Rights and Accountability 10 September 2014
The civilian population in Gaza is “a partner of terror” that “gets what they choose,” the top commander of the Israeli army’s Givati Brigade told the Israeli press recently, after orchestrating some of the deadliest episodes of butchery visited upon the Gaza Strip this summer.
Colonel Ofer Winter also admitted to ordering the mass-bombardment of an area where an Israeli soldier was known to be in order to prevent his capture alive by Palestinian resistance fighters — an army policy known as the Hannibal Directive.
These are just two of the many incriminating comments made by Winter in a lengthy and candid interview published in a paper-only edition of the Hebrew-language Israeli newspaper Yediot Ahronot on 15 August.
The interview took place near the end of Israel’s 51-day bombing campaign which killed more than 2,100 people in Gaza, the vast majority of them civilians — including more than 500 children. Israel expert Dena Shunra translated the interview for The Electronic Intifada.
In addition to justifying the mass killing of civilians in Gaza, Winter applauded the carpet bombing he ordered in Rafah as a necessary punishment and repeatedly invoked religious supremacy as a leading factor in what he views as a Jewish victory in Gaza.
Just as a temporary three-day humanitarian ceasefire negotiated by Egypt and the United States went into effect on the morning of Friday 1 August, a unit of soldiers from the Israeli army’s Givati Brigade conducted a tunnel incursion in Rafah, provoking fire from Palestinian resistance fighters.
Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the ensuing firefight and another, Hadar Goldin, went missing. It was later determined that Goldin died in the battle, but in the immediate aftermath the Israeli army operated under the assumption that he had been captured.
Ofer Winter was napping when he woke up to news of Goldin’s possible capture. He told Yediot Ahronot’s Yossi Yehoshua:
At 9 am, half an hour after I put my head down, the Deputy Brigade Commander woke me up: “come quickly, it’s best you be here.” We asked for a snapshot, we wanted information. We didn’t think there was an abduction yet. While inquiring if everyone was there, I commanded Sagiv, the Armored Forces Commander operating under my orders, to start moving from Hirbat Hiza’a, which was where he was, toward Rafah. Just then I got the message “it’s not green in our eyes” – in other words, not everyone had been found. We were missing a soldier. At 9:36, after inquiries with the battalion commander on site, I announced on the communication system the word that no one wants to say – “Hannibal.” In other words, there had been an abduction. I instructed all the forces to move forward, to occupy space, so the abductors would not be able to move.
The Hannibal Directive is an unwritten Israeli military protocol for executing captured Israeli soldiers to avoid politically painful prisoner swaps. Although its existence has been reported in the Israeli press since the 1980s, this interview with Winter appears to be the most frank acknowledgement of its use.
The idea is to prevent the captors from taking the soldier alive, effectively denying Palestinian or other Arab resistance groups a bargaining chip down the line and relieving Israeli leaders of the political fallout from having to make concessions (such as prisoner swaps) to secure the soldier’s release.
Executing their own
According to blogger Richard Silverstein, the Israeli army has implemented the Hannibal Directive on at least three occasions during this latest war on Gaza, deploying massive firepower with the intention of executing three of their own.
For the following several hours, residents of Rafah, many having just returned to their homes for what they were told would be a three-day ceasefire, were subjected to a carpet bombing campaign that left the town in ruins and 190 people dead.
An Israeli army officer told the Associated Press that soldiers pounded Rafah with 500 artillery shells in just eight hours and launched an estimated 100 airstrikes within two days.
Acting on Winter’s “Hannibal” order, the Israeli army sealed off Rafah to prevent the alleged captors from escaping with Goldin alive. Homes were flattened on top of families sheltering inside. Civilians who attempted to flee the inferno were torn to shreds by artillery. Vehicles trying desperately to evacuate the wounded were fired upon.
By 2 August, the Israeli army had killed 190 Palestinians in Rafah, including 55 children. With the morgues full to capacity, medical workers were forced to store corpses in vegetable refrigerators to accommodate the high volume of dead bodies.
