Our bombs blew off this baby’s fingers. She is now learning to use the few she has left.

One year old Zuhoor, whose fingers were amputated after an airstrike in Yemen.

Our government sold the airplanes that dropped these bombs.

Our government refuels the planes on their sorties.

Our government makes and sells the bombs, including cluster bombs.

We share responsibility for these atrocities.

And please don’t believe any of the bullshit peddled to us about how our bombs bring “freedom” and “democracy”. The hands on the triggers are Saudi and we provide the political cover for the Saudis as they do this. The Saudi government is a brutal monarchy. They are about to behead 14 men for taking part in a pro-democracy rally. One of the men was under 18 and arrested on his way to attend college in Michigan. Another is a 23 year old man who is blind and deaf. They were tortured to obtain confessions, most have since recanted.

Meanwhile, in his visit to Saudi Arabia, President Trump did find the time to participate in an elaborate sword dance, but never brought up human rights violations.

US President Donald Trump joins dancers with swords at a welcome ceremony ahead of a banquet at the Murabba Palace in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

The president who spends hours watching TV and tweeting can’t seem to comment on the fact that our close ally is planning to behead men and boys for the crime of attending a rally.

Mr Trump has not yet commented on the case of Mr al-Sweikat. In his speech to the Saudis in May, he said: “America is a sovereign nation and our first priority is always the safety and security of our citizens.

“We are not here to lecture, we are not here to tell other people how to live, what to do, who to be, or how to worship.

“Instead, we are here to offer partnership, based on shared interests and values—to pursue a better future for us all.” — www.independent.co.uk/…

Perhaps torture and a penchant for bombing other countries the “values” we share with brutal monarchies?

— @subirgrewal

As military occupation enters 51st year, Trump administration wants UN to stop “bullying” Israel

What’s the difference between a Bantustan and Area A?

Palestinians have lived for 50 years under a military occupation by a foreign government and there are no signs this will end anytime soon. The Israeli government has been busily dispossessing Palestinians as individuals and as a nation of land and resources. Three generations of Palestinians have lived the bulk of their lives (five decades) with their human and civil rights curtailed by the Israeli government.

The Trump administration believes the UN is “bullying” Israel by condemning these policies:

[US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki] Haley arrived in Israel to a hero’s welcome one day after warning that the United States might pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council unless it changes its ways in general and its negative stance on Israel in particular.

Haley, a former governor of South Carolina who often is touted as a future Republican presidential candidate, has focused heavily on what she calls the mistreatment of Israel during her six months at the United Nations. Her efforts have made her a darling of Israeli leaders, and have endeared her to conservative pro-Israel organizations in the United States. […]

“You know, all I’ve done is to tell the truth, and it’s kind of overwhelming at the reaction,” she said. “It was a habit. And if there’s anything I have no patience for it’s bullies, and the U.N. was being such a bully to Israel, because they could.” — WaPo

Israeli policies towards Palestinians have many parallels with our own treatment of Native Americans. There are other parallels to our history too. For much of the 20th century, towns across the US systematically excluded African-Americans from living there.

What Palestinians are allowed to do in the settlements is work, assuming they can pass a rigorous security screening and a get a permit. But the workers — mostly in construction and service jobs — are not allowed to drive in, and they can’t spend the night. During my two weeks in the West Bank, I learned that the best way to estimate the number of Palestinians working in a given settlement at any moment is by counting the cars parked just outside the gate. This underscored one of the ironies of the settlements, which is that Palestinian hands built most of them: their houses and synagogues, their community centers and shopping malls. — Washington Post

Palestinians are often building these houses for settlers on public Palestinian lands which the Israeli government or settlers have encroached on. In other cases, Israeli officials will condemn private Palestinian lands, establishing “nature preserves” which then turn into gardens or farms for Israeli settlers.

Across Israel proper, housing discrimination is pervasive and various types of discrimination are codified into law. Most housing is largely segregated, with Jewish Israelis living in separate towns and communities, from their Arab Muslim or Christian fellow-citizens. Of course, in the occupied territories, the Israeli army enforces such segregation, just as law enforcement and vigilante groups did in the US.

Such discrimination and oppression is only possible if you successfully propagate a supporting narrative through schools and media. Gil Gertel writing in +972mag discusses how the Israeli education system has helped sanitize Palestinian suffering:

In the wake of the 1948 War, the list of people we forgot only got longer — refugees whom we continued not to see. This is what students read about that period from the “Artzi” textbook, published in 1950: “It is very good that we found a desolate and abandoned land. It is good that every piece of land we obtained is for us […] none of those who hate us (and their numbers are great) can complain that we took someone else’s land.

This book was published two years after the Nakba, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. The Israeli government subsequently razed to the ground hundreds of villages to prevent the inhabitants from ever returning. The JNF began a campaign to plant “forests” to erase evidence of Palestinian villages. Palestinian houses in urban areas were reassigned to Jewish persons.

Students, however, were told it was a “desolate and abandoned land”. In a way, this is analogous to the stories we still tell our students about early European colonization of this country and the impact on Native American peoples.

This is what we teach our children, from a fifth-grade textbook: “In 1967, following the Six-Day War, the territories of Judea and Samaria, which were not yet in Israeli hands, came under its control. Today it is populated by both Arabs and Jews. The Arab population, according to estimates, is comprised of 1.5-2.5 million people, who live mostly in urban areas […] the Jewish population is closer to 400,000, who live in approximately 125 settlements.” (pg. 156). How idyllic: those territories “came under our control,” a real miracle. Jews and and Arabs living side by side — the Switzerland of the Middle East.

— @subirgrewal

Third official explanation for US airstrike that killed 140 civilians in Mosul is also disputed

Scene of the Mosul airstrike.

Back in March, a bomb dropped from a US aircraft hit a building in Mosul and caused it to collapse. The strike was called in because Iraqi force on the ground saw two snipers in the building. Once the smoke had cleared, neighbors began pulling bodies out of the wreckage and there were reports that 200+ people had perished, including many children. This was the only building in the area with a basement and over a hundred people were sheltering there.

