An Israeli sniper killed a Palestinian man in order to mark a "score" with his gun. Soldiers fired at houses out of boredom. A commander expressed satisfaction that Gaza hospitals were full. These are some of the testimonies given by Israelis soldiers who fought in the recent Gaza war in a report released Wednesday.
"One guy said he just couldn't finish this operation without killing someone. So he killed someone, apparently some sort of lookout," one soldier reported. "I can definitely say [the Palestinian]was not armed. I can definitely say the soldier regarded this as some children's game and was delighted and laughing after this."-
During the past few months, 26 Israeli soldiers - both regular and reserve - shared their most troubling experiences from the war with the organization Breaking the Silence, creating the first large collection of Israeli testimonies from the battle.
The Israeli human-rights organization, founded by former soldiers whose goal is to reveal to Israeli society the actions of service men and women, released the soldiers' statements, but hid their identities to protect them, particularly the regular soldiers who are prohibited from speaking publicly.
The soldiers - from the armoured corps, paratroopers, engineering corps, special forces and infantry - gave an alarming sense that despite their army's insistence it took every measure to avoid civilian casualties, many commanders from different levels gave soldiers a license to kill and destroy without regard for human life or property.
One soldier reported that a colonel told his battalion before entering Gaza that they would be going into Gaza aggressively and added: "Fortunately the hospitals are full to capacity already, so people are dying more quickly."
About 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the 22-day battle, including some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians. Israel destroyed more than 3,000 homes and damaged some 20,000 others - in some cases entire neighbourhoods were razed.
"The soldiers were told to do everything, even kill innocent people, to avoid getting killed themselves," said Yehuda Shaul, the Canadian-Israeli director of Breaking the Silence. The military "dropped its own moral code of conduct."
The Israeli army responded to the report saying it was "defaming and slandering the [Israel Defense Forces]and its commanders," but it did not deny the claims and instead stated the testimonies show "the soldiers operated in accord with international law."
The army slammed the soldiers for not revealing their identities and said it was committed to investigating any claims. In fact, it refused to co-operate with the Amnesty International and UN investigations.
According to the soldiers who talked to Breaking the Silence, combat almost never happened. The army used massive firepower from tanks, artillery, air and sea to prevent soldiers from facing Palestinian fighters or risking injury from a booby-trapped house.
For some soldiers, the lack of combat led them to fire on houses or water tanks in frustration or boredom.
The rules of engagement for opening fire were at best vague, often not given or non-existent: some commanders gave soldiers permission to shoot if they had any question about a person or a place.
The lack of clear rules of engagement meant the soldiers had to decipher protocol for themselves. Palestinians were not allowed to be out at night and if they were they should be shot. Talking on cellphones or using binoculars made a civilian suspect, too, and turned him into a possible target. Soldiers made imaginary boundaries around the places they were located. If a Palestinian crossed the boundary, he should be shot. People were left to die, for fear they might be carrying explosives.
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