26 Jan 2011

Revealed: story of Israeli troops told to ‘cleanse’ Gaza

Exclusive: Israeli soldiers tell Channel 4 News they were ordered to “cleanse” Palestinian neighbourhoods, as filmmaker Nurit Kedar says “the atmosphere was that nobody should talk about this war”.

Nurit Kedar’s film, Concrete, hears from Israeli soldiers who blame their military leaders for encouraging a “disproportionate” response to Hamas’s rockets.

They claim their commanders used to “psych up” soldiers before an operation so they were ready to shoot indiscriminately.

This is the first time Israeli soldiers have come forward publicly with claims which counter those of their bosses.

In a report first aired on Channel 4 News on Wednesday, 24-year-old tank commander Ohad remembers being told the night before the operation that the entry into Gaza was to be “disproportionate”.

It sounds really terrible to say ‘cleanse’ but those were the orders. Israeli tank commander

Once into Gaza, he says his orders were unambiguous: “We needed to cleanse the neighbourhoods, the buildings, the area. It sounds really terrible to say “cleanse”, but those were the orders….I don’t want to make a mistake with the words.”

The IDF [Israel Defence Forces] has said its operational orders during the war emphasised “proportionality” and “humanity”.

The importance of minimising harm to civilians was made clear to soldiers, the IDF said at the time. By the end of the 22 day long operation some 1,400 Palestinians had been killed and large areas of Gaza razed. Ten Israeli soldiers and three Israeli civilians also died.

Gaza during the 2009 conflict with Israel (Reuters)

Challenging Israeli views

The woman behind the film is Nurit Kedar. Speaking to Channel 4 News she said it took some time to gain the soldiers’ trust: “It was months of telling them I wasn’t interested in if they shot somebody, I was interested in their insight, their point of view.

“I was very much interested in their emotional feelings so that’s how I persuaded them. I really didn’t threaten them.”

Nurit continued: “I feel for them, what can I tell you. It’s very sad what our society is doing to youngsters.”

She told Channel 4 News the Israeli people did not like to see themselves in the mirror.

Nurit said: “The atmosphere in Israel was nobody should talk about this war.

People in Israel don’t like to see themselves in the mirror. Nurit Kedar

“There was only one narrative. The narrative was the Palestinians fired for eight years and that’s why we came in and that’s it. Why didn’t the IDF let any journalists inside, any cameramen? Nobody knows what happened.”

There are currently no plans for the film to be shown in Israel, Nurit hopes this will change: “Right now I don’t have any broadcaster..people in Israel don’t like to see themselves in the mirror.

“Usually the Israeli people don’t like to see this kind of film. I made a lot of films about wars and it’s not easy, they don’t like it.”

Israel’s response

Responding to the allegations made in the film an Israeli embassy spokesperson told Channel 4 News: “Unlike much of the region, the open society within Israel allows for all allegations such as these to be aired and investigated.

“Israel has already authorised over 100 separate investigations into the operation, five broader investigations, and close to 50 criminal investigations are also taking place.

“All this in the context of having to respond to over 12,000 missiles raining on our citizens – such an operation could unfortunately never be flawless given these circumstances.

“Our judicial process is renowned across the world for its independence. This is a country after all, which holds even the very top of society to account, as has been proven in recent days. This is Israel in the 21st Century, a flourishing democracy, thriving amongst a desert of tyranny in the Middle East.”