Jerusalem: The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) policy during last summer’s war in Gaza caused unprecedented harm to Palestinian civilians and infrastructure, an Israeli non-governmental organisation has charged.
Breaking the Silence, an NGO of veteran Israeli combatants, interviewed more than 60 Israeli soldiers and officers who discussed allegedly unlawful and unethical acts they witnessed and experienced during Operation Protective Edge last summer.
According to the report, obtained by Xinhua news agency, the IDF had established a ground rule during the operation of striving to minimise risks to Israeli forces, even if it entailed civilian casualties.
More than 2,200 Palestinians were killed in the war, 18,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged and over 10,000 Palestinians were displaced.
The report argued that the army assumed that any Palestinian “found in an IDF area, which the IDF had occupied, was not a civilian”, based on testimony from a soldier who said that was the basic assumption among soldiers.
One soldier described an incident in which two women were killed by an Israeli airstrike in the southern part of the Gaza Strip.
“We saw them, a few hundred metres from the soldiers, talking and walking. We sent an unmanned aerial vehicle up there that killed them. Then the IDF said they were suspected of being involved in the fighting. It sounded like nonsense to me,” the soldier told the NGO, adding that no weapons were found with the women, who were over the age of 30.
Another soldier spoke about an incident in which a woman, who seemed somewhat eccentric to him and his fellow soldiers, was shot to death without posing any risk to the forces. The Ha’aretz daily reported that this incident was one of the 19 incidents investigated by the military police.
The report also outlines several procedures adopted by soldiers causing great damage to structures and infrastructure. One testimony described how a company commander ordered his troops to shell Palestinian houses to avenge the killing of a member of their unit.
“It felt really wrong. We shelled houses. The commander told me, pick the house that is the farthest, so it would hit them the hardest. It was revenge,” the soldier testified.
Another soldier described how a competition began between his fellow soldiers to shell moving vehicles on roads in the strip. “I tried to shell a cab but couldn’t hit it. Then there were two more vehicles, and I missed. The commander told me to stop wasting his shells so we started shooting with a machine gun,” he said.
“I was troubled by it inside, but after three weeks in Gaza when you shot at anything that moves and doesn’t move, what’s good and bad gets mixed together, you lost some of your ethics and you lose it, it becomes like a video game,” the soldier added.
The report called for Israel to initiate an independent commission to question these allegations, besides an already existing IDF mechanism conducting internal investigation over allegations of unlawful activity by the IDF.
Other than the internal IDF investigation, an independent UN commission has been established and is expected to post its findings in June.
In response to the report, the Israeli military said it was “committed to properly investigating all claims against it” but charged the organisation, calling it “politically biased”, for not handing over all the testimonials to the IDF for inquiry before publishing the report.
“Today, as in the past, the organisation Breaking the Silence has been asked to provide evidence or testimony prior to the publication in order for genuine investigations to be carried out. Unfortunately, the organisation has refused to provide the IDF with any proof for their claims,” the IDF said in response to the report.