Israel decorates eight soldiers for showing “heroism” in the widely condemned Operation Cast Lead which killed hundreds of Palestinians earlier this year.
Major General Yoav Galant presented the soldiers with the honor medals on Wednesday at a ceremony attended by top Southern Command brass and the heads of councils and communities from the western Negev.
Galant said the army had reached its goals in the weeks-long offensive on the Gaza Strip and that the "soldiers acted out of faith in the justice of our cause, and their moral norms are praiseworthy."
"In the tough hours of the trial through fire you bravely and resiliently persevered. You are a lighthouse of morality and values," The Jerusalem Post quoted him as saying.
The decoration comes in the face of worldwide criticism against Tel Aviv’s use of warfare against the Palestinians and several reports by international bodies and human rights watchdogs against Israel’s violation of international laws during the offensive.
In July, the activist group Breaking the Silence released print and video testimony from some 30 soldiers who said they entered Gaza with blazing guns upon a "permissive" guideline by commanders, urging to shoot first and worry later about distinguishing civilians from combatants.
The 112-page testimony describes a "Neighbor Procedure" in which civilians were forced to enter suspected buildings as human shields ahead of Israeli troops.
It also charged Israel with using forbidden white phosphorus indiscriminately into Gaza streets where Israel’s aerial bombardment and artillery with the help of armored bulldozers razed massive areas, including acres of gardens and farms.
In April, former South African UN prosecutor Richard Goldstone led an independent fact-finding mission commissioned by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations during the Gaza war.
The committee’s 575-page report mostly highlighted Israeli atrocities against the people in the beleaguered Gaza Strip and documented deliberate targeting of centers, such as schools and mosques, known to be holding civilians.
The document also filed complaints that the Israeli soldiers killed unarmed people on the run, saying some of the victims were even waving white flags.
In October, the damning report was put up for a vote in the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council and endorsed by an overwhelming majority of 114 countries while 18 opposed and 44 abstained.
More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed during the three-week Israeli land, sea and air offensive in the Gaza Strip which also devastated a large part of the infrastructure in the impoverished coastal enclave.