During Israel’s latest aggression on the Gaza Strip, Palestinians widely reported the indiscriminate killing of civilians along with numerous war crimes and atrocities committed by the Israeli army. Now Israeli officers and soldiers are confirming the allegations and adding witness detail. Will the world finally listen and constitute a war crimes tribunal for Gaza and its victims?
Israeli soldiers confess
Revelations are emerging of war crimes committed in Gaza by Israel that makes obligatory an international investigation, writes Saleh Al-Naami
As calls increase for an international investigation into the crimes that Israel committed during its recent war on the Gaza Strip, confessions by Israeli army officers and soldiers confirm that the military issued clear instructions during the war for the indiscriminate killing of Palestinian civilians.
Israeli television Channel 10, Haaretz newspaper, and the news website Ynet have all published confessions made by Israeli officers and soldiers confirming that the army issued clear directives for shooting Palestinian civilians, raiding homes and opening fire within them, and unjustifiably destroying Palestinian property. These officers and soldiers have said that the Israeli army’s actions during the war on Gaza disqualify its claims that its forces treated Palestinians with “lofty ethics and [that it] maintained the honour of arms”. Their statements have swept away Israeli leaders’ claims that the occupation army avoided harming Palestinian civilians.
Haaretz reported a soldier as saying that the Israeli army took over a Palestinian house and placed its entire family in a single room while soldiers took up position on the roof. Several days later, these soldiers withdrew and left the family in the room. When another Israeli military unit entered the house, it placed machine guns on the rooftop and the head of the unit then allowed the family, consisting of a mother and her two children, to leave the house. The soldier in charge of the artillery immediately opened fire on them, killing them all.
Another soldier said that the commander of one of the military detachments ordered his soldiers to shoot an elderly Palestinian woman from a range of 100 metres. When one of the soldiers contested this order by saying that there must be limits and that it was unacceptable to attack an old woman, the commander responded, “every person here is considered a saboteur or terrorist,” and the soldiers shot her dead.
Israeli television Channel 10 broadcast a documentary film showing a unit commander ordering his soldiers to destroy homes over their occupants’ heads. He told them, “I want a completely clean area. The houses must be pulled down over their heads, and anyone found in the areas we advance upon must be treated as an enemy and immediately killed.” The same channel also broadcast the testimonies of soldiers who said that they spat on food before it went to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The confessing officers and soldiers have suggested that they understood their military directives to have allowed them to do anything in order to protect their lives. Their testimonies further reveal that the rabbis who met with soldiers during the war had stressed to them that this was a religious war and that they should not treat lightly anyone who threatened “Jews remaining on the land of their fathers and forefathers,” and that such threats should be treated “without mercy”. These soldiers said that the rabbis’ sermons played a major role in their making light of the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians, such that they even felt that it was their duty to kill them.
One of these soldiers said that his colleagues had written “Death to Arabs” on the walls of Palestinian houses, and that they had spat on anything that reminded Palestinians of their loved ones. The confessing officers and soldiers said that their leaders had stressed to them that their lives were much more important than those of Palestinian civilians. They further noted that killing in cold blood and the random opening of fire had not only taken place in the units they had served in, but in all of the fighting units that took part in the war. And these killings, they stressed, took place without any apparent regret or hesitation.
In addition to these reports, a Palestinian human rights organisation has announced that it found a military document confirming that the army issued orders to open fire on Palestinian emergency relief teams during the war, with the aim of killing them. The Palestinian Human Rights Centre, whose headquarters is in Gaza City, told Al-Ahram Weekly that its researchers found the document in the home of Sami Darduneh in Jebel Al-Ris, east of Jabalya Refugee Camp, which soldiers had turned into a temporary military base. The document indicates that clear instructions were given to shoot to kill Palestinian emergency relief teams attempting to rescue the injured and remove the killed. Issued on 16 January, just days before the end of the war, the document also calls for opening fire on anyone crossing Salaheddin Street, which runs north-south through the Gaza Strip and then turns east towards the area in which occupation forces were found.
