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Breaking the Silence Gaza War Soldiers’ Testimonies (part 2)

Today, I’ll review the two more of 30 testimonies in the Breaking the Silence report released earlier this week.  The report details egregious violations of the law of war and even IDF regulations by soldiers during the January Gaza war.

Testimony 2 begins with the informant acknowledging that he had no idea what the strategic purpose of his actions in Gaza were.  He links this to the ignorance that the Israeli populace as a whole had regarding the goals of the war.  And for the first time, a soldier confirms what M.J. Rosenberg claimed to me at the time–that the IDF intended to fully occupy Gaza but later changed its mind:

What was the purpose?
We were not told. I don’t know what the objective of the war was. Different things were said, aimed more at what needs to be done concretely – they were said in retrospect, that’s how I feel.

Were you not told what the objective was, at your briefing?
No way, what do you mean? The same way the broader Israeli public was not informed.

…[Our tactical goal was] A separation of Gaza City from the refugee camps and the prevention of weapons, ammunition and reinforcements from reaching Gaza City, which – at the time – I think the army planned to occupy.  In fact this did not take place.

Please watch the above video interview with an Israeli armored corps veteran speaking about how the normal IDF rules of engagement were completely suspended during this war. Essentially, every Gazan was the enemy. No civilian was innocent. This is how 1,400 Gazans died. This is how an elderly man is murdered by a sniper bullet even though his entire unit knows both before and after that an innocent man has been killled. Because there was no restraint. No bounds. Fire early. Fire late. Fire at shadows. Fire at anything that moves. Civilian, fighter–they’re all the same.

What is this if not a war crime?

In the following passage, the soldier decribes the wanton destruction of Palestinian homes not for strategic or military purpose, but merely to teach the supposed Hamas supporters a lesson. A second reason was to lay the groundwork for a future Gaza war (“the day after”):

[In] The neighborhood – first of all we saw lots of destroyed houses. This does not mean there were no houses still standing. There were, but next to them were ruins, and with time more and more ruins, and even the houses still standing, most of them kept getting shelled here and there. The explanation we got was that when the regular soldiers went in, they knew which houses were belonged to Hamas activists and which did not. A Hamas activist’s house usually got shelled once or twice just to make sure…

..The idea of demolishing houses or razing the neighborhood is twofold: on the one hand there’s the
operational necessity, that’s what we heard all the time. I recall having constantly heard this over our radio. The idea that we are not to jeopardize Israeli soldiers by entering a house where we don’t know what’s in it…

The other…part of the concept of razing was what the Israeli army calls ‘the day after’ consideration. Obviously this campaign would end at some point, clearly there was no intention to come back and take over the Gaza Strip, it was obvious we’d leave eventually. The question was in what condition we’d leave the area, whether more exposed, a state that would afford us better firing and observation conditions, and far greater control. This was the principle behind all that razing, namely razing for our benefit.

What was the exact wording at the preliminary briefing?
“The day after.” Razing was done with the day after our leaving in mind, that we would want this ability, outright, this field of vision and range of fire.

What is important about this passage is the concession from the IDF that it does not believe peace is possible with Hamas and that it is preparing for the war next time.  And the IDF’s convenience is far more important to the Israeli army than the personal property of a few thousand Gaza civilians.  So if an orchard or neighborhood stands in the way that might provide cover for a potential Gaza militant in some future battle, then away with it–it’s gone.  It’s as simple as that.

If you were an Israeli and your side was the weaker and a Palestinian army did this to an entire neighborhood in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, what emotion do you think would be coursing through your veins and brain??

Testimony 3 recounts the murder of a Palestinian civilian hiding with his family in his home.  Under Israeli rules of engagement firing into a civilian residence without knowing whether there were civilians inside was perfectly acceptable.  It wouldn’t be in most other armies in the world (perhaps with the exception of the Russian army in Chechnya or the Sri Lankan army fighting among Tamil civilians).  But once again, Israel has the most moral army in the world:

We entered a yard and out of sheer fear the family was waiting in an exposed spot – a father, grandfather, young mother and babies. As we were coming in, the commander was firing a volley, and mistakenly killed an innocent.

