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‘What Our Society Is Made of’: Former IDF Soldiers Confess Abuse of Palestinian Children August 27, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Published on Monday, August 27, 2012 by Common Dreams

– Common Dreams staff

Testimony by ex-Israeli Defense Force soldiers reveals a devastating portrayal of ill-treatment and abuse of Palestinian youth by members of Israel’s occupying army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

An Israeli soldier restrains a Palestinian girl crying over the arrest of her mother during a protest over land confiscation in al-Nabi Saleh. (Photo: AFP)

The testimony by more than 30 soldiers, and fashioned into a booklet by Breaking the Silence, an organisation of former IDF soldiers dedicated to speaking out against Israeli policy in the occupied territories, contains descriptions of beatings, intimidation and humiliation of Palestinian children.

“It is crucial that people in Israel are confronted about what it means for Palestinian children to live under military occupation,” says Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence.

“This is what [Israeli] society is made of, you cannot ignore it, you cannot just run away from it — this is who we are as people and I think this is something we should face.”

The group plans to hand out copies of the testimonies to Israel high school students in the coming weeks as the school year begins.

“Exposing our teens to this reality is not a trivial matter,” says Avner Gvaryahu, a former soldier who both contributed testimony for the report and works for the organization.

“The group hesitated to distribute the brochure among high school students,” he said, “but it was eventually decided to go through with it. I’m queasy about it even though I understand that it’s necessary… If you’re old enough to enlist and carry a weapon, you’re old enough to know what’s really happening in the territories.”

The Independent excerpts testimony from the booklet:

First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade

Salfit 2009

“We took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50. When these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason, and there was nothing that would legitimise hitting them. An Arab was taken to the bathroom to piss, and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. The guy wasn’t rude and did nothing to provoke any hatred or nerves. Just like that, because he is an Arab. He was about 15, hadn’t done a thing.

“In general people at the school were sitting for hours in the sun. They could get water once in a while, but let’s say someone asked for water five times, a soldier could come to him and slap him just like that. I saw many soldiers using their knees to hit them, just out of boredom. Because you’re standing around for 10 hours doing nothing, you’re bored, so you hit them. I know that at the bathroom, there was this ‘demons’ dance’ as it was called. Anyone who brought a Palestinian there – it was catastrophic. Not bleeding beatings – they stayed dry – but still beatings.”

First Sergeant, Combat Engineering Corps

Ramallah 2006-07

“There was this incident where a ‘straw widow’ was put up following a riot at Qalandiya on a Friday, in an abandoned house near the square. Soldiers got out with army clubs and beat people to a pulp. Finally the children who remained on the ground were arrested. The order was to run, make people fall to the ground. There was a 10- to 12-man team, four soldiers lighting up the area. People were made to fall to the ground, and then the soldiers with the clubs would go over to them and beat them. A slow runner was beaten – that was the rule.

“We were told not to use it on people’s heads. I don’t remember where we were told to hit, but as soon as a person on the ground is beaten with such a club, it’s difficult to be particular.”

First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade

Hebron 2006-07

“We’d often provoke riots there. We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is. Search, mess it all up. Say we’d want a riot? We’d go up to the windows of a mosque, smash the panes, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we’d get a riot.

“Every time we’d catch Arab kids.You catch him, push the gun against his body. He can’t make a move – he’s totally petrified. He only goes: ‘No, no, army.’ You can tell he’s petrified. He sees you’re mad, that you couldn’t care less about him and you’re hitting him really hard the whole time. And all those stones flying around. You grab him like this, you see? We were mean, really. Only later did I begin to think about these things, that we’d lost all sense of mercy.”

Rank and unit unidentified in report

Hebron 2007-08

“One night, things were hopping in Idna village [a small town of 20,000 people, about 13km west of Hebron], so we were told there’s this wild riot, and we should get there fast. Suddenly we were showered with stones and didn’t know what was going on. Everyone stopped suddenly; the sergeant sees the company commander get out of the vehicle and joins him. We jump out without knowing what was going on – I was last. Suddenly I see a shackled and blindfolded boy. The stoning stopped as soon as the company commander gets out of the car. He fired rubber ammo at the stone-throwers and hit this boy.