As Israel laid waste to Rafah, the Obama administration called the alleged capture of Goldin, an invading Israeli soldier engaged in armed hostilities against Gaza, a “barbaric” and “outrageous” act.
“They messed with the wrong brigade”
“A lot of criticism was heard about the force you employed in Rafah, directly after the abduction,” said interviewer Yossi Yehoshua to Winter.
“Everything we did was from the understanding that we could return Hadar Goldin alive,” responded Winter. “Stop the abduction event. Come from above to the places he could come out of. That’s what we employed all the force for,” he insisted.
These claims are totally inconsistent with the reality on the ground, where the only possible intended outcome of bombing everything was to kill Goldin and his captors while collectively punishing the surrounding population in the process.
Winter continued with an even more contradictory remark, hinting that the response in Rafah was partly an act of retribution. “Anyone who abducts should know that he will pay a price. This was not revenge. They simply messed with the wrong brigade,” he said.
Then, in a stunning display of hypocrisy, Winter (who relies on airstrikes and indiscriminate artillery fire to avoid face to face confrontations with the supposed enemy and who had to be woken up from a nap to be informed that his soldiers were killed in Rafah) tried to portray Palestinian resistance fighters as cowards.
“We fought against two Hamas brigades. Where were their brigade commanders?” he asked indignantly. “I hoped they would come face to face with us, but they chickened out. They sent their men forward, causing more evil and killing. That’s not combat. There were very few places where there were fighting retreats. They left everything and escaped.”
As an orthodox Jew firmly in Israel’s religious nationalist camp, Winter is making a career of mixing his brand of messianic Zionism with military aggression.
As a graduate of Bnei David, a religious pre-military academy located in Eli, an illegal Jewish-only settlement in the occupied West Bank, Winter epitomizes the mainstreaming of religiously motivated brutality in the Israeli army. Bnei David’s goal is to replace Israel’s largely secular military elite with religious Zionists, like Winter.
On the eve of Israel’s ground invasion, Winter declared in a letter to his troops that they were fighting a Jewish holy war to punish the blasphemous Palestinians of Gaza.
Responding to criticism of the letter, Winter doubled down, telling Yediot Ahronot, “if I had to do so, I would write the same letter again, without batting an eyelid.”
The impact of Winter’s fanaticism on Palestinians in Gaza was nothing short of catastrophic.
Soldiers from the Givati Brigade under Winter’s command made up the majority of ground troops that thundered into Khuzaa, a farming community near the Israeli boundary line. With massive artillery shelling accompanied by airstrikes, the Israeli army reduced all of Khuzaa to rubble to secure a path for columns of invading tanks, jeeps and soldiers.
Cut off from the outside world for days, the residents of Khuzaa were at the mercy of Winter’s religiously-guided soldiers who carried out summary executions of both fighters and civilians and mowed down anyone trying to flee, including a wheelchair-using 16-year-old girl with epilepsy and a wounded elderly woman crawling on the ground desperate for help.
Speaking about his brigade’s reign of terror in Khuzaa, Winter is cited by Yediot Ahronot as telling the ultra-Orthodox weekly newspaper Mishpacha that as the sun rose during the ground invasion, the movement of his troops remained hidden by “clouds of divine honor.”
“It was only when the homes that were supposed to be exploded were exploded and there was no longer any danger to our lives, the fog suddenly dispersed,” said Winter, insisting that the clouds were a direct intervention from God to protect the Jewish people.
Winter offered further religious explanations for his “victory” in Gaza to Yediot Ahronot.
Noting that the ground invasion coincided with “The Between the Straits Days” — a three-week mourning period observed by orthodox Jews to commemorate the ancient siege on Jerusalem and the loss of Jewish statehood — Winter opined that the overlap “was not just a coincidence.”