What exactly happened?
We got to the house. It was surrounded by a yard, a fence. After the gate is broken in, he goes in with live fire. Several bullets, not a full burst…

The family was hiding from the bombings. They were under the stairs and that happened to be just in front of the door and when he went in and fired, he didn’t see who he was firing at. So he happened to kill an elderly guy…

And even for this individual soldier who may be a decent person, see what this war did:

He died on the spot?

I don’t know. When I think back, it really seems insane that I don’t know. It hurts to admit it, but… not that I didn’t care. I did keep this in my mind and intended to write the battalion commander about it but I just didn’t have the time. Too bad I didn’t, come to think of it.

Hannah Arendt talked of the banality of the evil.  Well, incidents like this are the banality of an evil war.   You murder a civilian and forget what you’ve done.  In fact, forget there’s a human being there at all.  He’s just a dead body like any horse, pig or chicken you might kill with a bullet to the brain.  And you leave his corpse there to rot.  What are you going to do?  Call the Hamas Red Crescent to come and collect it? Give it a decent burial? Not your job.

The soldier continues with a damning indictment of his unit’s actions in Gaza:

What did you intend to write?
That things are happening in his battalion of which he has no idea. Without actually naming anyone. I’m against informing on people. But if I look at it from the side, there are people who deserve to go to jail.

I have no doubt that there were and are people who deserve to go to jail.  But the plain fact of the matter is that neither this probably otherwise conscientious soldier had neither the time, energy or inclination to do anything about it.  Ditto the Israeli people as a whole who are simply too absorbed in more important matters to give a damn about what was done in their name in Gaza.

To be continued…

{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Richie July 17, 2009, 2:05 AM

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  • Richie Silverstein July 17, 2009, 2:06 AM

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  • dikie July 17, 2009, 2:07 AM

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  • Eurosabra July 17, 2009, 6:57 PM

    Richard, that is how armies enter buildings which may contain militants when they are trying not to harm civilians, a few shots rather than blowing the door with a charge and then throwing in grenades. I can tell you as a civilian medic who has often been on the ground during exchanges that the possession of IR-guided anti-tank missiles, mortars, and long-range rockets–not only battlefield rockets but theatre-level ones capable of hitting Be’ersheva–by Hamas makes the police-style raids of Sharon’s IDF in Gaza in the 70s an impossibility. Those raids were in response to PLO “mixing” with civilians, and they were fairly precise, as were the ’48/’56 movements of uniformed military units on visible, isolated axes of communication between isolated military strongpoints of strategic significance. The trend is towards more populist guerilla groups, more operations in built-up areas, and correspondingly higher civilian casualties.

    It is clear that you do not want Israel to act in self-defense if the cost to Palestinian civilians’ lives runs into the few hundreds, but the question then becomes stabilizing a cease-fire and, from an Israeli perspective, making sure that the cease-fire does not mean even larger, better-guided rockets impacting on larger urban areas deeper in Israel.

    • Richard Silverstein July 17, 2009, 10:54 PM

      Richard, that is how armies enter buildings which may contain militants when they are trying not to harm civilians, a few shots rather than blowing the door with a charge and then throwing in grenades.

      You’re not only not reading the quotations in my post, you’re not reading the actual testimonies which confirm indiscriminate firing and wanton destruction of private homes. This is not “a few shots.” Read the testimonies you would not be able to write that with a straight face. This is NOT what happened in Gaza. Like Lebanon, it was wholesale destruction of entire neighborhoods virtually razed to the ground. Orchards which provide a livelihood for their owners entirely razed to the ground because they might, in some future war, provide a hiding place for militants.

      the possession of IR-guided anti-tank missiles, mortars, and long-range rockets

      Once again, you’re describing something you might have witnessed at some other time, but not what happened in Gaza. There was virtually no defense put up by Hamas. It has tens of thousands of fighters in Gaza. 300 combatants were killed. Doesn’t this tell you something? No anti-tank missiles, no mortars, no long-range rockets. And this would have been evident to the IDF almost from the first moment it entered Gaza. Yet the “guns blazing” strategy was not altered to adapt to the circumstances.

