Today, I’ll review the two more of 30 testimonies in the Breaking the Silence report released earlier this week. The report details egregious violations of the law of war and even IDF regulations by soldiers during the January Gaza war.

Testimony 2 begins with the informant acknowledging that he had no idea what the strategic purpose of his actions in Gaza were. He links this to the ignorance that the Israeli populace as a whole had regarding the goals of the war. And for the first time, a soldier confirms what M.J. Rosenberg claimed to me at the time–that the IDF intended to fully occupy Gaza but later changed its mind:

What was the purpose?
We were not told. I don’t know what the objective of the war was. Different things were said, aimed more at what needs to be done concretely – they were said in retrospect, that’s how I feel.

Were you not told what the objective was, at your briefing?
No way, what do you mean? The same way the broader Israeli public was not informed.

…[Our tactical goal was] A separation of Gaza City from the refugee camps and the prevention of weapons, ammunition and reinforcements from reaching Gaza City, which – at the time – I think the army planned to occupy. In fact this did not take place.

Please watch the above video interview with an Israeli armored corps veteran speaking about how the normal IDF rules of engagement were completely suspended during this war. Essentially, every Gazan was the enemy. No civilian was innocent. This is how 1,400 Gazans died. This is how an elderly man is murdered by a sniper bullet even though his entire unit knows both before and after that an innocent man has been killled. Because there was no restraint. No bounds. Fire early. Fire late. Fire at shadows. Fire at anything that moves. Civilian, fighter–they’re all the same.

What is this if not a war crime?

In the following passage, the soldier decribes the wanton destruction of Palestinian homes not for strategic or military purpose, but merely to teach the supposed Hamas supporters a lesson. A second reason was to lay the groundwork for a future Gaza war ("the day after"):

[In] The neighborhood – first of all we saw lots of destroyed houses. This does not mean there were no houses still standing. There were, but next to them were ruins, and with time more and more ruins, and even the houses still standing, most of them kept getting shelled here and there. The explanation we got was that when the regular soldiers went in, they knew which houses were belonged to Hamas activists and which did not. A Hamas activist’s house usually got shelled once or twice just to make sure…

..The idea of demolishing houses or razing the neighborhood is twofold: on the one hand there’s the
operational necessity, that’s what we heard all the time. I recall having constantly heard this over our radio. The idea that we are not to jeopardize Israeli soldiers by entering a house where we don’t know what’s in it…

The other…part of the concept of razing was what the Israeli army calls ‘the day after’ consideration. Obviously this campaign would end at some point, clearly there was no intention to come back and take over the Gaza Strip, it was obvious we’d leave eventually. The question was in what condition we’d leave the area, whether more exposed, a state that would afford us better firing and observation conditions, and far greater control. This was the principle behind all that razing, namely razing for our benefit.

What was the exact wording at the preliminary briefing?
"The day after." Razing was done with the day after our leaving in mind, that we would want this ability, outright, this field of vision and range of fire.

What is important about this passage is the concession from the IDF that it does not believe peace is possible with Hamas and that it is preparing for the war next time. And the IDF’s convenience is far more important to the Israeli army than the personal property of a few thousand Gaza civilians. So if an orchard or neighborhood stands in the way that might provide cover for a potential Gaza militant in some future battle, then away with it–it’s gone. It’s as simple as that.

If you were an Israeli and your side was the weaker and a Palestinian army did this to an entire neighborhood in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, what emotion do you think would be coursing through your veins and brain??

Testimony 3 recounts the murder of a Palestinian civilian hiding with his family in his home. Under Israeli rules of engagement firing into a civilian residence without knowing whether there were civilians inside was perfectly acceptable. It wouldn’t be in most other armies in the world (perhaps with the exception of the Russian army in Chechnya or the Sri Lankan army fighting among Tamil civilians). But once again, Israel has the most moral army in the world:

We entered a yard and out of sheer fear the family was waiting in an exposed spot – a father, grandfather, young mother and babies. As we were coming in, the commander was firing a volley, and mistakenly killed an innocent.

What exactly happened?
We got to the house. It was surrounded by a yard, a fence. After the gate is broken in, he goes in with live fire. Several bullets, not a full burst…

The family was hiding from the bombings. They were under the stairs and that happened to be just in front of the door and when he went in and fired, he didn’t see who he was firing at. So he happened to kill an elderly guy…

And even for this individual soldier who may be a decent person, see what this war did:

He died on the spot?

I don’t know. When I think back, it really seems insane that I don’t know. It hurts to admit it, but… not that I didn’t care. I did keep this in my mind and intended to write the battalion commander about it but I just didn’t have the time. Too bad I didn’t, come to think of it.

Hannah Arendt talked of the banality of the evil. Well, incidents like this are the banality of an evil war. You murder a civilian and forget what you’ve done. In fact, forget there’s a human being there at all. He’s just a dead body like any horse, pig or chicken you might kill with a bullet to the brain. And you leave his corpse there to rot. What are you going to do? Call the Hamas Red Crescent to come and collect it? Give it a decent burial? Not your job.

The soldier continues with a damning indictment of his unit’s actions in Gaza:

What did you intend to write?
That things are happening in his battalion of which he has no idea. Without actually naming anyone. I’m against informing on people. But if I look at it from the side, there are people who deserve to go to jail.

I have no doubt that there were and are people who deserve to go to jail. But the plain fact of the matter is that neither this probably otherwise conscientious soldier had neither the time, energy or inclination to do anything about it. Ditto the Israeli people as a whole who are simply too absorbed in more important matters to give a damn about what was done in their name in Gaza.

To be continued…

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein

I've been writing Tikun Olam, one of the earliest progressive Jewish blogs, since February, 2003. It focuses on Israeli-Palestinian peace and Muslim-Jewish relations. I wrote a chapter for the Independent Jewish Voices essay collection, A Time to Speak Out. I've contributed to Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, and the Los Angeles Times and write regularly for the Guardian's Comment Is Free blog. My work has also been in American Conservative Magazine and Beliefnet and I am on the advisory board of Tikkun Magazine.

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