“At some point they talked about hitting his face with their knees. At that point I argued with them and said: ‘I swear to you, if a drop of his blood or a hair falls off his head, you won’t sleep for three nights. I’ll make you miserable.’


 and the West Bank are open air concentration camps, these are the new Warsaw Ghetto.
Auschwitz is still in operation it has been renamed Gaza, and the students have outdid the master.


    Veronica Hope4 hours ago

    I have seen video footage of the violence against Palestinians by the Israeli forces…this was twenty years ago. The Israeli’s have become everything that we hated about Hitler’s regime. Maybe there’s no gas chambers, but does that make it OK? As an American, I am ashamed of what our troops have done in the middle east. I am ashamed that my government continues to give money to the Israeli’s. I am ashamed that my government has continued to perpetuate this brutality. Please forgive those of us who are trying to change that. Please forgive the Jewish people around the world for what the Israeli’s are doing. Hateful, abusive people are found in every “developed” society. They are the fringe in most cases, but those who do nothing to stop these atrocities are just as bad.


    sasboy2 hours ago

    Barbaric as the treatment meted out to Palestinians, including minors is, it is comforting to know there are at least some Israelis with the character to come forward and confront the truth about the occupation.


  • What a powerful video. Pity that it, or anything like it, will never be seen on mainstream media in the U.S.


    Ibo Thorbas5 hours ago

    The opportunity missed by Israel after the second world war can be measured by all the budgets all the world knows today that support war. Whatever the supposed, collective religious claims of that nation may be, they like so many others, are visibly set against peace. War is the proof.

    Irrespective of our collective failures, the opportunity to end war today must now be measured by the social implications of shifting out of and away from what may be the greatest weight of failed, misguided financial foolishness humanity has ever known. You won’t stop spending what you spend on war. All human suffering today is the price humanity pays for your commitment to war. The budget is the proof.

    Rectifying this insane imbalance stands as the greatest challenge human intelligence has ever been faced with. Honesty and commitment to the obvious alternative is the straight-line solution.

    How many need to be strapped into a movie theater seat Clockwork Orange style to be compelled to come to understand the real implications of their own complicity. How do we take collective responsibility for the real Task of shifting away from our collective commitment to the priority of warring ways of competition.

    War or Peace has risen to the place of a final, fortunately single, wide-scale, potentially world-wide policy choice. It is the measure of your investments that prevents the essential honesty necessary to the only agenda that matters in our world today. Everything else we speak about by any means in public is convenient avoidance resting either in denial or resignation all of which is the childish, irresponsible, myopic immaturity of fear.

    Any adult among us who will not stand for the essential, single, polite demand for a worldwide agenda founding a final peace has reason to educate him- or herself about the real details of the financial reality currently committed to weaponry and ALL the skins it infects.

    All of every other thing any of us pay any attention to whatsoever is entirely irrelevant. One nation, any nation, ready to stand for Peace could accomplish the necessary Task, and today none will.


    dus75 hours ago

    One could substitute [any armed forces] abusing and terrorizing [any subject civilian population] during [any occupation in any part of the world during any time period].

    I appreciate this apparently truthful news piece and just want to expand it to the bigger picture of what horrid things we humans historically and currently are, unfortunately, capable of. It’s not a pretty picture but is one we have to acknowledge before we can move forward to eventually become what we could and should be.

    It may be as simple as teaching how to handle anger and frustration as well as the rewards of caring and helping others. Of course, the PTB do the opposite, guiding anger and frustration of whatever group against some other group, keeping the horrid injustice going on and on and on. If there is an ‘enemy’, it’s those who lie and encourage or condone inhumane behavior.


