News & Current Affairs

July 15, 2009

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza

Israeli soldiers deployed on the Israel-Gaza border 28 Decmeber 2008

Soldier testimonies appear to contradict official Israeli statements

A group of soldiers who took part in Israel’s assault in Gaza say widespread abuses were committed against civilians under “permissive” rules of engagement.

The troops said they had been urged to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious and said Palestinians were sometimes used as human shields.

Breaking the Silence, a campaign group made up of Israeli soldiers, gathered anonymous accounts from 26 soldiers.

Israel denies breaking the laws of war and dismissed the report as hearsay.

The report says testimonies show “the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians” was a result of Israeli military policy, articulated by the rules of engagement, and encouraged by a belief “the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions”.

One soldier is quoted saying: “The soldiers were made to understand that their lives were the most important, and that there was no way our soldiers would get killed for the sake of leaving civilians the benefit of the doubt.”

Paul Wood
From Paul Wood,Courtesy
BBC Middle East correspondent:

Until now, Israel always had a ready answer to allegations of war crimes in Gaza. Claims were, they said, Palestinian propaganda. Now the accusations of abuse are being made by Israeli soldiers.

The common thread in the testimonies is that orders were given to prevent Israeli casualties whatever the cost in Palestinian lives.

The Israeli military says past allegations of wrong-doing in Gaza were the result of soldiers recycling rumours.

But Breaking the Silence has a long – and to many, credible – record in getting soldiers to talk about experiences which might not reflect well on the army.

Another says: “People were not instructed to shoot at everyone they see, but they were told that from a certain distance when they approach a house, no matter who it is – even an old woman – take them down.”

Many of the testimonies are in line with claims made by human rights organisations that Israeli military action in Gaza was indiscriminate and disproportionate.

Amnesty International has accused both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in charge in Gaza, of committing war crimes during the 22-day conflict which ended on 18 January.

Israeli officials insist troops went to great lengths to protect civilians, that Hamas endangered non-combatants by firing from civilian areas and that homes and buildings were destroyed only when there was a specific military need to do so.

‘Ill discipline’

Other allegations in the testimonies of the 14 conscripts and 12 reserve soldiers include:

• Civilians were used as human shields, entering buildings ahead of soldiers

You can’t identify too much at night and anything that moves you engage in order not to take risks. It was not defined this way officially, but it was obvious
Anonymous Israeli soldier

• Large swathes of homes and buildings were demolished as a precaution or to secure clear lines of fire for the future.

• Some of the troops had a generally aggressive, ill-disciplined attitude

• There was incidents of vandalism of property of Palestinians

• Soldiers fired at water tanks because they were bored, at a time of severe water shortages for Gazans

• White phosphorus was used in civilian areas in a way some soldiers saw as gratuitous and reckless

• Many of the soldiers said there had been very little direct engagement with Palestinian militants.

The report says Israeli troops and the people who justify their actions are “slid[ing] together down the moral slippery slope”.

“This is an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to sober up and investigate anew the results of our actions,” Breaking the Silence says.

Israel said the purpose of Operation Cast Lead had been to end rocket fire from Gaza aimed at its southern towns.

Palestinian rights groups say about 1,400 Palestinians died during the operation. Thirteen Israelis died in the conflict, including 10 soldiers serving in Gaza.

According to the UN, the campaign damaged or destroyed more than 50,000 homes, 800 industrial properties, 200 schools, 39 mosques and two churches.


Reacting to the report, Israeli military spokeswoman Lt Col Avital Leibovich said:

“The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] regrets the fact that another human rights organisation has come out with a report based on anonymous and general testimony – without investigating their credibility.”

She dismissed the document as “hearsay and word of mouth”.

“The IDF expects every soldier to turn to the appropriate authorities with any allegation,” Lt Col Leibovich added. “This is even more important where the harm is to non-combatants. The IDF has uncompromising ethical values which continue to guide us in every mission.”

There have been several investigations into the conduct of Israel’s operation in Gaza, and both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs the territory, have faced accusations of war crimes.

An internal investigations by the Israeli military said troops fought lawfully, although errors did take place, such as the deaths of 21 people in a house that had been wrongly targeted.

A fact-finding team commissioned by the Arab League concluded there was enough evidence to prosecute the Israeli military for war crimes and crimes against humanity, and that “the Israeli political leadership was also responsible for such crimes”.

It also said Palestinian militants were guilty of war crimes in their use of indiscriminate rocket attacks on civilians.


October 4, 2008

OJ Simpson convicted of robbery

OJ Simpson convicted of robbery

OJ Simpson has been found guilty on 12 charges of armed robbery, conspiracy to kidnap and assault with a deadly weapon by a court in the US city of Las Vegas.

The former US football star and actor was accused of robbing two sports memorabilia dealers a year ago.

The armed robbery charges carry a mandatory jail sentence, and kidnapping carries a possible life term.

Simpson, 61, who denied the charges, was acquitted of murder in 1995 in what was dubbed “the trial of the century”.

Conspiracy to commit a crime: guilty
Conspiracy to kidnap: guilty
Two counts of first degree kidnapping: guilty
Burglary in possession of a deadly weapon: guilty
Two counts of armed robbery: guilty
Two counts of assault with a deadly weapon: guilty
Two counts of coercion with use of a deadly weapon: guilty

The charges in the latest trial centred on an incident in the Palace Station hotel in Las Vegas in September 2007.

Simpson was accused – and convicted – of kidnapping two sports memorabilia dealers and holding them in the hotel.

The former National Football League running back seized the pair in an attempt to reclaim items in their possession related to his sporting career, which Simpson claimed still belonged to him.


Asked by reporters on his way into court for the latest verdict, which was read late on Friday night local time, Simpson said he was prepared for the judgement.

“You gotta be ready,” the former Buffalo Bills star running back told journalists.

OJ Simpson in 2006

Inside the court both Simpson and his accomplice, Clarence Steward, were found guilty on all charges by the Las Vegas jury.

Simpson blew out his cheeks and nodded as the verdicts were read out.

He was then led away with his hands cuffed by police. He will be sentenced in December.

The judge refused to grant him bail pending sentencing.

In his previous trial, Simpson was accused of murdering his former wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman in 1994.

The not-guilty verdict came 13 years to the day before his conviction in Las Vegas, and shocked many in America.

Mr Simpson was later found liable for the deaths in a civil case and ordered to pay $33.5m (£19m) to Mr Goldman’s family.

September 10, 2008

DR Congo frees goats from prison

DR Congo frees goats from prison

Goats (file image)

It is not known what the goats’ punishment might have been

A minister in the Democratic Republic of Congo has ordered a Kinshasa jail to release a dozen goats, which he said were being held there illegally.

Deputy Justice Minister Claude Nyamugabo said he found the goats just in time during a routine jail visit.

The beasts were due to appear in court, charged with being sold illegally by the roadside.

The minister said many police had serious gaps in their knowledge and they would be sent for retraining.

Mr Nyamugabo was conducting a routine visit to the prison when, he said, he was astonished to discover not only humans, but a herd of goats crammed into a prison cell in the capital.

He has blamed the police for the incident.

It is not clear what will happen to the owners of the goats, who have also been imprisoned.

BBC Africa analyst Mary Harper says that given the grim state of prisons in Congo, the goats will doubtless be relieved about being spared a trial.

There was no word on what their punishment would have been, had they been found guilty.


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