The day the news broke, Iraqi forces told journalists that the building collapse was caused by a car bomb. This story, the first explanation, was immediately questioned since there was no tell-tale car bomb crater on the site. Civil defense officials were quoted as saying the damage was consistent with an airstrike, not a car bomb.

Then, US spokespersons claimed that families had been herded into the building to serve as human shields, by ISIS. Neighbors challenged that claim, saying militia fighting in the region had instead told people to clear the area, but the owner of the building had invited people to shelter in the building, probably believing it was safe. This was the second disputed explanation:

Although the U.S. has no video or eyewitness accounts of IS militants planting the explosives, Isler (the lead Pentagon investigator) said. Enemy fighters warned people in the building next door to leave the area the night before the explosion. IS militants knew there were innocent civilians in the building that collapsed, he said, and possibly gave them the same warning. He said the neighbors refused to leave and, as a result, were told by IS that “what happens to you is on you.” — WaPo

After an investigation, the Pentagon issued a report acknowledging its airstrike, but claiming the bomb, a 500lb explosive device, could not have caused the building’s collapse on its own. Other explosive residue was found on the site and the Pentagon claims militants had stashed explosives in the building, which then caused the collapse. But now neighbors are questioning that claim:

Manhal, who lives across the street from the destroyed house, heard the explosion, as did his father, Sameer. The two deny that the Islamic State moved any explosives into the building, however. Both recalled militants arriving the night before the airstrike, telling those still in their homes to leave before fighting began the next day. The snipers, they said, arrived at the house for the first time the morning of March 17, armed with rifles and little else.

“It was an airstrike,” Manhal’s father said of the incident. “There were no explosives.”

Brig. Gen Mohammed al-Jawari, the civil defense chief for Mosul, also disputed the U.S. report. “We were the first people who went to the site and evacuated all the bodies, and we didn’t find any explosives there, only a few grenades and IEDs that weren’t exploded. . . . What caused that destruction was an airstrike, nothing else,” he said. — WaPo

In its report, the Pentagon said there was no way the 500lb bomb it dropped on the building could have caused the collapse. It also said the 500lb bomb was the “proportionate” and “appropriate” response to two snipers:

The weapon appropriately balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the snipers with the potential for collateral damage. The GBU-38 entered the roof and detonated in the second floor of the structure.

Proportionality. The TEA selected a weapon that balanced the military necessity of neutralizing the two snipers with the potential for collateral damage to civilians and civilian structures. — Executive Summary of report from USAF

This was only one of 81 bombs dropped on the neighborhood of al-Jidada that day. The entire area is about 2 square kilometers, or about 500 acres. That is the size of 92 city blocks in Manhattan or about twice the size of the Washington mall. As per the USAF’s report, these 81 bombs were dropped to “seize the sector from 35-40 ISIS fighters controlling the area”.

The USAF’s characterization of the bomb’s impact on the building is strongly disputed by others.

A U.S. military pilot, who spoke on the condition anonymity because of his active duty status, said the report’s damage estimates for the initial airstrike were low and unrealistic. The pilot, who flew hundreds of combat sorties over Iraq and Afghanistan, said that using a GBU-type bomb on a residential structure ensures that there is an “extremely high probability” that the “entire building will be destroyed and every living entity inside would be killed.” — WaPo

The pilot’s perspective on the impact of dropping this bomb, equipped with a 500lb warhead, does comport to other reported uses of the GBU-38.

In a 2006 airstrike, two bombs, a laser-guided GBU-12 and the GPS-guided GBU-38 with 500lb warheads were dropped on a two story brick structure::

The bits and pieces scattered Saturday through the ruins in Hibhib were the remains of the American airstrike that killed Mr. Zarqawi and five others Wednesday, when a pair of 500-pound bombs obliterated the brick house and left a crater 40 feet wide and deep.

“A big hole, sir,” said Sgt. Maj. Gary Rimpley, 46, of Penrose, Colo., who reached the scene shortly after the bombing. — NY Times 

The house in Mosul was also a two storey structure.

This is the third story presented by the US/Iraqi forces about this airstrike to be questioned by people on the ground. What do the neighbors and relatives actually think about the USAF report?

Idriss said the Pentagon investigation released Thursday that acknowledged 105 civilians were killed in the airstrike is relatively insignificant.

“It’s important to hear the Americans apologize,” he said, “but justice would be the government giving the people of this neighborhood money to rebuild their homes.” From where he stood at least five completely destroyed homes were visible. […]

“It wasn’t only this house where civilians died,” said Hamed Salah, approaching the building struck by the U.S. bomb. “In that house over there, more than 30 were killed and another family up there,” he said pointing down one street and up another.

— WaPo/AP

The Pentagon also said it will no longer confirm which airstrikes that kill civilians were caused by US forces.

As the result of a deal struck among the coalition partners, civilian casualty incidents included in monthly reporting will not be tied to specific countries. That means the United States will in the future no longer confirm its own responsibility for specific civilian casualty incidents either — a move toward greater secrecy that could deprive victims’ families of any avenue to seek justice or compensation for these deaths.  — Foreign Policy

@subirgrewal

UN criticizes US human rights record. Cites police brutality, pervasive surveillance and Gitmo

NY Times: U.S. Must Do More on Civil Rights, Officials Agree

“We must rededicate ourselves to ensuring that our civil rights laws live up to our promise,” James Cadogan, a senior Justice Department official, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva.United States authorities brought criminal charges against 400 law enforcement officials in the last six years, Mr. Cadogan said. But the deaths of Freddie Gray in Maryland, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio and Walter Scott in South Carolina “challenge us to do better and work harder for progress,” he said.

His comments came as officials from eight federal agencies and the state of Illinois presented an account of developments in human rights under which the council reviews all states every four years.

The US delegation presented a response to a UN report produced six months ago on racial discrimination in the US and on other Civil Rights issues, including electronic surveillance, CIA interrogations, immigrant detentions, Guantanamo Bay etc.

The ACLU was not impressed:

“It was the same old story of the U.S. dragging its feet on taking effective action to fully implement its human rights obligations,” Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s human rights program said.