The Between the Straits Days end on the 9th of Av, also known as Tisha B’Av [observed on 5 August of this year], the very day that the fighting ended. It was especially on this day, a day of national mourning, that the decision was made: the IDF [Israeli military], the Nation of Israel – they won. We proved that we are a unified, determined nation and that we will not be beaten. Unitedness won. No ill words were spoken. Even the ultra-orthodox public – which cannot be taken for granted – fought with all its might from the place where it stands [meaning they prayed very hard]. I received lots of messages during the war. This is a tikun - repair - for what our ancestors have hurt. It enhanced the victory.
“The terrorists are the children” of Gaza
Despite the Palestinian blood on his hands, or more likely because of it, Winter has emerged as a hero in Israel, completely revered within the military and adored by the public.
Asked about his earlier complaints that the political and military establishment was holding him back from finishing the job in Gaza, Winter told Yediot Ahronot that he is ultimately satisfied with the outcome of the onslaught and then proceeded to brag about the carnage.
“There are hundreds of terrorists who were killed,” he boasted. “That is the message – no matter what we do, we’ll go in wherever we want to go. It is important that the enemy know this.”
“We shredded them. We can do it much worse, and it’s best for them that we not do it,” added Winter. “We gave them a much stronger beating than in Cast Lead.”
“When the Palestinians return to their home they will understand the scope of the damage Hamas has inflicted on them. Hamas used them,” he said.
Winter clarified that the enemy is not just Hamas but all of Gaza.
“This population is a hostage, but I think it is also a partner. I don’t exonerate them of responsibility so quickly,” said Winter of the 1.8 million Palestinians who inhabit the besieged coastal enclave, half of whom are children.
“True, there are some pitiable people there, but in many cases the terrorists are the children or relatives of the people who live there. In almost every home there is a son or other relative that is a partner in terror. How do you raise children in a home with explosives? In the end, everyone gets what they choose.”
“Forces of darkness”
He went on to call the Israeli assault “A just war against a cruel enemy. We, who sanctify life, fought against an enemy who sanctifies death. The forces of light against the forces of darkness.”
“This is an important statement due to the absolutism of it,” explains Israel expert Dena Shunra, who translated the article for The Electronic Intifada. “If Hamas (or Gaza as a whole) are the forces of darkness, any action is absolved. It is a Manichean sentiment similar to what we hear from the US military, and does not leave any room for ending hostilities – a war to the death.”
Winter’s warped vision of a civilian population in Gaza complicit in the “forces of darkness” essentially justifies killing them en masse, which is exactly what he did in Rafah and Khuzaa.
As a result, “[Winter] cannot walk around today without being halted, hugged, asked for a photo opportunity,” according to Yediot.
In a final address to his troops following the Gaza slaughter, Winter alluded to the next round of massacres.
“I am proud of you for everything that you have done. It is all thanks to you,” he told the soldiers. “I cannot promise you, like the song does, that this will be the last war, but I promise that this war, which is so just, will push the next war a good few years away.”
I hope this sadist coward is
Permalink William Fleitz replied on
I hope this sadist coward is tried and convicted and is included historically alongside Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Mengele, and other mass killers.
Simply extraordinary! Didn't
Permalink Extreme Leftism replied on
Simply extraordinary! Didn't Stalin shoot his own soldiers? I wonder what the soldier's family thinks. I mean, Shalit came back alive.
A true nazi. No more no less
Permalink Anonymous replied on
A true nazi. No more no less
Permalink Vacy Vlazna replied on
Colonel Ofer Winter is the perfect example of the war criminal Givati mongrels whom the Strauss Group supports.
Israeli officer admits vile killings.
Permalink Neil Armstrong replied on
Yes, this so called soldier is an evil war criminal, & shows what an appalling attitude of these Zionist Israelis, utterly inhumane.
Sorry, Colonel Winter is a
Permalink wayne replied on
Sorry, Colonel Winter is a hero. The soldiers in Israel are not in the dark about the "Hannibal" policy. Mess with a bull you get the horns. Thank god, Israel has a bull named Winter.
Winter could only be "a hero"
Permalink maggie replied on
Winter could only be "a hero" to a craven, morally deficient person. He's a murderer. It says a lot about Israel that they kill any and every one who might not suit their purposes by being alive. I find the concept despicable.