      It is clear that you do not want Israel to act in self-defense if the cost to Palestinian civilians’ lives runs into the few hundreds

      Now I call you a liar because you know 1,400 Gazans were killed by the IDF, not a few hundreds as you so mendaciously claim. You’re really engaging in cheap-trick debating here. At least if you stuck to facts we all know are true & argued yr case fr. them there would be minimal legitimacy in yr case. As it is, you’ve blown yr credibility entirely.

      Further, you entirely twist my argument out of any semblance of reality. Gaza was not a war of self-defense. It was a war of retaliation, a war of eradication, an aggressive war of wanton destruction. I have no problem with Israel fighting a real war of self-defense, but in essence Israel has never, with the exception of 1948, fought one. We could argue about the 1967 war (but I won’t since I’ve already done that here).

      But even if Gaza had been a war of self-defense, yes, I argue that Israel must fight such a war respecting the laws of war. Not only was this not a war of self-defense, but Israel egregiously violated the laws of war. That’s 0 for 2 if you’re keeping score at home.

      Israel violated the ceasefire before the war started. Had it not, Hamas would have continued the ceasefire. So Israel fought a futile war and ended up with the very ceasefire it itself had violated.

      But let me make this clear, I’m not going to go into for the 100th time the history of the period leading up to the war. I’ve already hashed that out with other hasbaraniks before here. You’ll have to go elsewhere if you want to fight with someone over that.

  • Eurosabra July 18, 2009, 7:35 AM


    Again with the vitriol, which I can understand to the extent that you are personally engaged in the question. Testimonies like this routinely surface because it is impossible to engage in police-style operations in a modern combat zone, obviously the IDF decided to “recon by fire” and this is the result. Part of the cultural development of Israel, or at least of the modern IDF, that needs to take place is a harder preference for risking soldiers’ lives rather than those of enemy civilians. I’ve read Kasher’s _Military Ethics_, and you haven’t, and I can tell you that the difficulty in enforcing those standards effectively from above and inculcating them sufficiently that they are obeyed from below is something that has stymied even militaries as sophisticated as the Royal Army in Northern Ireland, which began its long journey of trial-and-error with Bloody Sunday.

    Again, you are working off of PCHR casualty figures, which estimate that few militants were killed, and calling me a liar. Even the militant groups themselves have claimed a portion of PCHR’s “civilians” as militant “martyrs”. So, whatever.

    You keep the comments section open to declare yourself the winner in debates where you control the “facts” and the framework, like every other critical Zionist and anti-Zionist I know. Big deal.

    • Richard Silverstein July 18, 2009, 9:18 PM

      Again with the vitriol,

      Calling you a liar is “vitriol??” Not really. It’s the truth. At least get yr statistics correct if you want to be a flaming hasbaranik. Would it hurt you to quote the proper number of Gazans killed during the recent mayhem, er war??

      I’ve read Kasher’s _Military Ethics_

      I’ve read articles about Kasher’s military “ethics” and he is an apologist for the IDF’s shoot to kill approach in every way. Neither you nor he are trustworthy as arbiters of anything, esp. anything related to IDF ethics or military tactics.

