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Israel’s world standing falls
Israel’s world standing falls
Battered by fresh accusations of war crimes during the recent Gaza conflict, Israel’s standing in the world is plunging to fresh lows. Two months after the guns fell silent, international condemnation of its treatment of Palestinian civilians during the military offensive shows no sign of abating. Outside the country, the latest revelations — most strikingly, a claim that soldiers committed “cold-blooded murder” during the operation — have once again spurred calls for a UN war crimes t
Thursday, March 26,2009 05:48
by Tobias Buck The Peninsula

Battered by fresh accusations of war crimes during the recent Gaza conflict, Israel’s standing in the world is plunging to fresh lows. Two months after the guns fell silent, international condemnation of its treatment of Palestinian civilians during the military offensive shows no sign of abating. Outside the country, the latest revelations — most strikingly, a claim that soldiers committed “cold-blooded murder” during the operation — have once again spurred calls for a UN war crimes tribunal.

In Israel itself, however, the response to allegations of war crimes has been both muted and defensive. While Israeli officials have promised to investigate the claims, ministers insist there was nothing wrong with the army’s conduct during the three-week offensive.

Gabi Ashkenazi, the chief of staff of the Israel Defence Forces, led the way on Monday, claiming Israel Defence Forces was “the most humane army in the world”. According to analysts, his claim captures a broader sentiment. Tamir Sheafer, a professor of politics at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University, says accusations of large-scale abuses by Israeli soldiers appear not to “have much effect on the public”. He adds: “Already during the war, there were reports of a large number of civilian casualties among the Palestinians. Even then, there was no great public response. There was a feeling that ‘they deserved it’.”

Israeli enthusiasm and support for the war has almost certainly weakened since January, but this reflects the fact that the operation did not deliver its goals. Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, survived the assault largely unscathed, and rocket attacks from Gaza-based militants continue to haunt Israeli cities in the south.

However, criticism of the army itself remains as rare as before, despite the string of damning reports issued over the past days: last week, Israeli newspapers published soldiers’ testimonies, including evidence that troops shot at unarmed civilians and vandalised homes. Some said they were issued with lax rules of engagement that placed little value on the safety of Gazan civilians.

On Monday, a report by a UN human rights panel made fresh allegations, including the claim that Israeli soldiers used Palestinian civilians as human shields during the fighting. “Violations were committed on a daily basis, too numerous to list,” said one of the report’s authors. Some leftwing Israeli commentators have joined the critics. Writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily, Gideon Levy argued this week that “the IDF has long ceased to be an army of ‘values’, not on the ground, not in the battalion, not in the senior command”.

But that remains a minority view. As Prof Sheafer explains, the unique place that the Israeli army holds in society makes it hard for most citizens to view the IDF in a critical light. “The IDF is the army of the people. Everyone goes to the army, and everyone knows someone who is serving in the army. I am not saying Israelis don’t believe the soldiers’ testimonies, but they believe these are isolated events that don’t represent the army as a whole.”

The mounting condemnation has not gone unnoticed. Even Israelis who follow sports more closely than politics could not ignore the fact that a recent Davis Cup tennis match against Sweden had to be played in an empty arena, because the Swedish hosts were concerned about protesters interrupting play.

One view that is gaining ground in Israel is that this represents above all a public relations failure. Hasbara According to this argument, Israel’s reputation is being undermined by bias in the foreign press, the inability of the Israeli government to explain its actions and the influence of what some Israelis call the “Palestinian PR machine”.

The Source


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