Israeli soldiers admit to shooting civilians in Gaza war
These are the words of a soldier who took part in last year's Operation Protective Edge, a six-week Israeli air and ground assault on Gaza that left around 2,200 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 71 Israelis, mostly soldiers, dead.
The anonymous soldier's account is part of a new collection of more than 60 anonymous testimonies collected from Israeli soldiers following the assault.
The interviews, published in Hebrew and English by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence, reveal lax rules of engagement in the coastal territory, one of the most densely populated zones in the world.
Breaking the Silence said the rules of engagement during last year's fighting were the most permissive it had ever heard.
Many soldiers testified that the orders that they received were to shoot to kill every person sighted in the area. The policy of indiscriminate fire "directly resulted in the deaths of hundreds of innocent Palestinian civilians", said the NGO.
One soldier told the group of how his unit took over a house in Deir al-Balah to turn it into a guard post.
"While we were stationed there, the armoured forces would fire at the surrounding houses all the time," he reported. "I don't know what exactly their order was, but it seemed like every house was considered a threat, and so every house needed to be hit by at least one shell, so that there's no one in there. All the houses around, when you looked at the landscape, they looked sort of like Swiss cheese, with lots of holes in them."
One officer who fought in Deir al-Balah told the group how the army had indiscriminately bulldozed civilian houses.
"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 (armoured bulldozer) came over and flattened it," he said. "The D9 was an important working tool. It was working nearly non-stop."
|Whoever you see there, you kill
Another soldier spoke of a bulldozer creating "a 500-metre radius where not a single house [was] left standing".
The testimonies released this week in Hebrew and English cast doubt on Israeli government claims that it sought to avoid civilian casualties.
They fit with the picture painted by other organisations. In November, Amnesty International accused Israeli forces of war crimes during the operation, after killing scores of people in attacks on houses full of civilians. Amnesty said the army had a pattern of frequent attacks using large aerial bombs to level civilian homes, sometimes killing entire families.
The new testimonies given to Breaking the Silence, which, since 2001, has offered soldiers the chance to give anonymous accounts of their experiences on the battlefield, shed light on how Israeli ground troops were told to behave.
"The soldier spotted a man in his late 60s, early 70s approaching the house," reads one account.
"They were stationed in a tall house, with a good vantage point. 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.
"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."
Yuli Novak, director of Breaking the Silence, said the testimonies exposed a troubling picture of indiscriminate fire that led to the deaths of innocent civilians.
"We learn from the testimonies that there is a broad ethical failure in the IDF's rules of engagement, and that this failure comes from the top of the chain of command, and is not merely the result of 'rotten apples'. As officers and soldiers, we know that internal military investigations scapegoat simple soldiers rather than focusing on policy."