      I can tell you that the difficulty in enforcing those standards effectively from above

      You are truly pathetic. READ THE TESTIMONIES!!! They make clear it was the commanders who were egging line soldiers to shoot first & ask questions never. This was a command decision to kill Gazans indiscriminately. It was not a question of the lower echelons not getting the message and running amok. What I simply can’t believe is that you who didn’t serve in this war would refuse to read the testimonies of those who did & then persist in making ludicrous statements that contradict what numerous testimonies in this report detail.

      you are working off of PCHR casualty figures

      That is not true. I am working from casualty figures provided by international media sources, which are not solely based on Palestinian sources.

      which estimate that few militants were killed

      Wrong again (I’m waiting for you to get something right). The estimates I’ve read fr. a wide number of sources confirm that 300 militants were killed. That is not “few militants killed.” So that makes 1,100 civilians killed and when you say “in the few hundreds were killed” I’m afraid that still makes you a liar.

      you control the “facts”

      If I controlled the facts then no one would ever be able to present facts to contradict me. You have an opportunity to present any facts you like. But the truth of the matter is you didn’t present any. You presented claims, which were not facts and not truthful.

      • Eurosabra July 19, 2009, 8:19 AM

        Okay, I don’t know what world you live in, but it’s not mine. I wish you the best of luck, but don’t know what you’re trying to prove. Out in the real world, the rockets have stopped, while you argue statistics. So, whatever.

        • Richard Silverstein July 19, 2009, 5:36 PM

          I see. The fact that you lied in claiming only a “few hundreds” died in Gaza when 1,400 did is “arguing statistics?” How convenient when you are proven wrong to dismiss the significance of the claim that you yrself first made.

          • Eurosabra July 19, 2009, 8:44 PM

            No, a few hundred civilians according to the IDF. You can win your virtual debates, according to yr criteria, but I will still have to live with the effects on the ground.

          • Richard Silverstein July 19, 2009, 9:40 PM

            a few hundred civilians according to the IDF.

            Ah, now we have your “source.” And the IDF is to be believed in this or any other matter because of what??? Did the IDF count Palestinian bodies? They certainly had enough time to do so as they forced many of them to molder for days and even killed Gaza medical personnel who tried to collect them. But do you really claim the IDF did a realiable count of how many Gazans they killed? Please tell me you trust the IDF on this so I and the rest of my readers will know you are a true hasbaranik as opposed to someone really interested in taking an independent position on these issues.

            I will still have to live with the effects on the ground.

            No, this is the fatal mistake that Israelis make. They fend off criticism by claiming THEY will have to live with the effects of terror or whatever alleged Palestinian depredation they decry. But the fact of the matter is that we all have to live with the effects of Israel’s monstrous errors of judgment. Palestinians certainly have to live with them. But anyone who cares a whit about Israelis or Palestinians who lives in the Diaspora also has to live with these effects. So it is wrong for Israelis to claim a monopoly on these matters. What Israel does effects us all.

          • Warren July 20, 2009, 1:09 PM

            Also, the 97-point-something percent of us Americans who are not Jewish have to live as well with the “effects on the ground” of Israel’s murderous behavior toward the Palestinians—because Israel’s actions increase the risk of terror against the United States. This part of it doesn’t even bother me as much as Americans’ moral complicity, as a whole, in Israel’s actions due to our country’s support for Israel. Eurosabra can whine all she wants about “effects on the ground”, just get off the dole, OK. Do your murdering on your own dime, please. I’m so tired of these extremist neo-nazi freaks being dependent on us.

  • LD July 18, 2009, 9:19 AM

    The PCHR? Do you mean the Gaza ministry?

    I think it’s understandable for errors in the body count to be made – considering that this happens with ALL wars/etc.

    And Israel’s definition of enemy combatant is bogus. The Gaza police officers were members of the Hamas government so they had to go. It’s real easy to use that justification. I’m sure if we flipped the situation and killed tons of Israeli police officers and blah blah, that you’d understand though.

  • Eurosabra July 18, 2009, 11:50 AM

    The Palestinian Center for Human Rights, http://www.pchrgaza.org.

