Moral Low Ground


Israeli Troops Admit Gaza War Atrocities

IDF troops search for Hamas tunnels during the 2014 Gaza war. (Photo: Israel Defense Forces)

IDF troops search for Hamas tunnels during the 2014 Gaza war. (Photo: Israel Defense Forces)

Scores of IDF officers, troops describe indiscriminate killing, gratuitous destruction during 2014 Gaza offensive in new report 

Dozens of officers and soldiers who served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) during the 2014 Gaza war have admitted to committing or witnessing atrocities, including indiscriminately killing innocent Palestinian civilians, in blistering new report.

On Monday, Breaking the Silence, an organization of IDF veterans, released a report containing damning testimonies from 60 soldiers who served during last year’s Operation Protective Edge, the 50-day Israeli air, land and sea campaign targeting Hamas rockets and fighters in which as many as 1,500 innocent Palestinian men, women and children were killed and more than 10,000 people were seriously wounded or permanently disabled.

According to the United Nations, around 70 percent of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were civilians. On the Israeli side, 66 IDF soldiers and six civilians, including a child, were killed in combat, and by rockets and artillery fired by Hamas and other militants.

Among the war crimes and atrocities acknowledged by the troops who witnessed committed them were shooting innocent civilians out of sheer boredom, being told that “there are no innocent civilians” in Gaza, firing artillery into densely populated neighborhoods to avenge the deaths of IDF comrades and reducing entire neighborhoods to ruins.

Soldier after soldier said lax rules of engagement contributed to the high civilian death toll.

“There were no rules of engagement. If you see anyone in that area, that person is a terrorist,” recounted one staff sergeant. “In this context, it was simple. They told us they have intelligence that there are practically no civilians remaining in the area, and so if someone comes towards us, that person is a terrorist.”

Commanders “made it clear that there were no uninvolved civilians,” said one infantry staff sergeant. “If you shoot someone in Gaza it’s cool, it’s no big deal.”

An armored corps staff sergeant recalled receiving orders to kill anyone he saw: “Anything still there is as good as dead. Anything you see moving in the neighborhoods you’re in is not supposed to be there. The [Palestinian] civilians know they are not supposed to be there. Therefore whoever you see there, you kill.”

One IDF infantry staff sergeant said most Israelis consider killing Palestinians to be “a badge of honor” and that “everybody wants to come out of there (Gaza) with that feeling of satisfaction” of having earned that badge.

“Those guys were trigger happy, totally crazy,” one infantry lieutenant said of his IDF comrades. “Those were their orders, I’m certain of it, there’s no chance anybody would just go around shooting like that.”

Another staff sergeant admitted he didn’t “give a fuck” about Palestinian civilians, and that “if they deserve something it’s either to be badly wounded or killed.” One day, he saw another IDF soldier shoot and wound an old man. “The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain,” and “none of the paramedics wanted to go treat him.”

“It was clear to everyone that one of two things was going to happen: Either we let him die slowly, or we put him out of his misery,” the staff sergeant said. “Eventually, we put him out of his misery, and a D9 (US-supplied Caterpillar armored bulldozer) came over and dropped a mound of rubble on him and that was the end of it. In order to avoid having to deal with the question of whether he was booby-trapped or not—because that really didn’t interest anyone at that moment, the D9 came over, dropped a pile of rubble on his body and that was it. Everyone knew that under that pile there was the guy’s corpse.”

People who were clearly civilians were classified as “terrorists” in bids to absolve IDF killers from responsibility. One infantryman described killing two unarmed women. “They were listed as terrorists,” he said, adding sarcastically, “they were fired at, so of course they were terrorists.”

The soldiers interviewed for the report said the destruction and devastation caused by the Israeli bombing and invasion were even more severe than they appear in photos.

“It was total destruction in there—the photos online are child’s play compared to what we saw there in reality,” one sergeant first class said. “It wasn’t so much razing there, it was havoc, mostly: wrecked houses, collapsed balconies, exposed living rooms, destroyed stores. That’s what we saw. I never saw anything like it, not even in Lebanon. There was destruction there, too—but never in my life did I see anything like this.”

“Because they (IDF troops) knew that there was pressure to go in and finish the job very, very quickly… they went in just to destroy stuff. Just to purposelessly destroy stuff, to finish the job, until they were told to stop,” added one lieutenant.

Adding insult to injury were testimonies from IDF soldiers describing gratuitous acts of destruction and humiliation. Since diarrhea was a real problem among Israeli troops, many relieved themselves wherever they could, including in cookware found in the kitchens of Gazan homes. “Everyone, from the commander all the way down, took dumps in pots, out of some kind of operational principle,” said one infantry staff sergeant. “Whatever.”

Spurred on by the constant threat of rocket attack and by calls for ethnic cleansing and genocide against Palestinians by prominent Israeli politicians and media outlets, and certain that Hamas fighters were hiding and operating in civilian infrastructure, Israeli forces laid waste to entire neighborhoods. United Nations schools doubling as shelters for terrified refugees, hospitals, even children playing were bombed or shot. Entire families were wiped out on numerous occasions.

In addition to killing many innocent civilians in Gaza, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and other international human rights and aid organizations accused Israeli forces of deliberately shooting and killing unarmed civilians attempting to flee for their lives in Gaza, as well as of targeting and killing medical personnel attempting to rescue the injured.

Both the United Nations Human Rights Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) have launched investigations of possible Israeli war crimes committed during Operation Protective Edge. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was prepared to do everything in his power to thwart the ICC investigation.

Israeli officials, backed by human rights groups including Amnesty International, have reported that Hamas and other Palestinian militants used civilians as human shields and hid rockets, launchers and other weapons inside civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and mosques.

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