions to murder in cold blood. There cannot be an army in the world which would not issue precisely such instructions in such circumstances, where Hamas had boasted it had booby-trapped the entire area.
Gloating graffiti left in the houses of presumed terrorists.
Tasteless T-shirts emblazoned with motifs crowing about killing, condemned immediately by the IDF.
Rabbis distributing to soldiers psalms and religious opinions about the conflict.
That's it. Not one single verifiable actual incident of intentional killing of civilians. No evidence whatever of any such rogue incidents -- let alone any order by the IDF to tear up its actual rules of engagement which forbade the deliberate targeting of civilians. Talk by one soldier about the IAF having killed a lot of people before the soldiers went in contradicted by another who said:
They dropped leaflets over Gaza and would sometimes fire a missile from a helicopter into the corner of some house, just to shake up the house a bit so everyone inside would flee. These things worked. The families came out, and really people [i.e., soldiers] did enter houses that were pretty empty, at least of innocent civilians.
Funny sort of unethical military behavior, that goes to some lengths to empty houses of civilians before storming them. Indeed, the soldiers' discussion contains more such material totally contradicting the impression of gross violations of ethics. Such as this:
"I am a platoon sergeant in an operations company of the Paratroops Brigade. We were in a house and discovered a family inside that wasn't supposed to be there. We assembled them all in the basement, posted two guards at all times and made sure they didn't make any trouble. Gradually, the emotional distance between us broke down - we had cigarettes with them, we drank coffee with them, we talked about the meaning of life and the fighting in Gaza. After very many conversations the owner of the house, a man of 70-plus, was saying it's good we are in Gaza and it's good that the IDF is doing what it is doing.
"The next day we sent the owner of the house and his son, a man of 40 or 50, for questioning. The day after that, we received an answer: We found out that both are political activists in Hamas. That was a little annoying—that they tell you how fine it is that you're here and good for you and blah-blah-blah, and then you find out that they were lying to your face the whole time.
"What annoyed me was that in the end, after we understood that the members of this family weren't exactly our good friends and they pretty much deserved to be forcibly ejected from there, my platoon commander suggested that when we left the house, we should clean up all the stuff, pick up and collect all the garbage in bags, sweep and wash the floor, fold up the blankets we used, make a pile of the mattresses and put them back on the beds.
"...There was one day when a Katyusha, a Grad, landed in Be'er Sheva and a mother and her baby were moderately to seriously injured. They were neighbors of one of my soldiers. We heard the whole story on the radio, and he didn't take it lightly—that his neighbors were seriously hurt. So the guy was a bit antsy, and you can understand him. To tell a person like that, 'Come on, let's wash the floor of the house of a political activist in Hamas, who has just fired a Katyusha at your neighbors that has amputated one of their legs—this isn't easy to do, especially if you don't agree with it at all. When my platoon commander said, 'Okay, tell everyone to fold up blankets and pile up mattresses,' it wasn't easy for me to take. There was lot of shouting. In the end I was convinced and realized it really was the right thing to do. Today I appreciate and even admire him, the platoon commander, for what happened there. In the end I don't think that any army, the Syrian army, the Afghani army, would wash the floor of its enemy's houses, and it certainly wouldn't fold blankets and put them back in the closets.'
This is what instructor Danny Zamir described as "contempt for, and forcefulness against, the Palestinians."
No mention of any of that in the world's media, is there? Do you think Andrew Marr or William Hague read those bits? Do me the proverbial. All they've picked up and run with is the lazy and malicious boilerplate carefully spun by Ha'aretz: rumor and hearsay about two incidents related by two soldiers (one of whom wasn't even in Gaza) -- one an accidental killing, the other maybe not a killing at all -- plus some wild mouthing-off by soldiers, some unpleasant graffiti, ditto T-shirts, plus some leaflets by unidentified rabbis making statements that carry no weight with the IDF or reflect Israeli policy whatsoever.
On that basis, however, it's proof positive for the likes of Andrew Marr, William Hague, the New York Times, Guardian, Independent, BBC and Uncle Tom Israelbasher and all, that yes!! Israel is now shown (unless specifically disproved -- and how do you disprove something for which no evidence is offered whatever?) to have been committing atrocities after all in Gaza; and so has now forfeit what remains of its moral authority, which was already hanging by a thread as a result of all the previous blood libels, and almost certainly its right to exist at all.
This is not just bigotry. It is medieval witch-hunt territory. And it's global.