    Tons of Israeli police officers have died, usually shielding passerby from suicide bombers with their bodies. 345 members of the security forces, 90 in Israel, and I’m sure Btselem has the breakdown by category, but in general, police are combatants. And Palestinians have never been shy about deliberately killing non-combatants, either.

    You are just on the other side of the dispute.

    • Megat S. Merican July 18, 2009, 6:15 PM

      It is good to know that you find B’Tselem a source of reliable information.

      On that you should also be aware of the damaging accusation made by the aforesaid human rights body against the IDF:

      “Since the end of Operation Cast Lead, B’Tselem has sent law enforcement authorities 19 separate demands to open investigations into events whose circumstances raise suspicions that the military acted unlawfully during the operation. These demands are based on field research and testimonies given to B’Tselem by Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip. In total, the letters sent by B’Tselem related to events in which 70 Palestinian civilians were killed, more than half of them minors. Among them were two letters that detailed grave suspicions that the military had used Palestinian civilians as human shields in ‘Ezbet ‘Abd Rabo in north-eastern Gaza, in violation of international humanitarian law and of an explicit ruling by the Israeli High Court of Justice. To date, the only response B’Tselem has received is confirmation that some of the letters have been received.”

      link to btselem.org

    • Richard Silverstein July 18, 2009, 9:24 PM

      in general, police are combatants

      These were TRAFFIC POLICE. 250 of whom were killed on a parade grounds as they participated in their graduation ceremony. They were not armed. They were not combatants in any way shape or form. This was cold blooded murder & those who perpetrated this bloody massacre will not have impunity in perpetuity.

      • Eurosabra July 19, 2009, 8:34 AM


        Again you are a partisan of the other side. Hamas is a much less powerful organization than the State of Israel, and yet few perpetrators of THEIR acts of murder have been brought to justice, even by a finely-tuned security state like Israel. I think you and yours who sit in judgement should have a bit less doctrinaire approach to justice, it might make life in the real world a bit easier.

        They were men trained to handle modern weapons and they were bombed because they would be mobilized as combatants at the Israeli intervention. Obviously, they in some way chose to be there, and the attendant risks. I have been told as an Israeli medic that I exist in a state which has no civilians, and I have accepted that absolute dehumanization by my enemies as a price of delivering care.

        Again, de-escalation is one option that *hasn’t* been tried, and I would be very happy if Israel took the pressure off unilaterally and avoided excesses of the type above. I am probably alone among the arch-Zionists in being against the Gaza intervention in the form it took.

        • Richard Silverstein July 19, 2009, 5:33 PM

          When Israel brings its soldiers & officers guilty of cold-blooded murder and heinous negligence (leading to serial civilian death) to justice then I’ll listen seriously to you complain in yr patently disingenuous partisan way. Talk about a doctrinnaire approach to justice: yours is entirely one-sided: Israel always innocent–Palestinians always guilty. Who believes a word you say?

          They were men trained to handle modern weapons

          You are once again a liar and speak with no proof whatsoever. Traffic policemen are never trained in handling the type of weaponry that Hamas fighters who fight the IDF handle. They were traffic cops. Now, either you prove your vacant claim that they were something other than that or shut up. I’m getting sick & tired of yr sophistry and cruel disregard of moral norms.

          I have been told as an Israeli medic that I exist in a state which has no civilians

          That is another lie. There have been terror attacks against Israeli civilians (though none in quite a long time, though you wouldn’t acknowledge that inconvenient fact, now would you?). The perpetrators of those discrete acts do not make a distinction bet. civilian & military target. That does not mean that every Palestinian or even Hamas itself accepts such a claim. So lie to yrself all you want, but don’t piss on our backs & make us think it’s rain.

          I am probably alone among the arch-Zionists in being against the Gaza intervention in the form it took.

          That’s the most truthful candid thing I think I’ve ever read fr. you. At least you have a very small bit of heart somewhere in the recesses of your body.

  • eugene s. July 20, 2009, 11:37 AM

    where can one find this document that breaking the silence published?

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