Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Israeli soldiers reveal Gaza war crimes

Israeli soldiers reveal Gaza war crimes

By Dee Knight

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A new publication by the group Breaking the Silence was announced on July 15. The group is composed of veteran Israeli soldiers who “demand accountability regarding Israel’s military actions in the Occupied territories perpetrated by us and in our name.”

Interviews and testimony by 30 Israeli soldiers regarding their experiences in “Operation Cast Lead” confirm that war crimes were specific policy in last winter’s Gaza massacre. The testimony, gathered in soldier-to-soldier interviews, began to surface in Israel shortly after the end of the December-January war.

Israel’s leading newspaper Haaretz reported on March 20, “The soldiers describe the killing of innocent civilians, pointless destruction, expulsions of families from homes seized as temporary outposts, disregard for human life and a tendency toward brutalization.”

London’s Guardian reported March 22 that the testimony “suggests widespread abuses stemming from orders originating with the Israeli military chain of command.” It adds that soldiers said they were “specifically warned by officers not to discuss what they had seen and done in Gaza.”

Soldier describes killings, destruction

The following are excerpts from that testimony: “What shocked me was a talk we had with ... a colonel. Usually in such talks the commanders mention the lives of civilians and showing consideration to civilians. He didn’t even mention this. Just ‘go in there brutally.’ He said, ‘In case of any doubt, take down houses. You don’t need confirmation for anything.’

“The instruction was explicit–if you’re not sure, kill. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire at suspect places. ... You see a house, a window, shoot at the window. You don’t see a terrorist there? Fire at the window. It was real urban warfare. ... In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents.

“From the onset, the brigade commander and other officers made it very clear to us that ... if you see any signs of movement at all, you shoot. No consideration of civilians was to be taken.”

“The Battalion Commander said, ‘Don’t let morality become an issue. That will come up later. ... It’s not that you’re out to carry out a massacre, but ...’ this was the restraint to everything he had said before, and in between his own jokes. Like, ‘We have an Arabic-speaking grenade launcher and a heavy machine-gun that speaks Arabic.’

“Our objective was to demolish houses. ... Houses were demolished everywhere. You see clearly that these houses had been fired at with tremendous power. We didn’t see a single house that remained intact. ... The entire infrastructure, tracks, fields, roads–was in total ruin. ... Nothing much was left in our designated area. ... A totally destroyed city.

“This was fire-power such as I had never known. There were blasts all the time. The earth was constantly shaking. Explosions were heard all day long, the night was filled with flashes, an intensity we had never experienced before. ... The air force bombed all the time. ...”

White phosphorous ‘fun’?

“Most of the mosques were demolished. That brigade commander I mentioned explicitly told us we should not hesitate to target mosques. Nothing is immune, nothing and no area. He explicitly mentioned mosques.

“Our battalion mortars were also using phosphorus. I know of an officer’s tank that fired phosphorus, too. The company commander gives the mortar platoon commander a target and orders him to fire. ... They define targets . ... Sometimes you’d hear on radio ‘Permitted, phosphorus in the air.’ That’s it.”

An interviewer asked the soldier: “Why fire phosphorus?”

“Because it’s fun. Cool. ... I don’t know what it’s used for. I was just talking about this yesterday. I don’t understand what it’s even doing in our supplies if we’re not supposed to use such ammo. It’s ridiculous. In training you learn that white phosphorus is not used, and you’re taught that it’s not humane. You watch films and see what it does to people who are hit, and you say, ‘There, we’re doing it too.’ That’s not what I expected to see.”

The full testimony is available at BreakingtheSilence.org.il.

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