    Tanz Sixfingers5 hours ago

    It always appalls me the evils people do to each other in the name of religion.


    galen0662 hours ago

    So kind of the IDF to provide documentary evidence of their crimes against humanity…


    Ira Wechsler33 minutes ago

    This violence and hatred toward Palestinians is no more an accident or “fringe behavior” than is any other racist actions we see around the globe or in our own cities. This is drummed into soldiers of the US as they are sent into the Middle East and Afghanistan. They call Iraqis and Afghani’s Haji’s and towel heads. This is what the army wants , so they can prosecute this war and commit the atrocities necessary to make way for their dominance of energy sources around the globe.for the benefiit of Exxon-Mobil and the finance bankers of Wall Street. the Israeli’s are no different in their racism and fascist control of occupied territories than other larger imperialists. They all represent the sickness of capitalism and the need for a global communist movement to lead our class to bring about revolutionary change and rule of the 99%, the working class. We nned revolutionary youth to be organized to go into the military and win the alliegiance of working class GI’s , so when we are strong enough we can turn the guns around and bring down the imperialist empires. Then and only then can we hope to establish an egalitarian world without racism, war, exploitatrion or money. Then we can produce and distribute to all based on neednot profit.


    northstatean hour ago

    History will show that when Truman gave Palestinian land to the Jews from Germany, the Arab leaders told him that there would be no peace thereafter. There has been no peace. The Palestinians had nothing to do with the Holocaust. The Diaspora happened 2,000 years ago. Under what law did Truman have the right to give land in the Middle East to German Jews? Prior to that, German Jews were migrating peacefully to Palestine and buying land to farm. They were neighbors of the local Palestinians. That worked. The Wahrburg banking family in NYC donated money to plant trees and build schools. They told Truman not to expropriate land from the Palestinians, not to create a State of Israel. We now have a permanent state of war; we now have a permanent occupation of Palestinian land. And, to add to this awfulness, Israel is encouraging Russian Jews to come to Israel for “free” land. Settlers on the West Bank are expropriating more land from Palestinian pastoral farmers. When does it stop? When does the United States Congress stop supporting this land grab?


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    Israel on Trial April 5, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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    by George Bisharat

    SAN FRANCISCO – Chilling testimony by Israeli soldiers substantiates charges that Israel’s Gaza Strip assault entailed grave violations of international law. The emergence of a predominantly right-wing, nationalist government in Israel suggests that there may be more violations to come. Hamas’s indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians also constituted war crimes, but do not excuse Israel’s transgressions. While Israel disputes some of the soldiers’ accounts, the evidence suggests that Israel committed the following six offenses:

    • Violating its duty to protect the civilian population of the Gaza Strip. Despite Israel’s 2005 “disengagement” from Gaza, the territory remains occupied. Israel unleashed military firepower against a people it is legally bound to protect.
    • Imposing collective punishment in the form of a blockade, in violation of Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention. In June 2007, after Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip, Israel imposed suffocating restrictions on trade and movement. The blockade — an act of war in customary international law — has helped plunge families into poverty, children into malnutrition, and patients denied access to medical treatment into their graves. People in Gaza thus faced Israel’s winter onslaught in particularly weakened conditions.
    • Deliberately attacking civilian targets. The laws of war permit attacking a civilian object only when it is making an effective contribution to military action and a definite military advantage is gained by its destruction. Yet an Israeli general, Dan Harel, said, “We are hitting not only terrorists and launchers, but also the whole Hamas government and all its wings.” An Israeli military spokeswoman, Maj. Avital Leibovich, avowed that “anything affiliated with Hamas is a legitimate target.”
      Israeli fire destroyed or damaged mosques, hospitals, factories, schools, a key sewage plant, institutions like the parliament, the main ministries, the central prison and police stations, and thousands of houses.
    • Willfully killing civilians without military justification. When civilian institutions are struck, civilians — persons who are not members of the armed forces of a warring party, and are not taking direct part in hostilities — are killed.

      International law authorizes killings of civilians if the objective of the attack is military, and the means are proportional to the advantage gained. Yet proportionality is irrelevant if the targets of attack were not military to begin with. Gaza government employees — traffic policemen, court clerks, secretaries and others — are not combatants merely because Israel considers Hamas, the governing party, a terrorist organization. Many countries do not regard violence against foreign military occupation as terrorism.

      Of 1,434 Palestinians killed in the Gaza invasion, 960 were civilians, including 121 women and 288 children, according to a United Nations special rapporteur, Richard Falk. Israeli military lawyers instructed army commanders that Palestinians who remained in a targeted building after having been warned to leave were “voluntary human shields,” and thus combatants. Israeli gunners “knocked on roofs” — that is, fired first at corners of buildings, before hitting more vulnerable points — to “warn” Palestinian residents to flee.

