IDF had policy of indiscriminate fire during Gaza war, Israeli NGO says

“We did not do everything we could to avoid civilian casualties," said Breaking the Silence founder Yehudal Shaul.

Clearing the rubble east of Gaza City (photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM / REUTERS)
Clearing the rubble east of Gaza City
(photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM / REUTERS)
The left-wing group Breaking the Silence on Monday accused the IDF of indiscriminate fire at Palestinians during last summer’s war with Gaza, a practice it said was contrary to the army’s past policy of minimal force.
To support its claims, the group complied testimonies from 60 Israeli soldiers who fought Hamas during Operation Cast Lead into a 237-page report titled, “This is how we fought in Gaza.”
“From the testimonies given by the officers and soldiers, a troubling picture arises of a policy of indiscriminate fire that led to the deaths of innocent civilians,” said Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak.
“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,’” Novak said.
Breaking the Silence called on the government to create an independent investigatory committee into the IDF’s rules of engagement during Operation Protective Edge.
Israel, in the past, has charged that prior to and during the war Hamas indiscriminately fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities and towns. Hamas also had built a system of underground tunnels it used to attack Israel.
Amnesty International similarly has charged that “Palestinian militant groups” launched rockets against Israel indiscriminately.
Israel has further explained that it did its best to warn civilians to vacate their homes prior to bombings of the area.
But Breaking the Silence, which was founded by former IDF soldiers who served in the Palestinian territories, said the IDF could have defended itself from Hamas, with a lower casualty count.
“We did not do everything we could to avoid civilian casualties,” said Breaking the Silencer founder Yehuda Shaul.
During last summer’s conflict, 66 IDF soldiers and six Israeli civilians were killed, according to Israeli statistics. Israel further counts 2,140 Palestinians killed, of which half were militants. The UN counts 2,200 Palestinians deaths of which it calculates that 605 were militants.
Shaul argued that the IDF’s rules of engagement have changed since the 2008 Gaza conflict such that in the past seven years the army has eliminated the concept of “innocence” and has given the soldiers license to assume that all Palestinians it encountered in Gaza were dangerous.
Breaking the Silence said that During Operation Protective Edge, “The IDF’s guiding values such as the ‘Purity of Arms’ principle – which mandates that soldiers use the minimum amount of force necessary and ‘maintain their humanity even in combat’ – were devalued and even discarded by the IDF itself.”
“Throughout the Operation, the IDF fired thousands of imprecise artillery shells into residential neighborhoods,” Breaking the Silence said, adding that soldiers were ordered to “shoot to kill” if they saw Palestinians.
The IDF said in response that if Breaking the Silence knew of instances of improper conduct it should have reported it to the army so a military investigation could be conducted rather then turning to the public.
The group’s continual decision to publish such accounts, rather then seek legal redress proves that such reports are politically motivated, the IDF said.
Shaul said in response that the testimonies in the report were compiled to help the group attack overall army policy rather then the actions of any individual soldiers.
The report, he added, was given to the office of the IDF censor, which had to approve it for publication.
In addition, at the end of March, the IDF rejected a request by Breaking the Silence to meet with IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eizenkot, Shaul said.
In its letter to Eizenkot, Breaking the Silence said, “We are reaching out to you prior to the publication of the testimonies, due to their severity and due to the troubling systemic picture that arises from them.”
But the 60 testimonies, all of which are anonymous, cover a wide range of IDF actions during the war, including instances where soldiers chose not to shoot.
In one testimony, a first sergeant serving in the northern area of the Gaza Strip described how soldiers fired warning shots at the feet of a mentally challenged woman but did not harm her. The soldier said he acted accordingly, even though he worried that she was not as innocent as she seemed.
“I was sure she was being sent by Hamas to test our alertness, to test our limits, to figure out how we respond to civilians.
Later, they also let loose a flock of sheep on us, seven or 10 of which had bombs tied to their bellies from below. I don’t know if I was right or wrong, but I was convinced that this girl was a test,” the soldier said.
But, in another testimony, a sergeant first class, who served in Gaza City, said the IDF treated Gaza civilians like terrorists.
“Like a person shooting at you. There were people there who were spotted holding binoculars or standing on a roof and looking in our direction – they’re terrorists for all intents and purposes and usually they’re shot at,” he said.“You identify a person, and if the tank commander considers him a suspect, you open fire. You don’t ask for authorization, no one asks for explanations. It doesn’t feel strange because that’s what we did in nearly every battle we were in, from the start up until then,” he said.