Gaza probe / Either troops are liars, or the IDF is pure as snow
Speed at which army closed investigation into accounts of misconduct raises questions.
One would be hard-pressed not to express astonishment at the speed and efficiency demonstrated by the Military Advocate General, Brigadier-General Avichai Mendelblit, and the Military Police investigation unit in probing the "combat soldiers' testimonials affair" that took place at the Rabin pre-military training academy. The investigation into Moshe (Chico) Tamir's all-terrain vehicle accident made its way from desk-drawer to desk-drawer over the course of almost 18 months, yet the military advocate general needed just 11 days (including two Saturdays) to probe the accounts of combat soldiers in order to completely dispel the allegations.
There is something soothing in the exhaustive investigation by the military advocate general. The IDF emerges from it (and from the Gaza Strip) as pure as snow. Yet at the same time there is a disconcerting message emanating from the closure of the investigation, one which, at least according to Brig. Gen. Mendelblit, a group of combat soldiers and officers serving in some of the finest units in the IDF has proven to be nothing but a bunch of liars and exaggerating storytellers, men who have not uttered one truthful word.
The military advocate general picks apart the testimonials brick by brick. Not only does he present alternative versions to the two most damning claims - the alleged shooting of a Palestinian mother and her children as well as the killing of an elderly Palestinian woman - but he also expends great effort in concealing a series of other allegations of improper behavior, from spitting on home photographs of Palestinian families to uprooting orchards to the use of white phosphorus bombs. Apparently, soldiers informed military police investigators of two more incidents in which civilians were mistakenly shot to death. Mendelblit retroactively provides a rationale for the soldiers' predicament in these cases as well.
There is no reason to cast doubt on the sincerity of the military advocate general, or in the thoroughness of the military police investigators. Nonetheless, it is unclear how they can be so certain that the "combat soldiers' testimonials" were just a series of rumors and concoctions "while the soldiers were truthful during the investigations conducted by the military police and the Givati brigades commander."
Given the international firestorm ignited by the intial media stories of the accounts and the dilemma which the soldiers found themselves in vis-a-vis their commanders, it is as if the soldiers chose a reasonable exit strategy: they can claim that their accounts were based on rumors so as not to open themselves up to charges that they ratted out their comrades. This is pure conjecture, of course. The soldiers were not permitted to speak with journalists. In other units, commanders have warned their soldiers to speak with anyone outside of the army about what they witnessed in the Gaza Strip.
There is another factor that must be taken into consideration. The investigation is based solely on one side of the equation - the Israeli side. An Associated Press reporter who was in Gaza last week interviewed Palestinians about the incidents in question. Their recollections to some extent corroborate the descriptions of the alleged shootings as initially recalled by the soldiers.
The AP story was published last Thursday night, yet the IDF is ignoring its contents. Now it is clear that the IDF withdrawal from Gaza does not allow the army to conduct an on-site investigation. Yet the AP reporter who wrote the story is fluent in both Hebrew and English. How is it that the military police unit did not think to ask her of what she heard and saw in Gaza?