Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The First of Av –BtS Testimony 50

Here is another testimony about rules of engagement, or lack thereof, in the Gaza campaign. The BtS booklet can be downloaded here.

Testimony 50 -- Rules of Engagement

... I can tell you about a specific case, where a man passed by our house: our instructions were to take down anyone going by, a lookout. There was a case of a man speaking on his cell phone while he held a white flag. Again, you should realize we kept receiving these specific alerts down to the details of a man on a motorcycle arriving at this or that trail at a certain speed. There were alerts about people with explosive charges and white flags. There was a case of a man speaking on a cell phone close to our house and he also held something white. I didn't see him. I was further back inside the house. I know for certain that this guy was shot in the leg. In hindsight, i cannot prove or verify this, but I heard he died. He was not removed by us and I cannot prove it.

He was not removed?

He limped along and got out of our sight.

But there are rules of engagement, aren't there?

When we hold an outpost on normal security duty, there are rules of engagement. But when we got in there, the feeling was you're going to war and such and such numbers of casualties are expected in the battalion. While we were outside, at the beginning of the operation, there was this atmosphere, something really strong, everyone's eyes shining. It felt like being in a movie, I didn't anticipate what we'd get into. I was expecting combat. We had aerial photos and were told that here's an explosive charge, there's a tunnel. What rules of engagement? We were under the impression we were going into battle, not some outpost routine procedure. While we began to enter we realized this is not what we had expected. You said you heard this from someone else, it felt very much like maneuvers meaning there was all this spectacular fire, a Lau missile here and there, all sorts of things.

In your official briefing by the battalion commander before you went out, what were you told?

We were told soldiers were to be secured by fire-power. The soldiers were made to understand that their lives were the most important, and that there was no way our soldiers would get killed for the sake of leaving civilians the benefit of the doubt. We were allowed to fire in order to spare our lives.

Even when it comes to the individual soldier?

Yes. and that means very aggressive entry. Fire power. it means that as we go in, if people are outdoors, the soldiers shoot them. again, these are cases where I wasn't present myself so i don't want to discuss them. But yes, there were cases of people, civilians who were killed by our own fire.

Light arms? Also.

Did you talk about it? Telling civilians apart from terrorists, and by which criteria? What are incriminating signs?

There is no suspect arrest procedure in wartime. There's exercise of judgment. People were not instructed to shoot at everyone they see but they were told that from a certain distance when they approach a house, no matter who it is – even an old woman – take them down.

What distance are we talking about here?

That depends. Could be a situation where a guy is 40 meters away, entering an area that is out of your sight, where you can't do a thing, as he reaches a house.

There were no official definitions as to who is considered innocent?

The definitions were that an armed person must be shot dead, anyone talking on a cell phone – that's incriminating. People walking around with white rags were not to be shot. But if they would approach a house then deterrent fire was to be shot overhead or beside them, and then just shoot.

Was this clarified? Say the battalion goes in, lots of fire, civilians getting killed as well in other cases, weren't things made clearer?

There was not much friction with the civilian population and I don't recall a clarification to the point of actual rules of engagement.

But because this was left up to the judgment of the individual soldier, wouldn't a commander say that if such and such happens, exercise discretion because there are civilians here.

There was a bit 'do whatever you want' but those were the definitions... Not specific definitions but exercise of judgment. No clarifying beyond that into something resembling ordered procedures.

No one asked about this?

The atmosphere wasn't right to start looking for that. The soldiers were eager and not exactly looking for limits. it wasn't crucial.

Did they feel safe? If you're afraid, you shoot at anything. Was it like this?

The atmosphere was not one of fear but rather people too eager to shoot other people.

Did you see other cases of non-combatant population, such as the one with the cell phone and the white flag, people who...

Again, I can't say whether he died or whether he was passing on information. It's a case that shows how lax the rules of engagement were.

What incriminates a person? People walking towards you from a certain distance? A cell phone that might be used to report things? Someone with a notebook, binoculars?

Binoculars is the same as a cell phone. So what do you do?

Same thing. Exercise your own judgment, and the definition is straight fire. When the guy was shot in the leg, it's because he was holding a white flag, but the atmosphere was not such as to believe that anyone carrying a white flag is all right, because there were alerts.

But you said, for example, that people walking along holding white flags were clearly not to be shot?

Yes. But white flag and cell phone, you notice that. If he really approaches the house, you shoot him.

If they raise their hands up in the air, is that like a white flag? Yes.

You're saying you saw civilians...

No, don't confuse this. There was hardly any encounter with the civilian population. in general, the city was a ghost town. Once in a while you saw a person, during ceasefires when people walked around.

And then?

We held our fire for a few hours. The Red Crescent came around, picked up bodies. They passed by us too, under the house, i mean closer than they were meant to be.

Do you recall the distance which had to be kept from the house? 20-30 meters, something like that.

Wounded were evacuated only during humanitarian ceasefires? Technically yes, but there was not much evacuation of wounded but mostly there was of fatalites.

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