      With nearly all exits from the densely populated Gaza Strip blocked by Israel, and chaos reigning within it, this was a particularly cruel flaunting of international law. Willful killings of civilians that are not required by military necessity are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and are considered war crimes under the Nuremberg principles.

    • Deliberately employing disproportionate force. Last year, Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, head of Israel’s northern command, speaking on possible future conflicts with neighbors, stated, “We will wield disproportionate power against every village from which shots are fired on Israel, and cause immense damage and destruction.” Such a frank admission of illegal intent can constitute evidence in a criminal prosecution.
    • Illegal use of weapons, including white phosphorus. Israel was finally forced to admit, after initial denials, that it employed white phosphorous in the Gaza Strip, though Israel defended its use as legal. White phosphorous may be legally used as an obscurant, not as a weapon, as it burns deeply and is extremely difficult to extinguish.

    Israeli political and military personnel who planned, ordered or executed these possible offenses should face criminal prosecution. The appointment of Richard Goldstone, the former war crimes prosecutor from South Africa, to head a fact-finding team into possible war crimes by both parties to the Gaza conflict is an important step in the right direction. The stature of international law is diminished when a nation violates it with impunity.

    George Bisharat is a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.

    Israeli Soldiers Say Army Rabbis Framed Gaza as Religious War March 21, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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    by Cliff Churgin

    JERUSALEM — Rabbis affiliated with the Israeli army urged troops heading into Gaza to reclaim what they said was God-given land and “get rid of the gentiles” – effectively turning the 22-day Israeli intervention into a religious war, according to the testimony of a soldier who fought in Gaza.


    [Soldier says rabbis pushed "religious war" in Gaza. An Israeli soldier gestures atop a mobile artillery unit as the sun sets over the central Gaza Strip in this January 5, 2009 photo. (REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen)]Soldier says rabbis pushed “religious war” in Gaza. An Israeli soldier gestures atop a mobile artillery unit as the sun sets over the central Gaza Strip in this January 5, 2009 photo.(REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen)

    Literature passed out to soldiers by the army’s rabbinate “had a clear message – we are the people of Israel, we came by a miracle to the land of Israel, God returned us to the land, now we need to struggle to get rid of the gentiles that are interfering with our conquest of the land,” the soldier told a forum of Gaza veterans in mid-February, just weeks after the conflict ended. 

    A transcript of the testimony given at an Israeli military academy at the Oranim college on Feb. 13 was obtained on Friday by McClatchy and also published in Haaretz, one of Israel’s leading dailies. The soldier, identified as “Ram,” a pseudonym to protect his identity, gave a scathing description of the atmosphere as the Israeli army went to war.

    “The general atmosphere among people I spoke to was . . . the lives of Palestinians are . . . let’s say far, far less important from the lives of our soldiers,” Ram said. The religious literature gave “the feeling of almost a religious mission,” he said.

    Jonathan Peled, the Israeli Embassy spokesman in Washington, said that Israel “absolutely” had no intention of expelling Palestinians from Gaza and has no territorial or other claims there. While he hadn’t seen the religious literature mentioned by the soldier, he said the Israeli army “is a secular army and is not run by any religious institution but by army commanders answering to the democratically elected government of the State of Israel.”

    Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit, the Israeli army’s chief prosecutor, on Thursday announced the first criminal investigation into the killing of Palestinian civilians during Israel’s military incursion. He issued the order after the Haaretz and Maariv newspapers published an account from the Oranim forum of how an Israeli sharpshooter killed a Palestinian woman and her two children when they inadvertently took a wrong turn after being released from detention in their own home.

    There are growing questions about the Israeli Defense Force’s commitment to prosecute war crimes and burgeoning criticism of the operation itself. According to Haaretz, the army first learned on Feb. 23 of the Oranim forum allegations and obtained a full transcript on March 5. The army told McClatchy on Thursday it had received the transcript that day, but on Friday a representative said it had received the document “a few days ago.”

    The Israeli Embassy in Washington said the army “holds itself to the highest moral and ethical standards, and as such is investigating the claims with the diligence one would expect in order to determine their accuracy, should further action be required.”

