“Therefore whoever you see there, you kill”: Israeli soldiers in their own words on the savagery committed by IDF in Gaza
The Israeli group Breaking the Silence issued a report this morning containing testimony from Israeli soldiers about the savagery and criminality committed by the Israeli military during the attack on Gaza last summer. The Independent has a good article describing the report’s findings: “The Israeli military deliberately pounded civilian areas in the Gaza Strip with incessant fire of inaccurate ordinance” and “was at best indifferent about casualties among the Palestinian population.” At best.
This should surprise nobody who paid any attention to the brutal Israeli destruction of Gaza or, for that matter, countless Israeli attacks before that. The U.N. has said that 7 out of 10 people killed by the Israelis were civilians, “including 1,462 civilians, among them 495 children and 253 women”; video of Israelis killing four Gazan boys as they played on a beach sickened anyone decent.
Nonetheless, reading the accounts from these Israeli soldiers is revolting and important in equal parts. It shines considerable light on the reality of what Israeli loyalists have long hailed as “the most moral army in the world,” one unfairly held to a difference standard that ignores their great “restraint.”
The Intercept has chosen some selected, representative excerpts from the report, with the rank of the testifying soldier indicated (each one was granted anonymity by the report’s organizers). This is the savage occupying force known as the Israeli Defense Forces:
“Whoever you see there, you kill”
[A]fter 48 hours during which no one shoots at you and they’re like ghosts, unseen, their presence unfelt – except once in a while the sound of one shot fired over the course of an entire day – you come to realize the situation is under control. And that’s when my difficulty there started, because the formal rules of engagement – I don’t know if for all soldiers – were, “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. . . .
The commander [gave that order]. “Anything you see in the neighborhoods you’re in, anything within a reasonable distance, say between zero and 200 meters – is dead on the spot. No authorization needed.” We asked him: “I see someone walking in the street, do I shoot him?” He said yes.
Did the commander discuss what happens if you run into civilians or uninvolved people?
There are none. The working assumption states – and I want to stress that this is a quote of sorts: that anyone located in an IDF area, in areas the IDF took over – is not [considered] a civilian. That is the working assumption. We entered Gaza with that in mind, and with an insane amount of firepower.
Shot a “grandpa” while he lay wounded on the ground
We were in a house with the reconnaissance platoon, and there was some soldier stationed at the guard post. We were instructed [during the briefings] that whoever’s in the area is dangerous, is suspect . . . .
A soldier who was in one of the posts saw an old [Palestinian] man approaching, so he shouted that some old man was getting near. He didn’t shoot at him – he fired near him. What I know, because I checked this, is that one of the other soldiers shot that grandpa twice. . . .
I went up to a window to see what was going on out there, and I saw there was an old man lying on the ground, he was shot in his leg and he was wounded. It was horrible, the wound was horrible, and he looked either dead or unconscious to me. . . . . And then after that, some guy from the company went out and shot that man again, and that, for me, was the last straw. I don’t think there was a single guy in my platoon who wasn’t shocked by that. It’s not like we’re a bunch of leftists, but – why? Like, what the hell, why did you have to shoot him again? One of the problems in this story is that there was no inquiry into it, at least none that I know of.
“Any person you run into: shoot to kill”
Staff Sargent, Engineering Corps:
They warned us, they told us that after a ceasefire the population might return . . . . The instructions were to open fire. They said, “No one is supposed to be in the area in which you will be” . . . .
[W]e asked, “Will the civilian population return? What will the situation look like now when we go in [to the Gaza Strip] again?” And they said, “You aren’t supposed to encounter the civilian population, no one is supposed to be in the area in which you’ll be. Which means that anyone you do run into is [to be regarded as] a terrorist.”
The instructions are to shoot right away. Whoever you spot – be they armed or unarmed, no matter what. The instructions are very clear. Any person you run into, that you see with your eyes – shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.
No incrimination process is necessary?
Used tanks to crush Palestinians’ cars purely for “fun”
During the entire operation the [tank] drivers had this thing of wanting to run over cars – because the driver, he can’t fire. He doesn’t have any weapon, he doesn’t get to experience the fun in its entirety, he just drives forward, backward, right, left. And they had this sort of crazy urge to run over a car. . . .
I mean, a car that’s in the street, a Palestinian car, obviously. And there was one time that my [tank’s] driver, a slightly hyperactive guy, managed to convince the tank’s officer to run over a car, and it was really not that exciting– you don’t even notice you’re going over a car, you don’t feel anything – we just said on the two-way radio: “We ran over the car. How was it?” And it was cool, but we really didn’t feel anything. . . .
