I have just finished reading "Soldiers' Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead," Gaza 2009, a 110- page booklet that will be making news today and in the days to come. It is a remarkable, devastating document. Not because of any gruesome descriptions of atrocities. The testimonies are, thank God, relatively tame in that regard. And everything was reported in real time.
What makes the material so chilling is the dry and almost mundane description of the killing of innocents and destruction of property by Israeli soldiers who could be my sons and sons-in-law.
I will try to make the booklet available on this site as soon as I able.(There are certain copyright issues.) Videos of the testimonies will be posted on Youtube later in the week. Look for the article by Amos Harel in Haaretz here . The story has been picked up by BBC News, Reuters, Miami Herald, Financial Times, ABC Online. It should hit other US papers soon.
And the conclusions after a first reading?
1. Operation Cast Lead was a "war" in which only one side actually fought and fought with little restraint. From Day One IDF troops met with little or no resistance. The Kassam rocket fire continued, of course .But there was no engagement, so what do you about rules of engagement.
So here we come to the first conclusion: According to these testimonies the IDF soldiers did not generally adhere even to the IDF Rules of Engagement. When the IDF spokespeople say that they did, they are simply lying.
In testimony after testimony, we learn that in a situation where there are frequent (false) alarms about suicide bombers, and constant fear that a civilian can be wearing a bomb strapped to her waist (which has indeed happened in the past), and where no risk to our troops is tolerated, the policy was to shoot first and not ask questions later.
So in Testimonies 13 and 14, we learn of an old man who was wandering toward a house at night with a flashlight (torch). He was in clear view of many soldiers. Nobody called out to him to stop. Permission was requested from the commanding office to open "deterrent fire," i.e., to shoot around him, and permission denied by the commander. When already the old man was close, the snipers shot him down.
"Suddenly a burst of fire is heard from upstairs, making us all jump. The old man gave such a scream as I'll never forget as long as I Iive. The commander comes downstairs, glowing, "Here's an opener for tonight." He was asked why he wouldn't confirm deterrent fire. He said, "It's nighttime, and this is a terrorist."When we said we knew the guy had nothing on him and only holding a torch, he said, "That doesn't matter. It's nighttime," etc., etc. Later someone brought it up again with the company commander when we got out, and asked him again why he didn't approve of opening deterrent fire. After all, it had been a man walking on the road…I felt uneasy about the whole thing, but knew that it wouldn't do any good to bring it up right there and confront the company commander in the middle of Gaza. Guys told him that the man was an innocent and the we must remember that there are civilian population in there as well, not just terrorists…He didn't agree and couldn't give a damn, and finally the guys felt that even if they would take this up with higher echelons, it would be ineffective. So this is where matters stayed."
2. White phosphorus was used against international conventions.
"We walked along the sand and saw all the white phosphorus bombs I've told you about, we saw glazing on the sand. 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. Until that moment I had thought that I had belonged to the most humane army in the world. I knew that even in the West Bank, when we go into a neighborhood, we do it quietly so that people won't see us but also in order not to disturb them, no less. And IDF soldier does not shoot for the sake of shooting nor does he apply excessive force beyond the call of the mission he is to perform. We saw the planes flying out and you see from which building the rocket is launched against Israel and you see the four houses surrounding that building collapsing as soon as the air force bombs. I don't know if it was white phosphorus or not, and I don't really care that much, but whole neighborhoods were simply razed because four houses in the area served to launch Qassam rockets….."
"What the phosphorus does is to let out an umbrella of fire over the target and naturally that ignites the whole house. Finally we saw all kinds of secondary blasts going, and two Qassam rockets flew out of there towards Israel, probably aimed and charged…. "
3. The devastation was enormous, on an unprecedented scale in the Israeli warfare.
This was fire-power such as I had never known [The soldier had served in Gaza for years-- JH]. I can't say that when I had been in Gaza the air force wasn't used. But…there were blasts all the time. Whether distant or near, that's already semantics. But our basic feeling was that the earth was constantly shaking…Look, when we were fired as, we did not actually see the enemy with our own eyes. On the other hand, we fired back towards suspect spots. What is a suspect spot? It means you decided that it was suspect and could take out all your rage on it.
4. Vandalism was unreported
Leaving this house clean was just not the first thing on my mind. This was simply this atmosphere. But about stealing: the company commander, apparently under orders of the battalion commander, held a shame parade to check if stuff was stolen. How did he do it? He didn't tell the commanders to check each individual soldier. He said "You (soldiers) pair up, everyone checks his mate for stuff taken"… Obviously either this company commander is a total idiot of he just didn't want much stuff to be found out…It was bullshit. And I'm sure there was looting. I can't tell you anything more specific.
You go in with live fire after breaking in the door, the soldiers are looking to smash television and computer screens, looking for interesting stuff in drawers, Hamas shawls and flags, knives, looking for loot. After a while we realized that there was nothing to loot, as people knew we were coming and took their stuff away with them…Even if a soldier was found out to have taken something, what could be done with him, would he be charged? At the end of the day, I realized, when you go into battle, the only thing that keeps soldiers together is trust. You have to choose your battles. If you 'rat' on someone, you'll lose their trust. Sometimes it's just not worth it…The guys would simply break stuff. Some were out to destroy and trash the whole time. They drew a disgusting drawing on the wall. They threw out sofas. They took down a picture from the wall just to shatter it. They really couldn't see why they shouldn't.
5. Gazans were used as human shields, despite being outlawed by the Israel High Court
The method used has a new name – 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. To every house we close in on, we send the neighbor in, 'the Johnnie,' and if there are armed men inside, we start working lik the 'pressure cooker' in the West Bank.
As I write these lines, I hear the following news on Israeli Radio. "The IDF claims that Breaking the Silence is publishing anonymous testimonies whose purpose is to defame Israel in the world. The IDF doesn't respond to anonymous testimonies." Of course, they realize that they aren't going to get soldiers to use their names, because they say that they will then prosecute them.
The purpose of the booklet is first and foremost for the IDF to stop the lies.
Some of my rightwing readers will say, "Jerry, come on. It's a war, and in war you do what you have to do." Fine – but let the IDF say that. Let them say, "Look, the hell with morality; our goal was to increase deterrence, to scare the hell out of them, to punish them for what they had done, and damn the rules of war." But they want it both ways – to act ruthless and to claim that they acted as the most moral army in the world
If this publication stops the ridiculous line that the IDF is the most humane army in the world, dayyenu/it is sufficient.
For starters, let it be the most honest army in the world – if not to others, than at least to itself.