    Some 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the operation, more than half of them civilians, according to Palestinian human rights groups.

    Danny Zamir, the head of the Yitzhak Rabin military academy, which organized the soldiers’ the forum, said the Gaza operation was “an unusual military action in the IDF’s history which established new, unknown, norm in the IDF’s ethical code.”

    The testimonies indicated that the army, despite repeated claims that it was protecting civilian lives, was not instructing its troops to that effect.

    One soldier, identified only as “Aviv,” said he was bothered by open fire orders given to his unit for an operation that was later canceled.

    “We were supposed to go in with an armored vehicle called an Ahzarit, break into the door and start to shoot inside and simply go up floor by floor. . . . I call this murder . . . to go up floor by floor and every person that we see we were to shoot,” he said. “Aviv” served as a squad leader with the Givati unit in the Gaza neighborhood of Zeitoun.

    “At first I said to myself how is this logical? Higher authorities said this was permissible because everyone left in the area and in the city of Gaza is condemned, is a terrorist, because they didn’t run away.”

    When the orders were changed, Aviv said that another soldier protested: “Everyone in there is a terrorist, that’s known.” His comrades joined in, “We need to kill every person found there; everyone in Gaza is a terrorist.”

    Another soldier, indentified as “Gilad,” said his battalion commander made clear that the army was going to use its overwhelming firepower as its protection in entering densely populated Gaza City.

    “He made clear to everyone that one of the most important lessons and one of the big differences with the Second Lebanon War (in 2006) is the way in which we, the army . . . went in with a lot of fire. The surprise wouldn’t be the time, or the way or the place, nothing but a lot of firepower. The goal actually was to protect solders’ lives with firepower.”

    McClatchy reported that scores of Palestinians were treated at Gaza hospitals for burns that may have come from shells containing white phosphorus, which is illegal to use in heavily populated areas. The issue came up only briefly at the Oranim conference, when a sergeant in the paratroops, identified as Yossi, said, “There was a lot of use of white phosphorous.”

    Sarit Michaeli of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem thinks that the public release of the testimony helped spur the investigation. “There have been many cases where we have asked the advocate general to look into cases, and they drag their feet until it gets into the media.”

    Michaeli said the testimonies showed the need for an independent investigation into Israel’s action in Gaza, “The army and (State Attorney Menahem) Mazuz has claimed all along that the internal investigations and debriefings are the correct way. This clearly demonstrates that the soldiers didn’t reveal what they did or that they didn’t consider it a problem,” Michaeli told McClatchy.

    Churgin is a McClatchy special correspondent.

    Shelled family recounts Gaza horror January 12, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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    palistinian-casualtyAhmed Samouni survived the shelling of his Zeitoun home,
    but lost his mother and four brothers

    Zeitoun is only one neighbourhood where Israeli ground forces are operating.

    The Red Cross says there are many more homes in other areas where people are probably dead or injured inside.

    Raed el-Heleky, another paramedic who took part in the rescue effort, said he could smell dead bodies and blood in the area.

    “We saw people lying dead on the streets,” he told Al Jazeera. 

    “More than nine along the way before we got to the houses. We only went into five homes, there are other homes in the area and I am sure there are more dead in these houses. But the Israeli army stopped us from going any further.”

    The United Nations has said that the Samouni family’s story sounds as though it has many elements of a war crime.

    However, Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, denied that Israeli troops had moved the family and suggested the story could be Hamas “propaganda”.

    “I would urge a certain amount of caution, we know that the Hamas regime in Gaza is cvery careful what they want to get out and this is the sort of story that fits into their propaganda ambitions,” he told Al Jazeera.

    “We have no information on this particular incident, we are not aware of it.”

    Humanitarian organisations have asked for an investigation, but while these processes get under way, Israel is denying access to the areas worst effected by its ongoing war.

    Aid workers fear Abdullah and Ahmed’s stories may well be just the beginning of what Israel has done, and continues to do to the people of Gaza.

    Ahmed Samouni, who was left for days amidst the dead bodies of his mother and four brothers, witnessed what many are calling a massacre.

    The horror that the 16-year-old has seen is hard for him to put into words, but the effects are written all over his face.