Al Jazeera is covering the story with naked glee: US cited for police violence, racism in scathing UN review on human rights

The United States was slammed over its rights record Monday at the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, with member nations criticizing the country for police violence and racial discrimination, the Guantánamo Bay Detention Facility and the continued use of the death penalty.The issue of racism and police brutality dominated the discussion on Monday during the country’s second universal periodic review (UPR). Country after country recommended that the U.S. strengthen legislation and expand training to eliminate racism and excessive use of force by law enforcement.

“I’m not surprised that the world’s eyes are focused on police issues in the U.S.,” said Alba Morales, who investigates the U.S. criminal justice system at Human Rights Watch.

“There is an international spotlight that’s been shone [on the issues], in large part due to the events in Ferguson and the disproportionate police response to even peaceful protesters,” she said.

Anticipating the comments to come, James Cadogan, a senior counselor to the U.S. assistant attorney general, told delegates gathered in Geneva, “The tragic deaths of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Ohio and Walter Scott in South Carolina have renewed a long-standing and critical national debate about the even-handed administration of justice. These events challenge us to do better and to work harder for progress — through both dialogue and action.”All of the names he mentioned are black men or boys who were killed by police officers or died shortly after being arrested. The events have sparked widespread anger and unrest over the past year.

Cadogan added that the Department of Justice has opened more than 20 investigations in the last six years — including an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department — as well as the release of a report of the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing in March, which included more than 60 recommendations.

Chad’s delegate took a moment to provide his take:

“Chad considers the United States of America to be a country of freedom, but recent events targeting black sectors of society have tarnished its image,” said Awada Angui of the U.N. delegation to Chad.

It’s refreshing in a way.

Michael Brown’s parents testified at the last review (in August) as reported by CNN and NBC News:

Lesley McSpadden and Michael Brown Sr. spoke to the United Nations Committee Against Torture — which also works against cruel or degrading treatment or punishment by government authorities.”We need the world to know what’s going on in Ferguson and we need justice,” McSpadden told CNN in Geneva, Switzerland.

“We need answers and we need action. And we have to bring it to the U.N. so they can expose it to the rest of the world, what’s going on in small town Ferguson.”

“His wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world” – Breaking The Silence on Gaza

During Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] bombed dozens of residential structures, killing hundreds of civilians. Over 500 children were killed. Earlier this week, Breaking the Silence (an organization of Israeli veterans) released a report: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)”. What follows are excerpts from these interviews. My prior diaries on this report are here and here. Throughout the testimonies you will hear a lack of concern over the amount of ammunition expended. Israeli artillery fired over 32,000 shells into Gaza over the course of the offensive (in addition to numerous mortar rounds and bombs dropped by US made F-15s and F-16s). The US delivers over $3 billion in military aid to Israel each year. During the offensive, the US re-supplied the IDF with key munitions as its stocks dwindled.


104. Go ahead – his wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world

Unit: Air force • Rank: Not for publication

There is what’s called in the jargon a ‘firing policy.’ It’s changed according to whether it’s [a period of] routine security or wartime. During routine, there’s targeted killings once in a while – they take place during periods of so-called routine security, too. You still use firepower, but during those times the wish or the instruction that no uninvolved civilians will get harmed is top priority. And sometimes that overrides [the targeted killing of] a very, very senior figure, in cases where an opportunity [to attack him] arises. So it’s given up? Yes. But during times like ‘Protective Edge,’ go ahead – his wife and kid are in the car too? Not the end of the world. It’s unambiguous.


56. Anyone there who doesn’t clearly look innocent, you apparently need to shoot

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

Upon entering houses, is there an organized protocol used? It really depends on the case, but generally the idea is to use a lot of fire – this isn’t Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) – you want to find people in pieces inside. That’s how it’s managed, in a nutshell. Besides, usually a D9 (armored bulldozer) comes over, takes down a wall and you enter through the wall.


101. Deter them, scare them, wear them down psychologically

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

And another level on which things are treated is that of readiness – when you discuss the Hamas militants’ morale and confidence, sometimes after militants’ houses are struck you say, “We know that in such-and-such [Hamas] brigade they are expressing concern over the continuation of the fighting,” it’s at that level. I mean, nobody’s saying “We’ll strike that target because it’s the house of a militant and it will lower his motivation” – but one does say the morale is low due to the fact that the strikes on the militants’ houses is having an impact and decreasing the Hamas militants’ morale.


100. He just came over with an urge to take down targets

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Guys there, they go in [to the Gaza Strip] wanting to bust up Hamas. There was this one intelligence officer there, a horrible guy, nobody could stand him, he just came over with an urge to take down targets, he couldn’t help it. He comes over to you and for an entire hour is going, “Check what this is, and check what that is, why aren’t you attacking.” The thing is, it’s not a yes-no black and white thing. It really depends on how you choose to deal with it. There are some people who will try to push for a certain target and it could be that that’s why it’ll be hit. They’ll talk to somebody they know, “Listen, do me a favor, prepare that target for me,” and then [the target] goes into the target list and passes through all the authorizations and it could be hit. That happens sometimes.


13. I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: North Gaza Strip

There was this mentally handicapped girl in the neighborhood, apparently, and the fact that shots were fired near her feet only made her laugh (earlier in his testimony the soldier described a practice of shooting near people’s feet in order to get them to distance themselves from the forces). She would keep getting closer and it was clear to everyone that she was mentally handicapped, so no one shot at her. No one knew how to deal with this situation. She wandered around the areas of the advance guard company and some other company – I assume she just wanted to return home, I assume she ran away from her parents, I don’t think they would have sent her there. It is possible that she was being taken advantage of – perhaps it was a show, I don’t know. I thought to myself that it was a show, and I admit that I really, really wanted to shoot her in the knees because I was convinced it was one. I was sure she was being sent by Hamas to test our alertness, to test our limits, to figure out how we respond to civilians. Later they also let loose a lock of sheep on us, seven or ten of whom had bombs tied to their bellies from below. I don’t know if I was right or wrong, but I was convinced that this girl was a test.


