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In this September, 2014 photo, a Palestinian man looks out of his heavily damaged house at neighbouring houses which witnesses said were destroyed during the Israeli offensive, in the east of Gaza City.SUHAIB SALEM/Reuters

Several images remain vivid from Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza a year ago.

There was the massive exodus of people (non-combatants) from the town of Shejaia in the hours before Israeli forces pulverized the area that was the source of many of the Hamas tunnels that led right into Israel.

Also the image of an ambulance driver gently laying down the charred body of an infant on a baby blanket he placed on the floor of his vehicle. The child's parents were either unwilling or unable to flee Shejaia that day.

There was the massive, roaring launch of a pair of R160 rockets from just outside a United Nations school I was visiting in Jabaliya. The school for boys had been turned into a shelter for hundreds of people seeking refuge from the fighting. The sound of the rockets was so loud and the sky so darkened by their nearness that, for an instant, I actually thought it was a jet about to crash into us.

But, more than anything else, there was the leg. This limb, adult-sized, was still attached to a person. But the rest of him – I believe it was a man – was on the sixth floor of a Gaza City apartment building, protruding from the rubble of four other floors that had collapsed on him and several other people. I saw it from the ground below, and watched as a rescue worker made his way to the body and covered the leg with a sheet, preserving its last shred of dignity from the wide-eyed crowd below.

What appeared to have happened was that an Israeli precision-guided missile had penetrated the sixth floor of the building, immediately killing some targeted individual (and whoever was with him).

But, in doing so, the blast had weakened the support structure for the storeys above. Within a short time, the four floors buckled, much in the manner of the Twin Towers on 9/11. Many of the people had a chance to get out, but not all of them did, certainly not the man whose leg protruded.

It is quite true that the Israeli forces used precision in carrying out many of its attacks in last summer's war. They did so in part to minimize unintended casualties, or "collateral damage," and to be able to say they acted carefully.

It also is true that the Israelis often warned many Gaza civilians to vacate areas or buildings that their forces were about to shell. Sometimes they sent people text messages, occasionally they dropped leaflets. They even used the famous "knock on the roof," in which a small shell is fired onto the top of a building to indicate that a much larger barrage is imminent, thereby giving people time to flee.

It didn't always work: Hamas discouraged people from bolting, and sometimes people were unable to move fast enough. Of the more than 2,000 Gazans killed in the 50-day conflict, about two-thirds were probably non-combatants.

They didn't all die from Israeli missiles or artillery shells. Some perished because they found themselves in the line of fire of advancing Israeli armoured ground forces.

In a grim but credible report called This is How We Fought in Gaza, an Israeli organization known as Breaking the Silence has published the testimony it gathered of more than a hundred Israeli soldiers and officers who took part in the campaign against Hamas.

Consistently, these fighters spoke of lax rules of engagement and of the overarching principle that minimizing Israeli casualties was the pre-eminent consideration in deciding when to open fire and against whom.

Tank commanders said they often fired on buildings adjacent to their target, just in case there were enemy forces inside. Snipers said they fired at anything, even a curtain that moved.

All had the same point drilled into them by their commanders: We've warned people to get out. If there's anyone still there, you can safely assume they're not innocents.

"Within the context of the unclear, undefined instructions, it was obvious that if it wasn't our forces there, we needed to shoot," one infantry sergeant said.

A sergeant in the armoured corps put it bluntly: "People who look at you from the window of a house that is in your designated area – they, to put it mildly, won't look any more."

Yet another sergeant, in the engineering division, recalled: "The instructions are to shoot right away, whoever you spot – be they armed or unarmed, no matter what."

While the policy of putting the lives of Israeli soldiers before the lives of enemy civilians resulted in keeping Israeli casualties to a minimum, many people will use it to question the Israelis' claim that their army is "the most moral army in the world."

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