The biggest news of the week were the IDF soldiers’ testimonies regarding intentional killing of civilians, destruction, abuse and luting of property during operation Cast Lead. The story got considerable attention around the world. Even Jeffrey Goldberg got worried. However, there are always those who will refuse to believe there is anything wrong with the actions of Israel, the IDF and the occupation in general.
This is why I do believe these testimonies:
1. First, although it’s true that Haaretz’s reporter the reporters who broke the story hadn’t spoken directly to the soldiers, this doesn’t make the case any weaker. On the contrary: the testimonies were given during a graduates meeting at the Oranim College military preparatory program, where the soldiers weren’t asked to give them at all, and had started talking about what happened in Gaza at their own will. Danny Zamir, the head of the college, was shocked. He didn’t publish the evidences immediately, but contacted the army first, and gave them the opportunity to launch their own investigation on the matter. Naturally, nothing was done.
2. Haaretz published the story on its web site Wednesday evening, which probably means that other papers had the story as well, since newspapers in Israel prefer to keep the big stories for their printed editions. The fact that Maariv and Yedioth were able to follow the story so fast supports this theory. (see the update below)
3. All media organizations in Israel – and I say this based on first hand knowledge – had some sort of evidences of war crimes in Gaza, even during the operation itself. The problem was that the sources for these stories were Palestinians and human rights groups, and there was no confirmation from the Israeli side. Contrary to common believe, the media in Israel almost never publishes stories that come from the Palestinian side. As for stories from third parties, such as the UN and human rights groups - they are met with many doubts, and published under many reservations, if at all. The difference this time was that the story came from within the ranks of the IDF.
4. Getting stories from soldiers is becoming extremely difficult: the army wouldn’t let reporters into Gaza, and hadn’t used reservist units on the front line. This is important because while soldiers on mandatory service are not allowed to speak to the media – and reporters don’t have back channels to them as well – getting stories from reservists is easier (many reporters are reservists themselves). The army knows that, and prefers to keep the reservists far from the line of fire when possible (there are other reasons for this as well – a reservist’s death usually receives more media coverage, and the soldiers on mandatory service are considered better trained and better equipped).
5. From my experience as an infantry soldier – and later an officer – during army operations, a relatively small portion of what’s actually happening ever gets out. The media usually covers major and unusual events, or the ones it accidentally captures on camera. But most of the time there are no cameras around.
All this leads me to believe that the evidence from Gaza published this week are not only true, but that things might have been even worse. Much worse.
UPDATE: I was told that Maariv got the story together with Haaretz. The story appeared on both web sites together.