    “It was the third missile I remember. The other ones had killed my elder brother and injured people, they kept bleeding. But the third missile, that killed them all,” he said in between sobs.

    “My brother was bleeding so much and right in front of my eyes he died. My other brother Ismail, he also bled to death.

    “My mum and my youngest brother, they are gone. Four brothers and my mother, dead. May God give them peace.”

    On January 7, paramedics finally brought the dead and injured to hospital, after they had spent four days trapped in their home in the Zeitoun neighbourhood.

    ‘Israeli shelling’

    According to the survivors’ accounts, partly corroborated by the International Red Cross and the United Nations, Israeli soldiers raided their homes and then moved the extended family together into one house.

    The following day, shells and missiles fired by the Israeli military fell around the house.

    Witnesses say at least 30 members of the Samouni family were killed.

    “We were put in an ambulance, but there were still people inside the house, dead and injured,” Ahmed told Al Jazeera. “For days we all bled. We were so hungry; I remember giving my brother Isaac a tomato to eat before he died.”

    Al Jazeera tracked down the ambulance driver who rescued Ahmed. The Red Cross personnel were denied access by the Israeli army to the area for four days after the house was shelled.

    “On the day we got permission, the army told us to leave the ambulances around two kilometres from the house,” said Mohamed el-Halby, a paramedic.

    “So we walked and all around us we could see they had bulldozered the area. The houses we passed had Israeli soldiers standing on the roofs.”

    “We went inside and heard screams coming from one room. There were about 15 people inside, two were dead, the rest sitting around them. That was just one room.”

    Six year-old Abdullah was trapped inside the same house as Ahmed, surrounded by his dead cousins and uncles. Terrified and distraught he struggled to speak.

    He said they only had tomatoes to eat, and when asked what happened to his family, he said they were there, in front of him, dead. All he could do was just look at them.

    Wael, Abdullah’s father, escaped on the first day of the Israeli raid. For four days he thought his son was dead.

    “I didn’t know what to do, I still don’t … look at him he is so ill, they are all terrified,” Weal said.

    “He cries all the time. His shoulder is hurt and it has infection but he cant stand the smell, he cries when he looks and smells his wounds. And his leg, look. I want to take him out of Gaza for treatment and I want to be able to go back to the house and get the rest of my family so that I can bury them.”

    ‘War crimes’

    Al Jazeera tried to reach the family’s house in Zeitoun but it was not safe.

    The closest anyone can get is about 1km away, and journalists, paramedics and aid workers need Israeli army permission to get to the area.

    Zeitoun is only one neighbourhood where Israeli ground forces are operating.

    The Red Cross says there are many more homes in other areas where people are probably dead or injured inside.

    Raed el-Heleky, another paramedic who took part in the rescue effort, said he could smell dead bodies and blood in the area.

    “We saw people lying dead on the streets,” he told Al Jazeera. 

    “More than nine along the way before we got to the houses. We only went into five homes, there are other homes in the area and I am sure there are more dead in these houses. But the Israeli army stopped us from going any further.”

    The United Nations has said that the Samouni family’s story sounds as though it has many elements of a war crime.

    However, Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, denied that Israeli troops had moved the family and suggested the story could be Hamas “propaganda”.

    “I would urge a certain amount of caution, we know that the Hamas regime in Gaza is cvery careful what they want to get out and this is the sort of story that fits into their propaganda ambitions,” he told Al Jazeera.

    “We have no information on this particular incident, we are not aware of it.”

    Humanitarian organisations have asked for an investigation, but while these processes get under way, Israel is denying access to the areas worst effected by its ongoing war.

    Aid workers fear Abdullah and Ahmed’s stories may well be just the beginning of what Israel has done, and continues to do to the people of Gaza.


    Israelis, Sipping Pepsi, Watch Bombardment of Gaza Town January 10, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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    Avi Pilchick (seated, foreground in white shirt) observes military operations in the Gaza Strip along with other Israeli civilians from a hilltop in Sderot, Israel. |

    Shashank Bengali | McClatchy Newspapers, January 5, 2009 

    SDEROT, Israel — A tower of white smoke rose from the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanoun after another Israeli bombardment Monday morning, and a half-dozen Israelis, perched on a dusty hilltop, gazed at the scene like armchair military strategists.