This document indicates that the army did not tell the truth when it claimed that it had not targeted emergency relief teams. It also shows that the army’s actual firing directives issued to Israeli soldiers contradict the army’s claims that soldiers were instructed to first fire warning shots into the air and then to fire at the lower body.
Deputy director of the Palestinian Human Rights Centre Eyad Al-Ilmi told the Weekly that the evidence left behind by the occupation army indisputably indicates that major war crimes were committed during the recent Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip. Al-Ilmi says that the aftermath of destruction and purposeful killing, as well as the testimonies collected following the war, undermine the Israeli narrative of what took place. The Israeli army, he says, is accustomed to denying any relation to war crimes, and yet the evidence shows that war crimes were clearly committed. Al-Ilmi further says that if international will existed, it would be possible to begin trying Israeli individuals for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the recent offence.
Al-Ilmi says that during the war on the Gaza Strip the Israeli army killed 17 emergency relief team members and injured dozens more, including doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers. The targeting of emergency relief teams also led to the deaths of scores of those injured during the war, many bleeding to death before rescue teams could reach them. The bodies of some of those killed in areas raided by the Israelis during the war remained in place for over two weeks without rescue teams being able to reach them, a situation that left their corpses prey to stray dogs and vermin.
It has also become clear that the Israeli army encouraged a culture of killing among its soldiers by allowing fighting units to wear symbols and slogans calling for the killing of pregnant women and children. Haaretz newspaper reported that members of select units in the Israeli army wore clothing printed with expres
sions of “savouring the killing of children and women”. The paper reported that soldiers placed images and phrases on their clothing calling for the killing of children and women and the destruction of mosques, as well as slogans indicating that soldiers made sure that Palestinian civilians were killed after firing on them. It printed a photograph of one of these images, showing a pregnant Palestinian woman in a sniper’s target, and beneath it the phrase “One Shot, Two Kills”. Other symbols bore slogans that justify killing Palestinian children before they become fighters, one of them being, “It doesn’t matter how it started… we’ll put an end to it.” Beneath other symbols was the phrase, “We won’t rest until certain of death,” as well as other crude references. Haaretz confirmed that the army had sanctioned these images and slogans.
The paper noted that the army had allowed one of its death squads to place these slogans on its soldiers’ clothing, and that it had sometimes barred some units from wearing racist slogans while allowing others to do so. For example, the army refused to allow one of the infantry units to wear the slogan “May every Arab mother know that her son’s fate is in my hands,” and yet allowed the soldiers of another unit to wear it. The paper reported that popular racist slogans among soldiers and officers graduating from sniper training included the image of a Palestinian child in a target frame and “The smaller, the harder” written below it, meaning that the younger the Palestinian child, the more painful their killing is to the family.
Israeli intellectual Gideon Levy says that the crimes committed by soldiers form an extension of the last nine years, during which Israeli soldiers have killed about 5,000 Palestinians, at least half of who were innocent civilians, including 1,000 children. In an article published in Haaretz, Levy wrote that the killing of Palestinians has become a commonplace action for Israeli soldiers. “An army whose armoured cruisers have not clashed with an enemy tank over the last 36 years, and whose pilots have never encountered a war plane from the other side, have been trained to believe that the only mission of a tank is to crush private vehicles and that the mission of a pilot is to bomb residential areas,” he wrote.
Levy criticises the response of the government and army to the soldiers’ confessions by describing them as “ridiculous and merely a claim that aims to mislead”. He counters that the Israeli army knew very well what its soldiers were doing in Gaza.
Israeli political analyst Akiva Eldar says that now the accomplishments of the military campaign on the Gaza Strip have dissipated, the confessions by soldiers have shown that Israel’s losses in the war were major. “These soldiers witnessed the killing of innocent civilians, destruction for the sake of destruction, families being thrown out of homes that were taken over and turned into temporary military sites, and insensitivity towards human life and an inclination towards animalistic behaviour,” Eldar says. He warns of the ramifications of the army’s “scandalous” behaviour, saying, “Slow-paced investigations within the Israeli army are not enough. This is the army that is ever absorbing religious sternness from the military rabbinical school. This should be openly investigated with external tools, and should be pulled out from the roots, for fear that rot will destroy the Israeli army and Israeli society.”