85. Ultimately, they were all bombed

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza City

There was a list of targets distributed to the soldiers who were providing assistive fire, of all the things you can’t fire at unless you get authorization from the assistive fire commander. A school, a kindergarten, things like that. UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East), a hospital, gas stations, power stations, community centers, which are partly run by the UN, all kinds of health clinics – they told us they would mark them on the maps. They were marked in green, very clearly. Some of them were eventually bombed? Yes. Take [the neighborhood of] Shuja’iyya – almost all the locations on the forbidden list there were bombed. Each one had its own particular story, but ultimately, they were all bombed. Those targets all required prior approval by the firing officer? Yes, his advance authorization. And also the population officer (an officer charged with supervising combat-related humanitarian issues) explains to the officers that if you bomb a kindergarten without approval it could result in the entire operation being stopped. That’s what [the population officer] is there for, to give you answers. Does he address the fact that civilians could die? He does, but that’s not what the talk is focused on. We discuss the mission. Do you recall rockets being launched toward Israel from public buildings, hospitals, things like that? We could see the launching – there’s an alarm and you can see from where they originate. It’s a question of what you can figure out from the aerial shots, what that building is. There are buildings that look more ‘governmental,’ there are ones that look like big residential ones, there are yards. Most of the launchings were made from houses’ yards, and it’s unclear to which building they belonged – the one to the right or to the left. Is it part of the school courtyard? Or does it belong to that building? Or to the guy with the farm next to it? And then we say, “OK, we’ll bomb both of them.”


79. Everyone – from the commander all the way down – took dumps in pots, out of some kind of operational principle. Whatever

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

I’m thinking about that poor family whose rooftop was turned into a public bathroom by the entire company, what an awful thing. What’s this story? At some point you need to take a crap, and at first we weren’t given the bags one stashes in one’s helmets, which are really uncomfortable, so one of the guys found a plastic chair, a simple classroom one, and unscrewed its seat, and that chair was moved from one shaded place to another shaded place. The entire battalion had diarrhea and was throwing up. How awful, I thought, it would be to come back home and discover your bathroom is clogged and half the pots in your kitchen have shit in them. Your entire roof is covered in shit, and there’s shit in your garden. People shat in pots? Yes. There were lots of disputes among the commanders about this.


92. The safety regulations are just there for the out-of-touch guys in the headquarters that don’t really have a clue

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza Strip

What happens is, you are left with very little space at which you can fire, because you need to allow for a safe range away from civilians and a safe zone from soldiers and a safe range from UNRWA buildings (UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestinians in the Near East), and so on. So during the informal part of the conversation, one of the senior oficers was this reservist and he says to us, “There’s a well-known trick, which we used [during the war] in Lebanon, too. Say you’re instructed to maintain a [safe range] away from civilians, but the target is too close to them. What you do is, on the map you mark a target that will get cleared through the higher channels – you mark a target that’s far enough [from the civilians] in the computers, so that it shows up that way. And then on the twoway you tell the [artillery] battery, “Fire on [coordinate] no. 2, and adjust by 200 meters.” It’s within your authority to decide and to discuss where to mark a target and where not to. If you know that place needs to be bombed, then you will get the target authorized by the supervising ranks – they will grant authorization, because that’s what they do – because you listed it on the map – and then it’s, “OK, the battalion granted him authorization for that.” And then in real time you’ll tell [the battery] to adjust 200 meters to the right. “Recalibrate by 200 meters.” See, that doesn’t mean much to the [supervising officers]. To them it’s “[The artillery brigade] adjusted 200 meters, they’re just recalibrating.” Those guys don’t really understand. [The soldiers in the battery will say] “We were given faulty coordinates,” or “The wind got in the way.” Standard range recalibration. You are a good war agent when you know how to strike where it’s truly needed. The safety regulations are just there for the out-of-touch guys in the headquarters that don’t really have a clue. [The reservist] told that to a bunch of guys as a sort of lesson from someone experienced, from someone who knows how things actually go down in reality, as someone who had come to explain ‘the professional secrets.’


69. An accomplishment before the ceaseire

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

Aside from those targets, there were also the houses belonging to Hamas’ battalion commanders and company commanders. Various targets were hit by fighter jets that night –the air force just hit them after the ground forces retreated. When did [the air force] attack? Six or 7:00 AM. Before the beginning of the ceaseire. Why right then and not earlier, if there was intelligence? To strike a significant blow – ‘an accomplishment’ before the ceasefire. It’s sad, but that’s the way things are done.


+972mag ran an article by Avihai Stollar, the Director of Research for Breaking The Silence who discussed their method of open ended interviews:

After the testimony is verified, it is published anonymously. The reason for that is that we want to put an emphasis on the content of the testimony, rather than the testifier’s identity. The army tends to ignore claims of systemic failures, and hold individual soldiers liable. Furthermore, it spares the soldiers the potential repercussions – disciplinary as well as social – for having dared to wash the dirty linen in public. We call on the Israeli public to listen to these soldiers, and face up to their stories. They were sent to the frontline in our name, and to listen to them is the least we can do to acknowledge that.


After all the controversy and war crimes allegations following last summer’s Gaza war, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that “I can still look at myself in the mirror.” (story in Jerusalem Post) More snippets and information on the report below the fold.


44. On Friday evening we made Kiddush

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

On Friday evening we made Kiddush (a Sabbath blessing) inside one of the houses. We used a courtyard inside the house where the infantry guys were stationed. We didn’t open up the gate, we just went straight in with the tank – ran over the fence and went in. We ‘parked’ two tanks in there, which means we also had to destroy the wall between the street and the house. A little wall, a fence of sorts. We had to, because each tank takes up a lot of room. So we destroyed part of that fence, and there was also a motorcycle in the way that we ran over. We went in and made Kiddush in the living room with the infantry guys.


46. Columns of smoke everywhere, the neighborhood in pieces

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

“You see the house on the left? Fire at it.” Boom, we fired, and we were just, like, purposelessly firing. There was no intelligence on this or that house – it was just my platoon commander and myself deciding to fire at it because you have to fire, you have to ‘provoke.’ It could well be that people were killed inside, but there really wasn’t any intelligence on those specific buildings. And that’s how it went on. “You see that house in front of you? Shoot.” He also asked me, “What can you fire at? Whatever you can physically see, fire at it.” Like, “Feel free.” And that’s how it was, really – every tank just firing wherever it wanted to. And during the offensive, no one shot at us – not before it, not during it, and not after it. I remember that when we started withdrawing with the tanks, I looked toward the neighborhood, and I could simply see an entire neighborhood up in lames, like in the movies. Columns of smoke everywhere, the neighborhood in pieces, houses on the ground, and like, people were living there, but nobody had fired at us yet. We were firing purposelessly.


