5 May 2015

Israel ’caused massive and unprecedented harm’ in Gaza

Israeli soldiers fired indiscriminately at Palestinian civilians during the 2014 Gaza conflict, according to a report based on the testimony of dozens of IDF veterans involved in the operation.

A report by the Israeli advocacy group Breaking the Silence describes how Israel Defence Forces (IDF) left swathes of devastation after they invaded Gaza last July in response to Hamas rocket fire.

Sixty veterans spoke to the group, with one tank commander saying: “We were firing purposelessly all day long. Hamas was nowhere to be seen.” Breaking the Silence said its findings cast “grave doubt on the IDF’s ethics”.

The Israeli military has said it tried to prevent civilian casualties in Gaza, but accused Hamas of launching attacks from residential areas.

Some 2,256 Palestinians were killed during the July-August conflict, 1,563 of them civilians, according to UN figures. On the Israeli side, 66 soldiers and five civilians died.

‘If you shoot someone, it’s cool’

In the report, an infantry sergeant is quoted as saying that, once Israel concluded that civilians had left an area, “there weren’t really any rules of engagement”. He adds: “The idea was, if you spot something, shoot. If you shoot someone in Gaza, it’s cool, no big deal.”

Whether Israel did enough to avoid civilian casualties was raised last month by Channel 4 News, which spoke to an Israeli military source who said that once civilians were deemed to have fled, different rules applied (watch video above).

Gaza Aug 2014

Our reporter Inigo Gilmore asked him: “Was it taken into account that there might be old people or children or sick people in these buildings, and would it be hard for them to leave?” He replied: “No, not at all. Again it was considered to be an area with no citizens at all.”

‘The best of our capabilities’

Channel 4 News put these accusations to Lt Col Peter Lerner, from the IDF, who defended Israel’s evacuations policy. He said: “We made radio announcements. We made phone calls. We made text messages. Individual text messages. And we scattered leaflets. Don’t belittle that. Again, that is well beyond the requirements of the law. We went to the best of our capabilities.”

On the Breaking the Silence report, Israel questioned the motivation and methodology, with a military spokeswoman saying: “Unfortunately, as in the past, Breaking the Silence has refused to provide the IDF with any proof of their claims. This pattern… indicates that, contrary to their claims, this organisation does not act with the intention of correcting any wrongdoings they allegedly uncovered.”

Breaking the Silence, which lists the Swiss foreign ministry and Norwegian embassy among its western donors, said it collected testimony from more than 60 war veterans and called for an external investtigation “that can examine conduct at the highest ranks in the security and political establishments”.

‘Moral dilemma’

The IDF has launched several internal investigations into the war and argues these are sufficient.

Benny Gantz, Israel’s armed forces chief during the Gaza war, defended his troops’ conduct as legal and predicted bloodier conflict in the future because of the difficulty of distinguishing between Palestinian fighters and civilians.

“Next time, it will be worse, because Israel has to constantly grapple with the moral dilemma, but we need to protect our country,” he said.

In August 2014, Channel 4 News reported on the case of Salem Shamaly, “the man in the green shirt” apparently shot dead by an Israeli sniper in Gaza. The death of the 23-year-old Palestinian was captured on camera and became one of the defining images of the Gaza conflict (watch video above).

An Israeli activist told Inigo Gilmore that he had taken testimony from three IDF soldiers who said they had witnessed the killing. The soldiers told him it was known by Israeli soldiers in the area that he was an unarmed civilian.