So he came back in, and right then the officer had just gone out or something, so he sort of whispered to me over the earphones: “I scored some sunglasses from the car.” And after that, he went over and told the officer about it too, that moron, and the officer scolded him: “What, how could you do such a thing? I’m considering punishing you,” but in the end nothing happened, he kept the sunglasses, and he wasn’t too harshly scolded, it was all OK, and it turned out that a few of the other company’s tanks ran over cars, too.
“The citizens of Gaza, I really don’t give a fuck about them”
It was during our first Sabbath. Earlier that day one of the companies was hit by a few anti-tank missiles. The unit went to raid the area from which they were fired, so the guys who stayed behind automatically cared less about civilians. I remember telling myself that right now, the citizens of Gaza, I really don’t give a fuck about them. They don’t deserve anything – and if they deserve something it’s either to be badly wounded or killed. . . .
So this old man came over, and the guy manning the post – I don’t know what was going through his head – he saw this civilian, and he fired at him, and he didn’t get a good hit. The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain. We all remembered that story going around, so 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. Eventually, we put him out of his misery, and a D9 (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. . . . .
What came up during the investigation when the company commander asked the soldier, was that the soldier spotted a man in his late 60s, early 70s approaching the house. They were stationed in a tall house, with a good vantage point. The soldier spotted that guy going in his direction, toward his post. So he shot in the direction of his feet at the beginning. And he said the old man kept getting closer to the house so he shot a bullet beneath his left ribs. Kidney, liver, I don’t know what’s in there. A spot you don’t want to be hit by a bullet. That old man took the bullet, lay down on the ground, then a friend of that soldier came over and also shot the man, while he was already down. For the hell of it, he shot two more bullets at his legs. Meanwhile there was a talk with the commander, and because this was happening amidst a battalion offensive, it really didn’t interest anyone. “We have casualties up front, don’t bother us, do what you need to do.”
Shelling and machine-gunning “every house we passed” – then taking them over and using them
Staff Sargent, Engineering Corps:
I got the impression that every house we passed on our way got hit by a shell – and houses farther away too. It was methodical. There was no threat. It’s possible we were being shot at, but I truly wouldn’t have heard it if we were because that whole time the tanks’ Raphael OWS (machine guns operated from within the tanks) were being fired constantly. They were spraying every house with machine gun fire the whole time. . . .
[D]uring our walk there was no sign of any face-off or anything. There was a lot of shooting, but only from us.
How is the sweeping of a house conducted, when you enter it?
We would go in ‘wet’ (using live fire). I could hear the shooting, everything was done ‘wet.’ When we entered this house everything inside it was already a mess. Anything that could shatter had been shattered, because everything had been shot at. Anything made of glass – windows, a glass table, picture frames – it was all wrecked. All the beds were turned over, the rugs, the mattresses. Soldiers would take a rug to sleep on, a mattress, a pillow. There was no water, so youcouldn’t use the toilet. So we would shit in their bathtub.
“By the time we got out of there, everything was like a sandbox”
Staff Sargent, Mechanized Infantry:
By the time we got out of there, it was all like a sandbox. Every house we left – and we went through three or four houses – a D9 (armored bulldozer) came over and flattened it. . . .
First of all, it’s impressive seeing a D9 take down a big two-story house. We were in the area of a fairly rich, rural neighborhood – very impressive houses. We were in one spot where there was a house with a children’s residence unit next door – just like in a well-off Moshav (a type of rural town) in Israel. The D9 would simply go in, take down part of the wall and then continue, take down another part of the wall, and leave only the columns intact. At a certain point it would push a pile of sand to create a mound of rubble and bring down other parts, until the house was eventually left stripped, and from that point it would simply hit the house [with its blade] until it collapsed. The D9 was an important working tool. It was working nearly non-stop.
Randomly obliterating homes with no warning, for revenge
On the day the fellow from our company was killed, the commanders came up to us and told us what happened. Then they decided to fire an ‘honor barrage’ and fire three shells. They said, “This is in memory of ****.” That felt very out of line to me, very problematic. . . .
A barrage of shells. They fired the way it’s done in funerals, but with shellfire and at houses. Not into the air. They just chose [a house] – the tank commander said, “Just pick the farthest one, so it does the most damage.” Revenge of sorts. So we fired at one of the houses. Really you just see a block of houses in front of you, so the distance doesn’t really matter.
Photo of smoke from an Israeli air strike rising over the Gaza Strip on July 14, 2014 at the Israeli-Gaza border. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)