51. Firing shells in his memory

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

Throughout the entire operation there was a sort of building far away near the coastline, around 4.5 kilometers from us, a building that nobody really even knew where it was located. I don’t even know what neighborhood that was. It wasn’t a threat to us, it had nothing to do with anybody, it wasn’t part of the operation, it was out by the sea, far away from anything and from any potential threat – but that building was painted orange, and that orange drove my eyes crazy the entire time. I’m the tank gunner, I control all the weapons systems, I have the sights and I’m the guy who actually fires and sees everything that happens, and the whole week or two, that orange was driving my eyes crazy. So I told my platoon commander: “I want to fire at that orange house,” and he told me: “Cool, whatever you feel like,” and we fired. We fired at a distance of 4.5 kilometers, a shell that’s supposed to be used against tanks – it’s not useful for anything else, it’s not meant to harm people, only tanks, and we were just firing at that orange house because it was orange.


55. Because this is our home, because we have nowhere to escape to

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Khan Younis

There was this one house we entered. We entered it ‘wet,’ (using live fire) and suddenly we hear screaming from inside the house and this father came out of a room with his hands in the air. They stopped shooting, and within seconds the battalion’s field interrogator runs in and goes to talk to him. They were in the house. A family: father, mother and three kids. They were asked why they were still there, why they had stayed. And they said, “Because this is our home, because we have nowhere to escape to.” In the end the platoon stayed in that house for like three days. That entire time, the family was in one room, they were told, “We are staying in this house in the meantime, you stay in that room.” A guard was assigned to them, and they were given Israeli food. After three days the platoon moved to another house. The family either stayed or left, I don’t know.


64. When the ‘target list’ is exhausted

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Do you know how high-ranking a [Hamas] militant needs to be in order for his residence be incriminated as the ‘house of an activist?’ No, and it depends on the stage of combat. When the ‘target list’ is exhausted, is the threshold of the rank of militants whose residences get struck lowered? Absolutely. See, you start the fighting with a very orderly ‘target list’ that has been assembled over a long period of time, and there are also units whose objective is to mark new targets in real-time. And when we start running out [of targets], then we begin hitting targets that are higher on collateral damage levels, and pay less and less attention to that – but there are also all sorts of efforts aimed at gathering intelligence that’s specifically for establishing new targets.


66. Let’s show them

Unit: Givati • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Rafah

The motto guiding lots of people was, “Let’s show them.” It was evident that that was a starting point. “Let’s show them.” Lots of guys who did their reserve duty with me don’t have much pity towards… The only thing that drives them is to look after their soldiers, and the mission – they are driven towards an IDF victory, at any price. And they sleep just fine at night. They are totally at peace with that. These aren’t people who spend their days looking for things to kill. By no means. But they aren’t afraid to kill, either. They don’t see it as something bad. The power-trip element is also at play, it’s all kinds of things. I think that a lot can be learned from Operation ‘Protective Edge’ about the issue of dealing with civilians, and how that works. There were a lot of people there who really hate Arabs. Really, really hate Arabs. You could see the hate in their eyes.


71. They fired the way it’s done in funerals, but with shellfire and at houses

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

On the day the fellow from our company was killed, the commanders came up to us and told us what happened. Then they decided to fire an ‘honor barrage’ and fire three shells. They said, “This is in memory of ****.” That felt very out of line to me, very problematic. A barrage of what? A barrage of shells. They fired the way it’s done in funerals, but with shellfire and at houses. Not into the air. They just chose [a house] – the tank commander said, “Just pick the farthest one, so it does the most damage.” Revenge of sorts. So we fired at one of the houses. Really you just see a block of houses in front of you, so the distance doesn’t really matter. Three shells on the same spot? Yeah. I don’t remember exactly what time it was, but it was close to sunset.


75. We are entering a war zone

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Captain

Often rules of engagement also describe at whom you cannot shoot. Were there any instructions regarding civilians or uninvolved people? That was what was missing. There was no reference to it from higher up – from the battalion commander, say. I was waiting for this to come from higher up – and it didn’t. I remember that night I sat the guys down and told them what happens in the event of civilians. Officers held a meeting on how we define that issue to the soldiers. [Our definition was that] we would enter while shooting, enter a house with a grenade – the way it was defined – but ultimately we use our judgment if we run into a woman or child. We use our judgment and we don’t shoot. During Operation ‘Pillar of Defense,’ I remember everything went by really fast – within hours of being called up, we were geared up and ready to go, but even during that short period of time I remember that when we got to the staging area, someone said to me, “You’re an officer? Here,” and gave me a kit with maps and all kinds of booklets and formal IDF materials, and also a little booklet with instructions on how to deal with the civilian population. In that exact stage of the preparations, this kit [was something every commander was given]. I was given no such thing during [Operation] ‘Protective Edge.’ When you laid out rules of engagement for your soldiers, were you in effect violating, or contradicting the battalion commander’s orders? Yes, we contradicted the rules of engagement, but I think what we defined as regulations filled a certain vacuum. The rules of engagement were more or less that we were entering a war. We briefed the soldiers on [how to act while manning] posts, while inside houses, while defending themselves. We laid out rules of engagement using our common sense. If I remember correctly, we defined a suspect arrest procedure (a procedure that dictates firing warning shots before directing fire at a suspect), a procedure that contradicts the directive of, “Anyone you see, you shoot.” Which was essentially the directive? Basically, yes. Shooting to kill? Yes.


