Israel says white phosphorus use in Gaza "exceeded authority"

On Friday, Israel said it had used the incendiary white phosphorus in the Gaza war and that two officers were reprimanded for "exceeding their authority."

Israel said this weekend that two senior military officers were reprimanded for their role in the war in Gaza last year, in particular for their involvement in the highly controversial use of white phosphorus.

The revelation emerged as part of Israel’s response to the Goldstone report issued in September, which accused both Israel and Hamas of war crimes. The UN secretary general had asked both sides in the conflict to respond to the report’s allegations by this week.

Drawn up by the Foreign Ministry after several months’ work, Israel’s 46-page response indicated that the two officers were reprimanded for “exceeding their authority in a manner that jeopardized the lives of others.”

It notes that Gaza Division Commander Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg, as well as Col. Ilan Malka, Commander of the Givati Brigade, were the subject of disciplinary action after their superiors found that they had overstepped their authority in approving the use of phosphorous shells. Judge Richard Goldstone – the lead investigator on the four-member UN fact-finding mission – wrote in the UN report that “Israeli armed forces were systematically reckless in determining its use in built-up areas.”

But on Monday, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) denied that the two senior officers had been subject to disciplinary action, in contradiction to the report issued on Friday by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The army did not deny using white phosphorus; a military source says it was used to create a cloud cover intended to make it harder for Hamas militants to see IDF soldiers. The use of white phosphorus as a weapon of war is not banned under international law, but various international human rights groups have argued that its use in populated areas should be considered criminal.

Last year, the Monitor interviewed physicians, patients, and other witnesses in Gaza who reported unusual burns that they suspected were the result of contact with white phosphorus, which continues to burn as long as it is exposed to oxygen.
The IDF’s deputy chief of staff, speaking at a major policy conference Tuesday in Herzilya dismissed the Goldstone report as a Trojan horse because it “gives terrorist organizations legitimacy to fight us from urban populations.”

“Our moral soundness is clear after dozens of investigations and interrogations,” Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz said. “Israel must make it clear that while we share a number of values with the West, there is a basic difference. We live with our values in a war zone.”

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