Israeli press
Israeli pressIsrael National News photo / Flash 90

News outlets worldwide published two stories over the past week that portrayed the IDF’s actions in Gaza as excessively cruel: one regarding testimony by soldiers at a pre-military academy, and the second concerning privately printed T-shirts that express military gallows humor. In both cases, the original exposés were first trumpeted in the mainstream Israeli press – Ha’aretz, Channel 10, Ma’ariv and others – and were then disseminated in international outlets. The allegations have also been singled out by Arab lawmakers in Israel, who demand investigations.

The newer ‘scoop’ regards T-shirts that were privately printed by soldiers for their comrades to wear when they were off-duty, without their commanders’ knowledge or consent. Ha’aretz published pictures of the T-shirts, some of which bear slogans in English. The T-shirts exhibit gallows humor regarding the killing of armed women and children and the bombing of mosques.

One shirt, allegedly printed for a platoon of Israeli snipers, shows a pregnant Arab woman holding a gun. She is seen through rifle crosshairs, with the caption in English: "1 shot 2 kills."

'Damning accounts'

The earlier story involved claims that IDF soldiers carelessly shot Arab civilians during Operation Cast Lead. The claims were made by several Cast Lead fighters, graduates of one of Israel's few non-religious pre-military mechina academies.

The BBC reported that “an Israeli military college has printed damning soldiers' accounts of the killing of civilians and vandalism during recent operations in Gaza.” The Guardian called the testimony “striking” and said that IDF soldiers described “shooting unarmed civilians, sometimes under orders from their officers.”

The testimony, it said, “gives a rare insight into how Israeli soldiers fought the war on the ground; reinforces Palestinian accounts of disproportionate Israeli force; and sharply contradicts the Israeli military's official version of events.”

MK Ahmed Tibi, a former advisor to PLO leader Yasser Arafat, called for a governmental commission of inquiry to look into the allegations.

Zamir's poem

In initial press accounts of the gathering at the military academy, the academy’s founder and director, attorney Danny Zamir, claimed that when the meeting took place, he had no idea that the damning stories would surface. “We did not think there was a moral problem until these guys started telling what was weighing on their hearts,” he was quoted as saying.

However, a poem published with Zamir’s byline and photograph on a website named “On the Left Side” appears to shows that Zamir voiced opposition to Operation Cast Lead soon after the operation ended, and was not necessarily surprised by the evidence he heard at the gathering. The poem, named “It was the Justest of Wars,” begins thus:

It was the justest of wars, the leaders said with serious faces

It was the justest of wars, the wounded soldiers mumbled

It was the justest of wars, the parents thought as they watched the flickering screens

It was the justest of wars, and in Gaza they piled the corpses of dead children atop each other.

According to Ha’aretz, Zamir “makes no secret of his political views” and was court martialled and jailed in 1990 for refusing to provide security, as a reserve officer, for a ceremony in which a Torah scroll was donated to Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem.

The soldiers at the gathering also complained that IDF and non-military rabbis distributed booklets and pamphlets to strengthen the soldiers’ fighting spirit. A soldier said that the pamphlets imparted the message that "We are the people of Israel, our return to the Land is a miracle, and now we must fight to uproot the gentiles.”

Israel National News has learned from religious soldiers who participated in the Gaza operation that, indeed, religious fervor was especially high among both religious and non-observant soldiers. Demand for tziziyot – fringed garments worn by religious Jews – was very high, they said, with many soldiers saying they felt more protected by the tzizit than by their bulletproof vest.