“I think, deep inside, it bothered me a little. But after three weeks in Gaza, when you’re firing at everything that moves, and even things that don’t move, at a psychotic pace, you don’t really … good and bad get a little mixed up and your morality starts to get lost and you lose your compass. And it becomes like a computer game. Really, really cool and real.”
A Palestinian man carries the lifeless body of a child to an emergency room at Shifa hospital in Gaza City, Sunday, July 20, 2014. A new wave of casualties arrives after daybreak Sunday, following a night of heavy Israeli tank fire on Gaza City’s Shijaiyah neighborhood. Hospital guards shout at drivers to move to make room for the next vehicles, pushing back journalists and onlookers.
Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers, harshly slammed the Israeli army for its operational policy during last summer’s aggression on Gaza, saying it led to “immense and unprecedented harm to the civilian population and infrastructures in the Gaza Strip,” Monday reported the Israeli daily Haaretz.
According to WAFA, the organization’s report, which contained testimonies of 60 Israeli soldiers and officers who fought in Gaza last summer, said the testimonies “are indicative of a general principle that governed the entire military operation: minimum risk to the Israeli forces, even if it meant civilian casualties.”
The group said that the army adopted a principle that “anyone found in an IDF area, which the IDF had occupied, was not a civilian. That was the assumption,” one of the soldiers told Breaking the Silence.
An infantry soldier said also any home which Israeli forces entered and used would be destroyed afterward by large D9 bulldozers. “At no point until the end of the operation … did anyone tell us what the operational usefulness was in exposing the houses,” he was quoted by Haaretz.
“During a conversation, the unit commanders explained that it wasn’t an act of revenge. At a certain point we realized this was a trend. You leave a house and there’s no longer a house. The D9 comes and exposes it.”
Another soldier said, “There was one senior commander who really loved the D9 and was really in favor of flattening; he worked a lot with them. Let’s just say that anytime he was in a certain place, all the infrastructures around the building were totally destroyed – nearly every house had a shell in it.”
Another infantry soldier also recalled an incident in which a force identified two suspicious figures walking in an orchard, only a few hundred meters away. The lookouts couldn’t immediately identify them, so a drone was sent up to take a look. It was two women walking through the orchard, talking on cell phones. “The aircraft took aim at these women and killed them,” he said.
According to the soldier, reports Haaretz, the fact that the women were carrying only cell phones was reported to the battalion commander. “Despite this, in the reports written afterward, the women were classified as terrorists – lookouts who were operating in the area.” “[The tank commander] left and we moved on. They were counted as terrorists. They were shot, so it’s clear they were terrorists,” he said.
Haaretz revealed other reports of shooting at civilians. A woman who was clearly unstable and posed no threat was reportedly ordered by the battalion commander to walk westward, toward an area where tanks were stationed. When the woman approached the tank force, she was machine-gunned to death.
Another soldier who fought in northern Gaza spoke of an old man being shot when he approached a force one afternoon. Previously, the forces had been briefed to look out for an older man who might be carrying grenades. “The guy who was in the [guard] position – I don’t know what came over him; he saw a civilian, shot him, and didn’t hit him so well. The civilian was lying there writhing in pain,” the soldier said.
Meanwhile, an Armored Corps soldier said that after the death of a fellow platoon member, the platoon commander announced they would fire a volley of shells in his memory. “Fire like they do at funerals, but with shells and at houses. It wasn’t [firing] in the air. You just chose [where to fire]. The tank commander said, ‘Choose the house that’s furthest away, it will hurt them the most.’ It was a type of revenge,” he said.
Another Armored Corps soldier said that after three weeks of fighting, a competition developed between the members of his unit – who could succeed in hitting moving vehicles on a road that carried cars, trucks and even ambulances.
“So I found a vehicle, a taxi, and I tried to shell it but missed,” he recalled. “Two more vehicles came, and I tried another shell or two, but couldn’t do it. Then the commander came and said, ‘Yallah [which means come on], stop it, you’re using up all the shells. Cut it out.’ So we moved to the heavy machine gun,” he added.
He said he understood he was firing at civilians. Asked about it, he said, “I think, deep inside, it bothered me a little. But after three weeks in Gaza, when you’re firing at everything that moves, and even things that don’t move, at a psychotic pace, you don’t really … good and bad get a little mixed up and your morality starts to get lost and you lose your compass. And it becomes like a computer game. Really, really cool and real.”