Gaza invasion: Some Israeli troops claim ‘shoot first, worry later’ order
JERUSALEM, July 15 — Israel rejects charges by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and UN agencies that its January invasion of the Gaza Strip inflicted civilian death and destruction on an unjustifiable scale.
Now, some of the Israeli soldiers who took part say they were urged by commanders to shoot first and worry later about sorting out civilians from combatants. Accordingly, they say, the force went into Gaza with guns blazing. In print and video testimony published tomorrow by the activist group Breaking the Silence, the 30 soldiers say the Israeli army’s imperative was to minimise its own casualties to ensure Israeli public support for the operation.
“Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy,” is a typical description by one unidentified soldier of his understanding of instructions repeated at pre-invasion briefings and during the 22-day operation, from December 27 to January 18.
“If you’re not sure, kill. Fire power was insane. We went in and the booms were just mad,” says another. “The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire at suspect places.
“In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents.”
Their narratives “are enough to bring into question the credibility of the official IDF versions”.
USE OF CIVILIANS
Except for a sergeant named Amir, the soldiers are anonymous and their faces digitally blurred. Transcribed statements can be viewed at www.breakingthesilence.org.il. The group said it had funding from Israeli human rights groups and the governments of Britain, the Netherlands and Spain, and from the European Union.
“We believe that the existence of a moral society clearly requires a profound, honest discussion, of which the voice of soldiers on the ground is an inseparable part,” the group says.
Soldiers describe a “Neighbour Procedure” in which civilians were forced to enter suspect buildings ahead of troops. They cite cases of civilians advancing in front of a soldier resting his rifle on their shoulder.
The report repeats charges – denied by Israel – that white phosphorus was fired indiscriminately into Gaza streets. It cites “massive destruction was unrelated to any direct threat to Israeli forces” and “permissive” rules of engagement.
“We did not get instructions to shoot at anything that moved,” says one soldier. “But we were generally instructed: if you feel threatened, shoot. They kept repeating to us that this is war and in war opening fire is not restricted.”
To strip away cover for Hamas fighters, aerial bombardment, artillery, demolition charges and armoured bulldozers razed whole areas including gardens, and olive and orange groves.
“We didn’t see a single house that was intact . . . that was not hit. The entire infrastructure, tracks, fields, roads, was in total ruin. The D-9 (bulldozer) had gone over everything,” the report quoted a soldier as saying.
“There was a clear feeling, and this was repeated whenever others spoke to us, that no humanitarian consideration played any role in the army at present. The goal was to carry out an operation with the least possible casualties for the army.”
The testimony suggests that “the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians of the Gaza Strip was a direct result of IDF policy”.
UPDATE: Breaking the Silence: 30 testimonies on Cast Lead