TEL AVIV // A new website listing names and photographs of dozens of Israeli soldiers involved in the onslaught launched by Israel in Gaza in late 2008 appears to have embarrassed the Israeli army.
The site, which Israeli media reported was initiated by anonymous British activists and hosted by a US-based internet service, dubbed the 200 soldiers listed as "war criminals". The list also included the home addresses, birth dates and national ID numbers of many of the Israelis, who range from low-ranking soldiers to senior officers.
The list seemed to be part of a growing effort by activists, both in Israel and abroad, to pursue the pressing of war crime charges under the principle of universal jurisdiction against Israeli soldiers who participated in the attack. The three-week offensive launched by Israel in December 2008 resulted in the killings of about 1,400 Gazans, most of them civilians.
The disclosure of the troops' details also appeared to expose the Israeli military's growing difficulty in restricting such information from being revealed in the internet era, despite the army's technology-savvy image. Data such as soldiers' home addresses is not typically readily available to the public in Israel.
The Israeli military on Friday condemned the website, saying the data was published "without any factual basis whatsoever". It played down the possibility that the publication may endanger troops, saying the information "poses no real threat to those whose names ended up on the list". But the response of some senior army officials indicated otherwise. Avi Zamir, the head of the army's manpower division, called the details' publication a "grave event" and pledged to "support the soldiers and officers" listed.
High-profile Israeli politicians or army officers have been increasingly pulling out of visits to European countries such as Britain and Belgium, where legal action has been weighed against those involved in the Gaza operation, for fear of arrest over war crimes allegations under universal jurisdiction laws. However, no cases have gone ahead.
Nevertheless, in January, the Israeli military put off a visit by a team of its commanders to London over fears that they risked being detained. Such concerns were one of the key issues discussed during a visit by the UK's foreign secretary to Israel earlier this month.
The website drew wide coverage in Israel because it was unusual in that it listed not only the army's top-ranking officers, but also commanders of battalions, companies and platoons and even conscripted soldiers. "From now on, European travel may entail some risk even to a young platoon commander from the paratroopers' brigade, who may have in the meantime been released from the army and was considering studying abroad," wrote Amos Harel, a commentator in the Haaretz newspaper. "Beyond the threat of arrest, a publication of this nature may trigger some very unpleasant responses with which Israelis may have to contend."
The site, which had been called "Israeli war criminals", was removed by its hosting service on Friday because of an unspecified breach in its terms of service, Haaretz reported. Nevertheless, before its removal, the information it had gathered - written in both Hebrew and English - was rapidly replicated on other blogs and websites and remains available. Israeli media reported that the list was riddled with inaccuracies, including listing soldiers who never participated in the Gaza assault. But the reports also said that the apparently updated personal data indicate that the website's creators collaborated with Israelis, possibly even soldiers, in gathering the details.
The introduction to the list says the information came from an anonymous source who was "presumably" serving in the Israeli military. "The people listed here held positions of command at the time of the attack," the activists wrote. "Therefore, not only did they perform on behalf of a murderous state mechanism but actively encouraged other people to do the same."
According to Haaretz, even the names of officers who replaced wounded battalion commanders during the war were included on the list, indicating its gatherers' "considerable proficiency".