78. Everyone wanted to take part

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Captain

I’ll tell you about something that I consider very, very, very problematic. It took place within our forces, and it happened in lots of cases. During quiet moments, when not a lot of intelligence was coming in, when we weren’t really firing at any targets, at times when there was a lull – for whatever reason, and Hamas was quiet and not firing as much as usual – then there was always a question mark: is [Hamas] not shooting now because we managed to hit a strategic target? And then we start digging into our intelligence to see if something specific happened, or maybe they’re just collecting themselves? Or maybe they really are taking a break because we called a ceasefire and they are honoring it. And during such a lull an officer will come up to you – sometimes a more senior one, sometimes less – and say, “OK, we have this moment of quiet, let’s see which targets we haven’t bombed yet, what else we can incriminate, what else we can declare as definite targets, let’s start working on it.” And then you find yourself – and I’m being very careful about how I say this – coercing yourself to find more targets that are quality targets, good targets. Now, in some cases that’s totally legit. You’ve suddenly got a moment of quiet so you can clear out all the noise and look at the data that’s coming in and see if it’s really quality and if you can wrest some targets out of it, or figure out some puzzle that eluded you until now by cross-checking data or something else. And sometimes the forces are so eager to keep firing or creating more targets for themselves, that often you cut a few corners to be able to say, “OK, there might be something here, and in the past when we saw such things we turned out to be right, and, well, if the house is empty and you happen to have the munitions then OK, go ahead, take it down.” That was how it was for everyone. Everyone wanted to take part.


80. The day after

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Gaza City

Part of the [military] engineering rationale, of what’s called ‘the day after’ – I don’t know if that’s a term that gets published – is that when we blow up and raze areas, we can in effect sterilize them. Throughout the period of combat, one keeps in mind that there is this thing called ‘the day after,’ which is: the day we leave [the Gaza Strip], the more [areas] left wide-open and as ‘clean’ as possible – the better. One decides on a certain line – during the days after Operation ‘Cast Lead’ it was 300 meters from the fence – and it’s leveled, flattened. Doesn’t matter if there are groves there, doesn’t matter if there are houses, doesn’t matter if there are gas stations – it’s all flattened because we are at war, so we are allowed to. You can justify anything you do during wartime..


82. ‘Roof knocking’ gave them enough time to go down into some burrow

Unit: Gaza Division • Rank: Lieutenant

The whole ‘roof knocking’ thing (a practice in which a small missile is fired at the roof of a building as an advance warning that it will shortly be destroyed in an air strike) was understood [by Hamas] very quickly. Hamas forces are very light, really, and for them – in contrast to the general [Gaza Strip] population, and this is the great tragedy –‘roof knocking’ gave them enough time to go down into some burrow, or to run between the houses and vanish from the area. But for a family with a grandmother who’s sitting in the living room, it’s a bit harder.


83. Look, we’re going to put on a show

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

There was a humanitarian ceasefire that went into effect at 6:00 AM. I remember they told us at 5:15 AM, “Look, we’re going to put on a show.” It was amazing, the air force’s precision. The first shell struck at exactly quarter past five on the dot, and the last one struck at 5:59 AM and 59 seconds, exactly. It was amazing. Fire, nonstop shelling of the ‘Sevivon’ neighborhood, (east of Beit Hanoun) which, if I remember correctly, ran down more to the west and south of where we were in there. Nonstop. Just nonstop.


48. You fire shells at the houses and spray bullets at the orchard

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

We reached the first line of houses and the platoon commander ‘cleared up’ a few key spaces with grenades. You never ‘open’ houses ‘dry’ (without live fire) – you throw a grenade [before you enter]. It busts the walls, brings down plaster and paint. At some point you take over the house. Only a few minutes after we would finish taking over the houses, the area was ‘sterilized,’ a sweep was conducted, one made sure there was no terrorist with an anti-tank missile… Then tanks and D9s (armored bulldozers) come over at the same time. It was one of the most beautiful orchards I’d ever seen – it looked just like an old-style Moshav (a rural town), and within a few hours it was totally erased – reduced to piles of powdered sand. Tanks drove over it and broke up the ground, smashing it to smithereens. Was [the orchard] ruined on purpose, or because heavy equipment was moving through? It simply was not taken into consideration. It’s not like they said, “Hey, there’s an orchard here.” You don’t think in those terms. No one was told to destroy the orchard – it’s simply that the earth was pushed up; it was needed for a rampart.


86. The civilian was laying there, writhing in pain

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

There was this one time when an old [Palestinian] man approached the house and everyone remembered hearing about that booby-trapped old man (earlier in his testimony the testifier described being briefed about an elderly Palestinian man armed with grenades who tried to attack a different force). This happened right around noon, between noon and 2:00 PM. So 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. We all remembered that story going around, so none of the paramedics wanted to go treat him. 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. Everyone knew that under that pile there was the guy’s corpse.


95. We’re talking about human beings, it’s a dialogue that takes place through fire – if there’s an escalation, things intensify

Unit: Air Force • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Gaza Strip

What’s a problematic target? A target that doesn’t fall under the firing policy – that hitting it would entail violating the firing policy criteria. Can you tell me about a target that at first wasn’t approved for striking, and later did get approved? Well, after the APC in Shuja’iyya, (an incident in which seven IDF soldiers were killed when a rocket hit their armored personnel carrier) and when the brigade commander was killed (certain members of the IDF mistakenly believed, for a period during the operation, that a Golani brigade commander was killed), so things weren’t done the same as they were before. There are things in the military that are in flux – we’re talking about human beings, it’s a dialogue that takes place through fire – if there’s an escalation, things intensify. Can you describe a concrete example? It’s something that’s known in advance. The operation wasn’t ending, it entered its first week, second week, third week, and [Hamas] kept trying to enter [Israeli] towns and kill people, so in response we struck harder. Targets that we had set aside –‘golden targets’ of sorts – they started to hit them. What are these ‘golden targets? Residences of [Hamas] battalion commanders and brigade commanders. There were many, many targets that [weren’t attacked] because they didn’t qualify under the firing policy, and then after Shujai’yya for example, suddenly some of those targets did get approved. The sort of problematic targets that were at a certain distance from some school – suddenly stuff like that did get approved.


