In the Jewish calendar, we have entered a semi-mourning period known as the Three Weeks, between the 17th of Tammuz, when the wall of Jerusalem was breached the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, until the 9th of Av, the day of the destruction of the First Temple. I think it appropriate that during this period, I shall bring one testimony of the IDF soldiers a day.
The reaction of the IDF has been confused and angry to Breaking the Silence's booklet. Of course, they have attacked the messenger, rather than the message. But they have not spoken with one voice. For example, in Amos Harel's article in Haaretz this morning here, the reactions to the prohibited use of Palestinians as human shields by the Golani brigade were as follows:
There were no human shields in Golani (I just heard this on the radio.)
There may have been, but they actually volunteered so that their houses would not be destroyed.
The officers were acting in what they thought were according to the spirit of the law.
Some officers don't yet get the meaning of the prohibition of human shields.
In the case of the Palestinians who were given sledgehammers to break down the walls (see below), the IDF again said that the Palestinians volunteered to do it themselves, so as to minimize the damage.
Haaretz published a long artice in Hebrew with a video of the testimony here. Even if you don't know Hebrew, it is worth watching – and it sounds very authentic. (Note what follows is not a direct translation of what is on Haaretz)
TESTIMONY 1 - HUMAN SHIELD
It was the first week of the war, fighting was intense, there were explosive charges to expose, tunnels in open spaces and armed men inside houses. Combat was slow and basically a very small area was occupied. Every unit, every force had a small designated area of responsibility several dozen houses only, which they had to take over, and that took a whole week. That is combat and it took a whole week. They really moved slowly. Close in on each house. The method used has a new name now — no longer 'neighbor procedure.' Now people are called 'Johnnie.' They're Palestinian civilians, and they're called Johnnies and there were civilians there who stayed in spite of the flyers the army distributed before it went in. Most people did leave, but some civilians stayed to watch over the houses. Perhaps they had nowhere else to go. Later we saw people there who could not walk, some simply stayed to keep watch. To every house we close in on, we send the neighbor in, 'the Johnnie,' and if there are armed men inside, we start, like working the 'pressure cooker' in the West Bank.
Every unit is familiar with a different kind of 'pressure cooker' practice. What do you mean by it?
I'm not sure either about the 'pressure cooker' procedures there, they could be different. Essentially the point was to get them out alive, go in, to catch the armed men. There weren't many encounters. Just a few. In one case, our men tried to get them to come out, then they opened fire, fired some anti-tank missiles at the house and at some point brought in a D-9, bulldozer, and combat helicopters. There were three armed men inside. The helicopters fired anti-tank missiles and again the neighbor was sent in. At first he told them that nothing had happened to them yet, they were still in there. Again helicopters were summoned and fired, I don't know at what stage of escalation (in the use of force). The neighbor was sent in once again. He said that two were dead and one was still alive, so a D-9 was brought in and started demolishing the house over him until the neighbor went in, the last armed man came out and was caught and passed on to the Shabak... The commanders tell what they saw and make sure we know how things work on the inside. They also talked about things that bothered them. They said that civilians were used to a greater extent than just sending them into houses. For example, some of them were made to smash walls with 5 kilo sledgehammers. There was a wall around a yard where the force didn't want to use the gate, it needed an alternative opening for fear of booby-traps or any other device. So the "Johnnies" themselves were required to bang open another hole with a sledgehammer. Talking of such things, by the way, there was a story published by Amira Hass in Haaretz daily newspaper, about Jebalya where a guy tells exactly the same thing. It's the guy who was sent. I saw him afterwards, the guy who was made to go into that house three times. He also told us about being given sledgehammers to break walls.
So you say that, from your own experience, there's truth in these publications.
Yes. It was ludicrous to read it and then hear the response of the army spokesperson that the matter was investigated and there are no testimonies on the ground and that the Israeli army is a moral army. It raises doubts about the army spokesperson's responses in general when you know for a fact that these things actually did take place... Sometimes the force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a civilian's shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield. Commanders said these were the instructions and we had to do it... Anyway, at the concluding debriefing, he (the unit commander) said he didn't know about these things, and the guys, commanders who had been there the first week, said they saw civilians being assigned to break walls and enter with rifle barrels on their shoulders. He said he didn't know this and would look into it. I think nothing substantial had been done about it, I'm also in touch with one of the officers there at present and I don't know if an investigation was made and nothing was found or that nothing was cleared up. Several weeks later, the story came out in the paper about these exact incidents, where they were given sledgehammers to break walls, in our area, this I can say with certainty.