Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin rejected calls Sunday to investigate long-suppressed allegations of Israeli war crimes against Egyptian prisoners of war, saying both sides were guilty of “aberrations.”
“I am not saying there were no aberrations,” Rabin told the Cabinet in his first substantive remarks on the alleged atrocities.
“There were aberrations on both sides. There is no purpose in raising events of the past, not on our side and not on theirs. Raising the issue embarrasses the Arab side as well,” he said.
Rabin issued a statement last week saying that the Israel Defense Forces are “a humane army whose soldiers are blessed with special moral values.”
Cabinet Secretary Shmuel Hollander said Rabin stressed that “these events were real exceptions.”
Israel is reeling from two weeks of revelations that its soldiers killed prisoners and civilians in at least three Mideast wars. The disclosures have shaken the widely held conviction among Israelis that their citizen-soldiers are morally superior to other armies.
Stories of the atrocities emerged earlier this month when retired Gen. Arye Biro said Israeli troops under his command killed 49 Egyptian prisoners of war in the Sinai Desert in 1956 because they did not have enough soldiers to guard them.
His revelations led to similar disclosures about killings of prisoners in the 1948 and 1967 wars. Military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki told the Associated Press that Israeli troops carried out mass killings in the Sinai in 1967 in which 1,000 Egyptian prisoners died.
Egypt has demanded that Israel investigate the allegations, and Israel’s Foreign Ministry has asked the army to prepare a report.
Atty. Gen. Michael Ben-Yair is checking the legal implications of the allegations. Israel has no war-crimes law, and murder charges can only be filed within 20 years of a crime.
Many questions remain unanswered, including the extent of the alleged crimes, why details were censored for so long and the involvement of senior Israeli officials, including Rabin, who was army chief of staff during the 1967 war.