Almost two years after Operation Cast Lead, the Gaza Strip continues to haunt the Israel Defense Forces. An American or European website, with the likely aid of Israelis, hit the IDF's underbelly on Thursday after releasing a list of "war criminals," soldiers and officers who took part in the Gaza war. On the home front, meanwhile, the trial of a soldier from the Givati Brigade, charged with the most serious allegations thus far, kicked off with a media flurry as the defense uncovered what they claimed was an attempt to cover up the affair.
Attempts by left-leaning groups, both in Israel and abroad, to list those commanders who took part in the Gaza fighting began as soon as the Gaza war ended. But the list published on Thursday, which included 200 names in both English and Hebrew, is a project on an entirely different scale. Apart from the names one would expect to see on such a list (the IDF chief, his incoming successor, the head of military intelligence, the Israel Air Force chief, and others) the register also included battalion commanders, company commanders, platoon commanders, and even conscripted soldiers.
Photographs were also attached to many of the names, as well as the soldiers' ID numbers and even updated home addresses.
The senior officers who oversaw the operation are already used to threats and irritations. Many of them avoid travelling to countries such as England or Belgium, where legal actions have been weighed against IDF officers since the Gaza war ended. From now on, however, European travel may entail some risk even to a young platoon commander from the Paratroopers Brigade, who may have in the meantime been released from the IDF and was considering studying abroad. Beyond the threat of arrest, a publication of this nature may trigger some very unpleasant responses with which Israelis may have to contend.
Anyone who was surprised to find his name on the list on Thursday could have a shot at a libel suit against the site, considering that the information will most likely not be taken off the Internet.
Who's responsible for the publication? While the list is riddled with inaccuracies, such as the inclusion of soldiers who never participated in the Gaza fighting, it remains clear that Israelis – maybe even soldiers – were part of the long-time effort to gather meticulous details concerning those listed.
Some of the data (birthdates, places of residence, certainly of those higher up in the command) is not information that is readily available to the public. Considerable proficiency is in play here: even the names of those who replaced wounded battalion commanders during the war are named.
The IDF was visibly embarrassed as a result of the publication. Head of the IDF's personnel directorate, Maj. Gen. Avi Zamir vowed to "support soldiers and officers" whose names appear on the list, but the situation probably calls for something more, perhaps even an investigation into whether soldiers aided the list's compilers.
As a side note, it is interesting to note that technology and the Internet have again worked to the detriment of the security forces, as was the case earlier this year with the assassination of Hamas' Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai, which local police has blaming on the Mossad. In the case at hand, ordinary soldiers have left digital footprints (Facebook pages, blog entries, photographs, media appearances) which allowed allegations to be hurled against them. Members of the Givati and Paratroopers brigades, who were interviewed more frequently during Operation Cast Lead – or are more active on Facebook – have a much larger stake in the list, compared with other units.
Back at the home front, the trial of Givati's sergeant S., accused of killing a Palestinian in Gaza, has opened with a bang when it was revealed how the whole affair came to light. Apparently, a document had found its way to a reserves officer who, after a long deliberation, reported it to IDF prosecutors. The document was an internal probe by battalion commander Yehuda Cohen. An investigation is now ongoing to try and find out if there was a deliberate attempt to silence the affair by keeping it in the unit.
The trial represents yet another sensitive affair that Givati has experienced recently, with three other brigade soldiers facing criminal trials and a brigade commander still being investigated in a separate case. During the first Intifada, over twenty years ago, the Givati A and Givati B trials opened a painful wound regarding the IDF's conduct in Gaza. It seems history is repeating itself, albeit differently, following the latest round of fighting.
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