    Avi Pilchick took a long swig of Pepsi and propped a foot on the plastic patio chair he’d carried up the hillside to watch the fighting. “They are doing good,” Pilchick, 20, said of Israeli forces battling Palestinian militants in Gaza, “but they can do more.”

    Somewhere in Beit Hanoun, Ashraf El-Masri’s family cowered in their concrete tenement home, their neighborhood surrounded by Israeli soldiers. El-Masri said that five residents had been killed by Israeli shelling that morning, and the blasts had traumatized the youngest of his nine children into a terrified silence.

    The scenes were separated by less than two miles, but they illustrated the dramatically different perspectives on Israel’s ground incursion into the Gaza Strip on its second full day.

    While the Israeli spectators watched with hope that the invasion would finally stop the militant Islamic group Hamas from lobbing crude rockets from Gaza into their towns, the cost of that operation for now is borne by Palestinian families, who are trapped in their homes, their electricity cut off and their food supplies dwindling.

    “No one leaves his house,” said El-Masri, a taxi driver.

    As one of the closest towns to the Israeli border, Beit Hanoun is a primary launching point for the militants’ rockets, many of which are homemade, short-range and pack relatively little explosive power. In 2006, Israeli forces staged a major, six-day operation against militants in Beit Hanoun and killed 62 people. Palestinian medical officials said that at least 20 were civilians.

    The operation didn’t stop the rockets, however, and Sderot, a town of about 20,000 people, has been the most frequently hit. On Monday morning at around 11, the familiar warning of incoming rocket fire — a booming Hebrew voice announcing, “Red color, red color” — echoed through Sderot, and residents scrambled into shelters for cover.

    One rocket crashed through the roof of an empty marketplace in Sderot and another struck a neighborhood a few hundred yards away, but paramedics who were on the scene within minutes said that no one was seriously wounded.

    About 30 rockets landed on southern Israel on Monday, Israeli news media reported. Rocket fire has killed four Israeli civilians since the offensive against Hamas began 10 days ago.

    A short while later, on the hilltop overlooking Beit Hanoun, Pilchick squinted into the sharp sunlight. He’d taken time off from his job at a foreign exchange bureau in Jerusalem and driven down to Sderot with a friend on Saturday, the day the ground operation opened.

    After watching the fighting for two days, Pilchick pronounced that significant curtailment of rocket fire — which Israeli officials have cited as the main reason for the offensive — was the only way that Israel could claim victory.

    “They have to stop the rockets,” he said. “If they don’t do that, they haven’t changed anything.”

    Sderot residents — some of them carrying binoculars — have gathered on the hilltop since the offensive began for a glimpse of the fighting, but little was clear Monday morning besides the pop of outgoing Israeli shells and the occasional helicopter gunship overhead. Pilchick was the only spectator who brought chairs and snacks including bread, cheese and a can of olives.

    Moti Danino, bundled in a sweater and cotton overcoat, said his 20-year-old son was a platoon commander in Gaza. Three years ago, a rocket fell in his garden and lightly wounded his two daughters.

    “My son is in there fighting for the daughters. It is a good thing,” Danino said. Still, he added, “What parent wouldn’t worry if his son is fighting?”

    In their darkened home in Beit Hanoun, Ashraf El-Masri’s children were in utter distress. No one has stepped outside since Israeli ground forces entered the town Saturday night, and more Israeli shelling awakened them Monday morning, including a strike on a nearby mosque.

    El-Masri’s 12-year-old son, Abdelatif, has suddenly begun to wet the bed. His 10-year-old, Ahmad, a talented soccer player and popular kid in the neighborhood, spends the days hiding in a corner of the room where the whole family now sleeps. Four-year-old Mahmoud, usually a nonstop talker, is barely saying a word.

    The smell of fresh fruit, vegetables and bread used to waft through the house, but for several days the family has eaten only lentils and rice.

    El-Masri knew that Israeli forces would target Beit Hanoun. For now, all he can do is hope that it ends soon.

    “We have always stood against the launching of rockets from our area because it has always made us a target of Israeli aggression,” El-Masri said. “We have protested to Hamas many times. But there is no law in the Gaza Strip.”