On July 12 of 2014 we reported that "after conducting countless sorties and bombing raids aimed at Hamas operatives in Gaza during the fifth day of Operation Protective Edge, but resulting in well over a hundred innocent civilian deaths in the past week, Israel, realizing it is not generating any brownie points with the international "humanitarian" media, finally did what it had threatened to do over the last few days - launch a ground assault."
The ground assault promptly led to a mini-war in the Gaza Strip that left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead, of which 80% civilians, and reduced vast areas to rubble: a "war" which many speculated was a predetermined massacre by highly skilled, trained, and ethically drained Israeli soldiers who used civilians for target practice.
Yesterday we got confirmation of that when a group of Israeli veterans released what the WaPo describes as "sobering testimony from fellow soldiers that suggests permissive rules of engagement coupled with indiscriminate artillery fire contributed to the mass destruction and high numbers of civilian casualties in the coastal enclave."
In a 242-page report titled "This is How We Fought in Gaza 2014" which was accompanied by videotaped confessions that aired on Israeli TV, the organization of active and reserve duty soldiers, called Breaking the Silence, gathered testimonies from more than 60 enlisted men and officers who served in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge.
What they described was nothing short of mass butchery of civilians and a flaunting of the Fourth Geneva Convention: among the actions described by the soldiers are "reducing Gaza neighborhoods to sand, firing artillery at random houses to avenge fallen comrades, shooting at innocent civilians because they were bored and watching armed drones attack a pair of women talking on cellphones because they were assumed to be Hamas scouts."
According to the Washington Post, the director of the group, Yuli Novak, called the rules of engagement in the offensive “the most permissive” it has seen and amounted to an “ethical failure . . . from the top of the chain of command.” Novak called for an independent investigation.
Some more details from the narrative that may have been fit for a barbaric middle-age crusade but has no place in our "civilized" times:
The soldiers said they were told by commanders to view all Palestinians in the combat zones as a potential threat, whether they brandished weapons or not. Individuals spotted in windows and rooftops — especially if they were speaking on cellphones — were often considered scouts and could be shot.
A first sergeant serving in the Mechanized Infantry in Gaza told the group, “If we don’t see someone waving a white flag, screaming, ‘I give up’ or something — then he’s a threat and there’s authorization to open fire.”
The Israeli army, the IDF, promptly tried to downplay the claims stating that the testimonies in the report are anonymous and impossible to independently verify. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) declined to address details in the report and said that Breaking the Silence “does not provide IDF with any proof of their claims.”
“This pattern of collecting evidence over an extended period of time and refusing to share it with the IDF in a manner which would allow a proper response, and if required, investigation, indicates that contrary to their claims this organization does not act with the intention of correcting any wrongdoings they allegedly uncovered,” the Israeli military stated.
Just like in the case of Edward Snowden, the natural response was to attack the messenger: members of Breaking the Silence are viewed by many Israelis as "anti-military", which it appears is a bad thing.
The group says its mission is to tell the Israeli public what the IDF hides and what serving in the occupied West Bank and in wars in Gaza and Lebanon is really like. After graduating from high school, all Israeli men and women — except those who get deferments because of religious study or for medical reasons — must serve in the military.
Develop a conscience, however, is clearly frowned upon.
In an interview with The Washington Post, a young tank gunner whose testimony is included in the report described how he and others fired cannon and machine gun bursts at random travelers on a main Gaza highway simply because they were bored and wanted to prove how good their aim was.
“I am ashamed of this,” said the 21-year-old, who served in a Hamas hot spot near the town of Al Bureij in central Gaza.
The gunner said he fired his Browning machine gun at a man pedaling a bicycle but missed because of the distance.
“War crime is a big word,” he said in an interview at a Tel Aviv apartment Sunday. “I didn’t rape and kill anybody, but yeah, I shot at random civilian targets sometimes, just for fun, so yeah.”
The same soldier said a friend in his unit was killed by shrapnel to the neck from a Palestinian mortar round and described how a burst of small-arms fire once breezed by his head.
Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence conceded that Gaza was a dangerous, chaotic landscape for Israeli troops. But he said the military had contributed to needless death and destruction with “a guiding military principle of minimum risk to our forces, even at the cost of harming innocent civilians.”
In other words, all out, brutal war, without the pleasantries of sparing civilians - a war passed on by countless generations, and in which both sides have no interest in taking the first step to end. Which is why it never will.
Below is a sampling of the soldiers' quotes explaining how they fought in Gaza:
- "If you shoot someone in Gaza it ?s cool, no big deal"
- "The lives of our soldiers come before the lives of enemy civilians"
- "Rules of engagement were, in effect, to shoot to kill upon any identification"
- "The instructions are to shoot right away… Be they armed or unarmed, no matter what"
- "The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain"
- "I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees"
- "We expect a high level of harm to civilians"
- "Go ahead - his wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world"
- "People that look at you from the window of a house, to put it mildly, won ?t look anymore"
- "We want to make a big boom before the ceasefire"
- "They were fired at - so of course, they must have been terrorists…"
- "Lots of innocent people were hurt in that incident, lots"
- "What the hell, why did you have to shoot him again?"
Full report (pdf)