You use the right word
Permalink Cheryl Erland replied on
You begin with "sorry". I only wish you were. Anyone who can find it in himself to commend the killing of innocent people, including children, is sorry indeed. What would it take for you to be rid of the brainwashing you have been subjected to? Do you have any moral fibre? Do you have a soul? Any sane person reading your remark will surely be wondering. I'll pray for you but it's up to God to have mercy on your soul - if one exists in you. Because it's beyond me how any human could.
Permalink Barbara Lyons replied on
As a secular Jew I look at the "far right" of every major religion with contempt. It seems to me one can cherry pick the books and "holy" writings of any religion to support what you intend to do. I guess I cherry pick as well, since I prefer to stand with those of any religion who live by the following words: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Thank you, when all people
Permalink Ralph replied on
Thank you, when all people put themselves in other's shoes there will be peace.
This heartless brute admits
Permalink maggie replied on
This heartless brute admits freely to committing war crimes? Where are the charges against him?
Permalink Wayne replied on
Did the Soviets ever get charged with war crimes? Only time war crimes are brought up is when you loose the war.
Permalink Rob Roy replied on
How about the US in every war we've been in? We've used, for example, chemicals weapons (napalm, agent orange, white phosphorus, etc.) in all our wars, wars that were and are completely unnecessary....using propaganda to see the people on "bringing democracy" (to those foreign, less than human, ignorant people who need our guidance) and "humanitarian" reasons. We have shoved Britain, France, etc. aside for the top imperialist on earth. Ever heard of The Shock Doctrine...it's alive and ruining countries as fast as Milton Freedman would have loved. HE'S the worst criminal we ever had, and revered enough to get a Nobel prize in economics! If any countries should be tried for war crimes it's the USA and Israel. (Even G.W.B. knows that...he can't go to Europe or he will be arrested.) BTW, Putin? He had to take back Crimea. We have 1100 bases; Russia has a handful. Who is the aggressor? As Gorbachev said, "You can't trust Americans" when NATO lied and began creeping through the Balkan and Baltic states to surround Russia. Our country's foreign policies are ugly and intend nothing more than taking over and owing all the world's resources for the rich "capatalistic corporations." I don't know what will kill humanity first...but I do know the US and Israel will be at the forefront of the destruction. (How don't those people know that they will die out, too? Crazy arrogance.)
Permalink Rob Roy replied on
The Soviets? What about Israel in all their history of what it calls its state? In every “operation” that they commit every couple years, especially since the legal and democratic election of Hamas in 2006, they just keep “mowing the lawn” and now call it “removing the top soil” …committing war crimes of genocide against the Palestinians. What about the US in all its phony wars? How about the mustard gas, napalm, white phosphorus, agent orange (my cousin is dying from it today) and all the other crimes, such as rendition, torture, etc., all disguised to the gullible public as “bringing democracy” (to the ignorant other) and “humanitarianism.” I.t is always about taking resources from any and every place in the world who has whatever it is we (the good western folks) want. “American interests abroad”…the ugliest phrase one can speak. Now, we are stumping for war against the Russians, blaming Putin (with lie after lie) for things NATO (US) caused by breaking promises not to move NATO into the Balkan and Baltic states, surrounding Russia. As Gorbachev said, “You can’t trust Americans.” Now we are going to bomb Iraq and Syria and hold up beheaded journalists as a cause…another flag to incite “patriotism.” When Israel is as bad as ISIS and no one says so, we can expect more of the same until we are all dead. It would give us hope if all war criminals were tried in a non-prejudice international court. That would be every president we’ve had and all of Israel’s prime ministers. (GWB won’t leave America because he knows he’d be tried.)
Permalink Sean Breathnach replied on
The day of reckoning will come for those Israeli's who murder and support the murder of the innocent people of Gaza and the West Bank. How courageous the Israeli army is to shower with bombs, Gaza from the air, sea & tanks. That truly is barbaric & outrageous. As for the support of the US for those actions, that truly is hypocrisy of the highest order.