96. The artillery is constantly firing

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Lieutenant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

The idea behind the action being – both during the fighting and after it – that from the moment you incriminate a building – incriminate meaning that you saw some movement there, even the smallest – a terrorist going in, maybe – those are suficient grounds to take it down. The entire building? Yes. At the beginning [of the operation] they were really careful, they tried to do this with combat choppers, or guided missiles or all kinds of special forces. But the deeper we got into the operation, and the more the patience and understanding given to you by the levels of oversight – and by the Israeli public at large – slowly runs out, then it becomes OK to use artillery. “You don’t need a chopper, let’s use artillery on it, let’s bring it down, no problem with that.” It’s statistical – it has a 50 meter radius. In the end, that’s one of the problems, too – [mortars are] a statistical weapon (an imprecise weapon that cannot be aimed at specific targets, but rather at general areas), and people don’t get that. There is this conception that we know how to do everything super accurately, as if it doesn’t matter which weapon is being used – “OK, let them fire, they’re OK.” But no, these weapons are statistical, and they strike 50 meters to the right or 100 meters to the left, and it’s… It’s unpleasant.


97. Not enough time for everyone to leave

Unit: Not for publication • Rank: Not for publication

Verifying that there are no civilians in the building – is that a mandatory prerequisite for carrying out a strike? It’s not mandatory. Because even if there are civilians sometimes – [for example, while targeting] the Shuja’iyya deputy battalion commander, [the strike] would be carried out if there weren’t too many civilians. When I say ‘too many’ I mean a double digit number. This story, how atypical was it? This was atypical due to the fact it was a multi-story building, five or six stories –because most of the houses that were seriously flattened were two, maybe three stories, tops. It was also atypical in the sense that there was information about the presence of innocent people in there. There was data about a certain number [of civilians] and it withstood the equation, apparently – and there was simply enough of an accumulation of intelligence and verified data about the presence of heads of cells in there, that they decided that the bombing was justified.


111. What the hell, why did you have to shoot him again?

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

You leave [the Gaza Strip] and the most obvious question is, ‘did you kill anybody?’ What can you do – even if you’ll meet the most left-wing girl in the world, eventually she’ll start thinking, “Did you ever kill somebody, or not?” And what can you do about it, most people in our society consider that to be a badge of honor. So everybody wants to come out of there with that feeling of satisfaction. That’s what shocked me the most. We have guys in our company walking around with X’s marked on their straps, it’s a sort of culture. Maybe it sounds to you like I’m exaggerating, but… I’d like for this whole thing of X marks – even if it’s somebody who just saved an entire Israeli family – to be forbidden.


The complete report can be found on their site: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)” More about Breaking The Silence: Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. This booklet is a collection of testimonies from over 60 soldiers in mandatory and reserve service that took part in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. About a quarter of the testifiers are officers that go all the way up to the rank of major. The testimonies underwent a meticulous investigative process to ensure their veracity. The testifiers, who served in various units – from ground, to naval, to air forces, and in headquarters and command centers – expose the nature of IDF operations in various combat zones. The testimonies in this collection close the yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.


From the introduction to the report: The operation, which was conducted under a policy determined by the most senior commanding ranks who instructed the soldiers’ conduct, casts grave doubt on the IDF’s ethics. As IDF soldiers and officers, in mandatory and reserve service, we feel it is our civil obligation to publicly expose these testimonies. The findings that arise from the testimonies call for an honest and thorough investigation into how IDF forces were activated during Operation Protective Edge. Such an investigation will only be effective and meaningful if carried out by an external and independent entity, by actors that can examine conduct at the highest ranks in the security and political establishments. Anything less, as we have seen in past experience, will lead to placing the responsibility for the acts on more junior and lower ranks, thereby precluding the ability to bring about fundamental change that can prevent a recurrence of the harsh reality we witnessed in the summer of 2014.

“2,000 dead, 11,000 wounded, half a million refugees” = Mission Accomplished – Breaking the Silence

Earlier this week, Breaking the Silence (an organization of Israeli veterans) released a report: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)”. What follows are excerpts from interviews with Israeli soldiers who served in Gaza during Operation ‘Protective Edge’ last summer (I’m about half-way through the report, I will do one more diary with excerpts). My earlier diary on this report is here and the third in the series is here. Emphasis is mine.


19. If ‘roof knocking’ was conducted and no one came out after a few minutes, then the assumption was that there was no one there

Unit: Not for Publication • Rank: Not for publication

Is it a requirement to make sure no civilians are in a structure before it’s attacked by a fighter jet? It’s not obligatory. Say the target was [Hamas’] deputy battalion commander in Shuja’iyya, an attack would be launched if the number of civilians wasn’t too high. By too high, I mean a two digit number.


35. They were fired at – so of course, they must have been terrorists…

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Not for Publication • Location: Southern Gaza Strip

There was a force that identified two figures walking in an orchard, around 800 or 900 meters from the force’s zone perimeter. They were two young women walking in the orchard. The commander asked to confirm, “What do you see,” and whether they were incriminated or not. It was during daytime, around 11:00 AM, or noon. The lookouts couldn’t see well so the commander sent a drone up to look from above, and the drone implicated them. It saw them with phones, talking, walking. They directed fire there, on those girls, and they were killed. After they were implicated, I had a feeling it was bullshit. On what was the incrimination based? Scouts. “The [Palestinian girls] can surely see the tanks, and they can surely see the smoke rising from all the engineering work.” After that the commander told the tank commander to go scan that place, and three tanks went to check [the bodies]. They check the bodies, and it was two women, over age 30. The bodies of two women, and they were unarmed. He came back and we moved on, and they were listed as terrorists. They were fired at – so of course, they must have been terrorists…


37. With regard to artillery, the IDF let go of the restraints it once had

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Lieutenant The D9s (armored bulldozers) are operating during this time?

Always. Whenever tanks pass through central routes there will always be a D9 going through and clearing out the terrain before them in every direction, so that they’ll be able to pass through if there’s an explosive device or something in there. One of the high ranking commanders, he really liked the D9s. He was a real proponent of flattening things. He put them to good use. Let’s just say that after every time he was somewhere, all the infrastructure around the buildings was totally destroyed, almost every house had gotten a shell through it. He was very much in favor of that.


