ISRAELI forces involved in last summer's military operation in
Gaza - in which more than 2000 Palestinians lost their lives -
sometimes fired indiscriminately, and thereby killed and injured
civilians, according to testimony from a number of the troops
Video interviews were recorded by Breaking the Silence, an
organisation of Israeli veteran combatants and a partner of
Christian Aid. Both groups are calling for an independent inquiry
into the allegations.
The Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have consistently said that
fire was directed only at carefully identified military targets
during the Gaza offensive - called Protective Edge - and that all
possible steps were taken to avoid civilian casualties.
But an Israeli staff sergeant who served in the northern Gaza
Strip, and was interviewed by Breaking the Silence, contested this
assertion. Asked whether the rules of engagement were explained to
troops before they entered Gaza, he replied: "There were no rules
of engagement. If you see anyone in that area, that person is a
terrorist. 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
Another interviewee described reviewing video footage of the
Shujaiya district of Gaza City, to assess the impact of an earlier
strike. The neighbourhood was "scorched, burned to the ground.
Entire streets where one building is half-destroyed, the next one
totally destroyed, the next one half-destroyed. Entire streets were
totally shelled, and I needed to verify a certain target that had
clearly been obliterated.
"I opened up the footage, and saw that it was taken right after
the strike had been carried out, and there were lots of people
there, and lots of ambulances, and a whole lot of smoke and lots of
commotion. And from what we knew, that area was supposedly devoid
Asked who had given that assurance, the soldier replied: "The
commanders, in off-the-record-type conversations, or during all
kinds of briefings. Just so we'd know, for our general knowledge,
that this is what's going on. That there's no civilians supposed to
be there, and any who are, are there because they chose to be.
"In conversations between us, it was summed up as: 'There's
nothing we can do, war is war.' You don't really talk about it -
any discourse or opinions that are slightly 'deviant' are pretty
When the force withdrew, he said, "hardly any" houses were still
standing. Only rubble remained, "a mound where a building once
stood, houses simply scattered around. We didn't actually get an
operational order stating that that was the objective; but,
ultimately, no house was supposed to be left standing. A 500-metre
radius where not a single house is left standing."
The director of Breaking the Silence, Yuli Novak, said that from
the testimonies given by Israeli officers and soldiers, "a
troubling picture arises of a policy of indiscriminate fire that
led to the deaths of innocent civilians.
"We learn from the testimonies that there is a broad ethical
failure in the IDF's rules of engagement, and that this failure
comes from the top of the chain of command, and is not merely the
result of 'rotten apples'. As officers and soldiers, we know that
internal military investigations scapegoat simple soldiers rather
than focusing on policy."
The Israeli public, Ms Novak said, had a right to "know what
missions its sons are being sent to carry out, and according to
which norms the IDF acts in its name. We call for the establishment
of an investigative committee external to the IDF which will
investigate the policy behind the rules of engagement given during
Christian Aid is backing the call for an investigation. Its
Policy and Advocacy Officer for Israel and the Palestinians,
William Bell, said that the soldiers' testimonies reinforced "the
need for an independent commission of inquiry in order to ensure
that those who breach international law are held to account".