Israel Drops Gaza Probe, Calls Claims Hearsay

Israel has officially ended its investigative probe into any possible misconduct by Israeli troops during the Gaza incursion known as Operation Cast Lead earlier this year. The probe -- originally in response to incriminating conversations between soldiers at a military education conference that leaked to the press -- is now being called-off for lack of substantive evidence beyond hearsay, Israel says. As Haaretz reports:

[Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Avichai Mendelblit] said it was unfortunate that the soldiers, who discussed their Gaza experiences in private on Feb. 13 at a military academy session which was later leaked verbatim to the media, had been careless about accuracy.

"It will be difficult to evaluate the damage done to the image and morals [of the armed forces] in Israel and the world", his statement said. In a press release issued Monday the army said that the preliminary Military Police investigation into the testimonies revealed that they "were based on hearsay and not first-hand experience."

The original incidents that spurred the investigation are now considered to have been tainted beyond the scope of admissibility by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers' rumor-mill. Al Jazeera English has more on the troubling nature of the incidents in question:

Investigators highlighted two specific incidents which were widely reported, of the cold-blooded killing of civilians and allegations of deep contempt for Palestinians amid Israeli army ranks.

They said one a soldier who alleged that a comrade was given orders to shoot an elderly woman had not witnessed such an event and "was only repeating a rumour he had heard".

They said they noted that a woman who approached troops and was suspected of being a suicide bomber had been fired upon repeatedly to try to stop her advancing on them.

The New York Times reports further on the incident and the probe's findings. According to the IDF, the soldier from whom this account stemmed did not actually witness the event. And the fired shots in question are said to have been in the opposite direction, towards two suspicious men. From the Times:

Specifically, a soldier's claim that orders had been given to fire at an elderly Palestinian woman who entered a no-go zone was found to be based on a rumor, according to the military. Another case in which a soldier had supposedly been ordered to open fire at a woman and two children was also found not to have been witnessed by the soldier who gave the account.

"After checking the claim, it was found that during this incident a force had opened fire in a different direction, toward two suspicious men who were unrelated to the civilians in question," the statement said.

The allegations that arose from the conference at the academy and the wide coverage they received in the news media were troubling to many Israelis, most of whom are conscripted at the age of 18. Many Israelis view the army as a force that maintains high moral standards.

The Times story also notes criticism for the IDF's decision to end the investigation. Nine human rights groups in Israel have issued a statement claiming that such an abrupt ending is evidence of insufficiency. The groups are calling for an independent investigation as the only guarantee for objectivity.

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