A damning report by Israeli group Breaking the Silence NGO claims that Israeli soldiers were ordered to ‘fire at every person you see’ during the Gaza war.
The report says that civilian areas were deliberately targeted with inaccurate weapons, in its 237-page report.
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The report tells a different story to the official Israeli narrative that great care was taken to avoid civilian causalities. Critics of Israeli tactics during the Gaza war say the army and the IDF responded disproportionately to Hamas’ rocket attacks.
The testimonies gathered by Breaking the Silence include the acts of individual soldiers who shot civilians dead and of lethal decisions being made at the top of the Israeli military, where other courses of action could have been taken.
“The guiding military principle of ‘minimum risk to our forces, even at the cost of harming innocent civilians,’ alongside efforts to deter and intimidate the Palestinians, led to massive and unprecedented harm to the population and the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Policymakers could have predicted these results prior to the operation and were surely aware of them throughout,” the report reads.
The report found that soldiers were briefed that any person in the combat zone should be considered an enemy.
The soldiers were told by their commanders to fire at every person they identified in a combat zone, since the working assumption was that “every person in the field was an enemy,” Breaking the Silence claims.
One soldier said the only rules of engagement they were given was not to fire at IDF forces.
“From the very start they told us, ‘Shoot to kill.’ As far as the IDF was concerned, there wasn’t supposed to be any civilian population there,” he said.
Another soldier said they assumed that once leaflets had been dropped on Gaza warning of the imminent attack, the only people left would be militants.
“If it looks like a man, shoot. It was simple: You’re in a motherf***ing combat zone. A few hours before you went in the whole area was bombed, if there’s anyone there who doesn’t clearly look innocent, you apparently need to shoot that person,” the soldier said.
The Gaza Strip is one of the most densely populated areas on earth. It measures just 40 kilometers by 10 kilometers yet has a population of 1.8 million. During the Gaza war, which began July 8, 2014 and lasted for 7 weeks, the crossings from Gaza into Israel and Egypt were closed.
Another claim by the Israelis that buildings targeted by its bombers received a warning shot before being destroyed was also challenged by the report. Known as a “knock on the door”, this was a small missile that caused only marginal damage allowing civilians to leave before the building was flattened. The Israelis said this policy was proof that civilian causalities were kept to a minimum, but in practice this was not always so.
“I do remember there was this one house of five or six stories in Khirbet Khuza’a. I remember there was ‘hot’ intel [sic] data on a meeting between militants there,” said one of the soldiers quoted in the report. The head of the cell was there for sure, and a decision was made to ’knock on the building’s roof,’ … and then immediately after that drop a bomb on it,” said one soldier.
When asked what he meant by “immediately” he replied, “Not enough time for everyone to leave. Somewhere between 30 seconds and one minute.”
Breaking the Silence also condemned the IDF for using inaccurate weapons such as shells or mortars that are almost impossible to aim properly and therefore collateral damage is inevitable.
“In practice, during the preliminary shelling, the army pounded populated areas throughout the Strip with artillery shells in order to scare off enemy combatants who were in the area, and at times also to urge the civilian population to flee,” the report says.
Some 2,220 Palestinians were killed, most of whom were civilians, during last year’s conflict in Gaza. On the Israeli side, 66 military personnel were killed and seven Israeli civilians lost their lives from rockets fired by Hamas and other militant groups inside the Strip.
Breaking the Silence believes its findings warrant an independent investigation into the war.
For its part the Israeli Defense Forces have released a statement saying it “is committed to properly investigating all credible claims” but that “Breaking the Silence has refused to provide the IDF with any proof of their claims.” Several internal investigations into the war have been launched by the IDF.
The chief of Israel’s armed forces during Operation Protective Edge, Benny Gantz, declined to comment on the Breaking the Silence Report, but defended his soldiers’ actions as legal and warned that any future conflict would likely be bloodier because of the difficulty in distinguishing between Palestinian fighters and civilians.