Friday, January 23, 2009

IDF censor bans naming officers involved in Gaza op

Ha'aretz reports: The Military Censor is applying strict restrictions preventing the media from identifying officers who participated in the Gaza Strip fighting and information about them that may be used in legal proceedings against them abroad. There is growing concern at the Defense Ministry and the Ministry of Justice that Israeli officers will be singled out in a massive wave of suits for alleged human rights violations.

The new instructions from the military censor to the media were prepared in consultation with Attorney General Menachem Mazuz and his military counterpart, Brigadier General Avihai Mandelblit. Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi was also involved in the decisions on this matter.

In recent days the censor has forbidden publishing the full names and photographs of officers from the level of battalion commander down. It is assumed that the identity of brigade commanders has already been made known. The censor also forbids any reports tying a particular officer of such battlefield command rank (lieutenant to lieutenant colonel) to destruction inflicted in a particular area.

There is particular concern at the Defense Ministry that interviews in the press by officers describing the destruction of homes or harm to civilians in areas where they commanded forces could become "self-incriminating" evidence, used by human rights groups and political groups seeking to bring suits against IDF officers.

The new regulations were finalized earlier this week, tightening censorship rules that had allowed more detailed reporting, as well as revealing the identities of officers. Two days ago, an unofficial report was received on a suit allegedly brought in the Netherlands against the commander of one of the brigades, following the release of his identity to the media. Israel's ambassador to the Netherlands has been unable to confirm that such a suit had been filed.

Moreover, it is known that a number of organizations have begun preparing a "target list" of officers - names of officers involved in the fighting and where they fought, in an effort to establish evidence that will allow legal proceedings to begin.

The commander of the Gaza Division, Brigadier Eyal Eisenberg, when asked Thursday whether he was concerned that legal steps would be taken against him and his officers abroad, said that "the state is supposed to provide security to its citizens. The operation [in Gaza] came after eight years of suffering thousands of Qassam rockets in the Negev. I think we embarked on a just war and I stand behind the troops."