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      Allegations of IDF Crimes Refuted – But Only in Israeli Press

      Last week's allegations of IDF crimes in Gaza have been shown to be unsubstantiated but damage to Israel’s image is done, a watchdog group reports.
      By Gil Ronen
      First Publish: 3/25/2009, 10:19 PM

      A week ago, Israeli journalists in Ha’aretz, Ma’ariv, Channel 10 and elsewhere reported that soldiers at a gathering in a pre-military academy told two stories of the IDF shooting Arab women and children. These allegations have been shown by other Israeli journalists to be unsubstantiated and tendentious, but the damage to Israel’s image in the world press has been done.

      Watchdog group CAMERA has collected and summarized reports refuting the original stories and translated them into English on its website.

      CAMERA reports that the brigade commander of the unit linked to alleged Gaza shootings launched his own investigation after hearing of the charges and spoke to eyewitnesses, all of whom said that the alleged killings never happened.

      His findings were reported thus in Ma’ariv – one of the outlets which had also trumpeted the original stories:

      Two central incidents that came up in the testimony, which Danny Zamir, the head of the Rabin pre-military academy presented to Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, focus on one infantry brigade. The brigade’s commander today will present to Brigadier General Eyal Eisenberg, commander of the Gaza division, the findings of his personal investigation about the matter… and after approval, he will present his findings to the head of the Southern Command, Major General Yoav Galant.

      Regarding the incident in which it was claimed that a sniper fired at a Palestinian woman and her two daughters, the brigade commander’s investigation cites the sniper: “I saw the woman and her daughters and I shot warning shots. The section commander came up to the roof and shouted at me, ‘Why did you shoot at them?’ I explained that I did not shoot at them, but I fired warning shots.”

      Officers from the brigade surmise that fighters that stayed in the bottom floor of the Palestinian house thought that he hit them, and from here the rumor that a sniper killed a mother and her two daughters spread.

      The second alleged incident, the alleged killing by a sniper of an elderly woman, also seems not to have taken place. Ma’ariv reported:

      Regarding the second incident, in which it was claimed that soldiers went up to the roof to entertain themselves with firing and killed an elderly Palestinian woman, the brigade commander investigation found that there was no such incident.

      Channel 2 TV’s correspondent Roni Daniel also filed a report refuting the claims. Daniel reported that the soldier who supposedly witnessed the sniper shoot a mother and two of her children told his brigade commander:

      “I didn’t see it myself. There were stories like this. I wasn’t in that house and everything I said was only on the basis of rumors. At the gathering it was a friendly talk, and that's how I related to it.” The CAMERA report includes video of the Channel 2 report, with subtitles.

      The original damning testimony by the soldiers was given in a gathering at the Rabin pre-military academy. The gathering was arranged by the head of the academy, Danny Zamir, who is identified with a far-left agenda and has served time in a military jail for refusing orders.

      CAMERA writes that “since, as Ha’aretz put it, Zamir ‘does not hide his political opinions,’ it seems likely that his former students at the left-leaning Kibbutz-affiliated school knew what Zamir wanted to hear at the meeting, and that only a self-selected group attended. Zamir wrote an article about the discussion for the academy’s newsletter, which he then provided to the Israeli newspapers Ha’aretz and Maariv.”

      However, “Ha’aretz, the New York Times, and most other outlets covering this controversy have ignored detailed statements by other soldiers of the strict rules of engagement that they followed, and of their acts of kindness towards Palestinians.”

      Yediot Acharonot published soldiers’ accounts that were diametrically opposite to those featured by Zamir. These are two of the quotes that appeared in Yediot (translation by CAMERA):

      A Paratroopers Brigade soldier (anonymous): "It is true that in war morality can be interpreted in many different ways, and there are always a few idiots who act inappropriately, but most of the soldiers represented Israel honorably and with a high degree of morality.”

      "We were forbidden from sleeping in Palestinians' beds even when we had no alternate accommodations, and we didn’t touch any of their food even after we hadn't had enough to eat for two days."

      "During one incident, we were informed that a female suicide bomber was heading in our direction, but even when women approached us and crossed a certain point we made do with firing in the air, or near the women," the soldier recalled. "Even when we came across deserted stores, we didn’t even think of taking anything. One soldier took a can of food, but he immediately returned it after everyone yelled at him."

      Major (res.) Idan Zuaretz, company commander in Givati: "in every war there is a small percentage of problematic soldiers, but we must look at it from a broad perspective and not focus on isolated incidents."

      "I've seen a few things in my time, but even I was blown away by the level of professionalism displayed by the army," Zuaretz said. "I personally gave my soldiers an order on the day we withdrew from Gaza to leave all of our goodies in the last house we occupied. Some reservists even left an envelope full of money to one Palestinian family.”

      The damning quotes were featured prominently in the New York Times and many other publications. Their refutation, however, has not piqued the interest of world media thus far.