Anyone who thinks this man is
Permalink angela replied on
Anyone who thinks this man is a hero is sick in the head. Pure fascism, pur dehumanization of another people. A sicko revered as a hero by other sickos.
Ofer Winter's brutality and ignorance
Permalink Rob Roy replied on
Ofer Winter: How were you ever created? So vile, yet so proud of it. You and your brigade are the "ISIS" of Israel. You call Hamas terrorists when Israelis are the real terrorists. Hamas builds schools, parks, playgrounds, hospitals and help people with medicine, money, food when they need help. You murder children and steal land. You are a hero to ignorant racists. What would you do if you lived in a prison with no way out without permission from an occupier and every couple of years your families are decimated...in this last over 550 children are dead. How would you feel if your fishing waters shrank from 20 miles, to 12 miles, to 3 miles and if your boat went over the line you would be killed? How would you like your pay for work to be held up for months at someone's discretion when the money belongs to you? How would you like to be allowed the fewest calories possible just to stay alive. How would you like your family's 500 year old olive orchard to be ripped out of the ground and your captors take the land for their housing? How would you like someone else determining whether or not you get medicine, water, electricity? How would you like to be questioned, sometimes brutally, at checkpoints. In fact, how would you like to have to go through checkpoints at all just to get home or have them closed off altogether at some official's whim? How would you like to always lose in court even when you are right? Genocide of Palestinians has been Israel's goal since the beginning of the so-called state of Israel. You are a disgusting war criminal and so set on destroying Gazans for their gas reserves (and for pure hate) that you will probably wind up prime minister and follow the insane Netanyahu into infamy.
Ofer Winter's brutality and ignorance
Permalink neil Armstrong replied on
People who praise this genocidal sadist are not just mentally deranged but it is a military buffoon like him that will cause the end of Israel eventually which is bad for decent Israelis.
This is a tikun - repair - for what our ancestors have hurt
Permalink Mario Kenny replied on
"This is a tikun - repair - for what our ancestors have hurt. It enhanced the victory. "
This part of a statement is an Adolf Hitler moment for the Colonel Ofer Winter. Hitler said a similar statement naming the Germans having gotten revenge for loss of land as a result of the Versiles agreement after the first world war. This man will be the next leader of Israel, will the fate of Germany be played out again, in another part of the world? History seems to consistantly reoccur.
Any one believes or not Hamas
Permalink Slave of allah replied on
Any one believes or not Hamas with the help of Allah has won the war in Gaza despite all the aid from us and uk for the terrorist state if Israel. TSI has lost a highest number of its terrorists in this invasion and they must realise not to mess with Hammas in future.
Permalink Dave replied on
Difficult to read this, and hard to believe that there are people on the planet with us at the moment who so reject sensible and good sense as to see the murder of children as a success. The Israel-Palestine situation is in my mind comparable with a classroom teacher responding to one pupils bad behavior by throwing a grenade into the classroom, killing half the children then insisting it was self defense.
Permalink Sean Breathnach replied on
The world is shocked at the barbaric murder by Isis of innocent journalists and rightly so. The Americans are joining with other countries to attack Isis. Still little is heard from the world of the murder in Gaza of innocent civilians including children. The so called democratic state of Israel acts with impunity with the backing of the USA, the land of the free. We thought that when Mr Obama was elected president, based on his election speeches, that he would stand up and be counted for the downtrodden of this world. That he would stand up for the Palestinians in their quest for a state of their own. Sadly this has not been the case. I'm afraid Mr Obama has not got the courage of his convictions. He just continues to repeat the propaganda that the Israelis churn out after each atrocity. Ofer Winter may be an officer, but he is no gentleman.
As Rim Banna sings on the album 'A Time To Cry' (A Lament Over Jerusalem) 'The whole world watches in silence'. How true that statement is.
I would sincerely like to thank, Gideon Levy, Noam Chomsky, Miko Peled, Ali Abunimah, and many more folks that have the courage of their convictions.
Sean Breathnach's comment
Permalink Rob Roy replied on
Thank you for your erudite contribution to this important discussion.