On Monday Breaking the Silence, an Israeli activist group founded by military veterans, released edited, anonymous interviews with more than 60 soldiers who participated in Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza, Operation Protective Edge. Breaking the Silence’s avowed mission is to publicize the “deterioration of moral standards” suffered and perpetrated by Israelis who serve in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem, and the new interviews document numerous claims of tragic and/or cruel acts involving Palestinians that soldiers carried out or witnessed during Protective Edge.
Some are simply observations of the inhumanity inevitable in any war zone. At least two soldiers describe their peers defecating throughout the civilian homes that were taken over and used as lookout points. One claims to have shot, for no good reason, at cars and a bicyclist on a highway that had specifically been identified by authorities as a no-fire zone that was outside the scope of the combat mission. Another describes abandoned animals:
What was really awful was seeing lots of animals that they had left behind, their personal pets, they fled without them. People left their dogs behind – it was a pretty awful sight. You would see dogs with collars on. It was clear these were pets, not guard dogs. We looked after them as much as we could, but I’m sure the dogs there just died.
In particular, though, a number of the accounts allege a dangerous level of official permisiveness toward attacks on Palestinian individuals and property on the part of the Israeli Defense Forces. The IDF instructs civilians to leave areas that are about to be occupied or bombed, and by this reasoning, soldiers say, anyone seen near Israeli troops is taken as an immediate threat. (“If we don’t see someone waving a white flag, screaming “I give up” or something – then he is a threat and there is authorization to open fire,” one soldier says.) Any structure perceived as the potential staging point for an attack is in many soldiers’ telling considered an equally acceptable target for destruction.
I remember telling myself that right now, the citizens of Gaza, I really don’t give a fuck about them. They don’t deserve anything – and if they deserve something it’s either to be badly wounded or killed … There was this one time when an old [Palestinian] man approached the house … this old man came over, and the guy manning the post – I don’t know what was going through his head – he saw this civilian, and he fired at him, and he didn’t get a good hit. The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain. It was clear to everyone that one of two things was going to happen: Either we let him die slowly, or we put him out of his misery. Eventually, we put him out of his misery, and a D9 (armored bulldozer) came over and dropped a mound of rubble on him and that was the end of it. In order to avoid having to deal with the question of whether he was booby-trapped or not – because that really didn’t interest anyone at that moment – the D9 came over, dropped a pile of rubble on his body and that was it.
One staff sergeant in the armored corps said tank drivers were notorious for seeking to run over and destroy Palestinians’ vehicles because the tank drivers, not having any guns to shoot themselves, sought any way possible to participate in the general infliction of destruction that most other soldiers were taking part in. “During the entire operation the drivers had this thing of wanting to run over cars—because the driver, he can’t fire,” the soldier said. “He doesn’t have any weapon, he doesn’t get to experience the fun in its entirety.” You can read the rest of the soldiers’ testimonials here.