21. Everything exploded. Everything destroyed

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

You keep shooting at the same houses, at the same windows. When you shoot at a house it doesn’t totally collapse. They stay standing. I was surprised by how long it takes until they fall. You can take down three walls and somehow they remain standing despite the fact that they’re all blown to bits, it’s all ruined. It’s like “Call of Duty” (a first-person shooter video game). Ninety-nine percent of the time I was inside a house, not moving around – but during the few times we passed from place to place I remember that the level of destruction looked insane to me. It looked like a movie set, it didn’t look real. Houses with crumbled balconies, animals everywhere, lots of dead chickens and lots of other dead animals. Every house had a hole in the wall or a balcony spilling off of it, no trace left of any streets at all. I knew there used to be a street there once, but there was no trace of it left to see. Everything was sand, sand, sand, piles of sand, piles of construction debris. You go into a house by walking up a sand dune and entering it through a hole in the second floor, and then you leave it through some hole in its basement. It’s a maze of holes and concrete. It doesn’t look like a street anymore. I really remember how every day we would get new aerial photos and every day a few more houses were missing from the map, and there would be these sandboxes instead.


38. We were we just trying to hit the cars

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

After three weeks in the tank, we went up to the post and saw this route and a sort of competition got going. “You’re a gunner, let’s see if you’re a real man, let’s see if you manage to hit a moving car.” So I picked a car – a taxi – and tried to fire a shell, but didn’t manage to hit it. Two more cars came by, and I tried with another shell or two, and didn’t hit. The commander said, “OK, enough, you’re using up all my shells, cut it out.” So we moved to a heavy machine gun. We didn’t manage to hit cars after a few times with that, either, until suddenly I saw a cyclist, just happily pedaling along. I said OK, that guy I’m taking down. I calibrated the range, and didn’t hit – it hit a bit ahead of him and then suddenly he starts pedaling like crazy, because he was being shot at, and the whole tank crew is cracking up, “Wow, look how fast he is.” After that I spoke about it with some other gunners and it turns out there was a sort of competition between all sorts of guys, “Let’s see if this gunner hits a car, or if that gunner hits a car.” Did you consider what happens if there are people inside there? I mean, did that come up in the talk you held within the tank, that it’s civilians? Me personally, deep inside I mean, I was a bit bothered, but after three weeks in Gaza, during which you’re shooting at anything that moves – and also at what isn’t moving, crazy amounts – you aren’t anymore really… The good and the bad get a bit mixed up, and your morals get a bit lost and you sort of lose it, and it also becomes a bit like a computer game, totally cool and real.


11. The people at their finest hour

Unit: Combat Intelligence Collection Corps • Rank: Sergeant First Class • Location: North Gaza Strip

What was said during the debriefing afterwards? You could say they went over most of the things viewed as accomplishments. They spoke about numbers: 2,000 dead and 11,000 wounded, half a million refugees, decades’ worth of destruction. Harm to lots of senior Hamas members and to their homes, to their families. These were stated as accomplishments so that no one would doubt that what we did during this period was meaningful. They spoke of a five-year period of quiet (in which there would be no hostilities between Israel and Hamas) when in fact it was a 72-hour ceasefire, and at the end of those 72 hours they were firing again. We were also told that what had emerged was a picture of the people [of Israel] at their finest hour, the civil unity, the [national] consensus. Discounting a few weirdos who didn’t see it it to rally around this thing.


70. The discourse is racist. The discourse is nationalistic

Unit: Gaza Division • Rank: Lieutenant

As opposed to previous operations, you could feel there was a radicalization in the way the whole thing was conducted. The discourse was extremely right-wing. The military obviously has very clear enemies – the Arabs, Hamas. There is this rigid dichotomy. There are those involved [Palestinians involved in the fighting] and those uninvolved, and that’s it. But the very fact that they’re described as ‘uninvolved’, rather than as civilians, and the desensitization to the surging number of dead on the Palestinian side – and it doesn’t matter whether they’re involved or not – the unfathomable number of dead on one of the sides, the unimaginable level of destruction, the way militant cells and people were regarded as targets and not as living beings – that’s something that troubles me. The discourse is racist. The discourse is nationalistic. The discourse is anti-leftist. It was an atmosphere that really, really scared me. And it was really felt, while we were inside. During the operation it gets radicalized. I was at the base, and some clerk says to me, “Yeah, give it to them, kill them all.” And you say to yourself, ‘Whatever, they’re just kids, it’s just talk’ – but they’re talking that way because someone allowed them to talk that way. If that clerk was the only one saying it I’d write her off – but when everyone starts talking like that…


39. When you go in with a tank brigade, who cares about a mortar?

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Gaza City

The bombings in the days that followed that incident [an incident in which seven IDF soldiers were killed by a rocket] were much more significant. And we retained the same mentality of bombardment as we advanced deeper inside Gaza, into more crowded areas. At 3:00, or 3:30 AM more targets get approved, there’s more activity, you can fire artillery cannons a bit to the side because they will be overshadowed by the air force bombings. You can add more targets because now you’re part of a large-scale offensive. It’s as if because now you’re entering with a tank brigade, firing mortars is totally fine – you’re going in with a tank brigade, so who cares about a mortar? So now when you go in with the all the firepower of F-16s and F-15s, laying down one-ton bombs and blowing up that hospital and all that, well, you can also fire a few mortars on the side while you’re at it. What do you mean ‘on the side?’ There was an area out of which every two days [Palestinian militants] would shoot rockets – but it was also where their power station was, which generates electricity for an area where 200,000 people live. So take advantage and fire at the place – this one time you’ll get authorization, because there’s a surge in authorizations right now. When there’s a wave of air force strikes going on, you know that whoever is making the decisions is sitting in front of his map right now and marking ‘yes, yes, yes’ – it’s a larger offensive. When the offensive mentality goes large-scale, you can do things that it a large-scale offensive. Was any fire directed at power stations? Yes. Like the bombing of the Wafa Hospital. It grows and grows and grows and then they say, “OK, come on, let’s bomb it.” We woke up one morning and went, “Huh, they took it down.” And we marked another X on our list of optional targets. Power stations were optional targets? They were. It’s a strategic site, an important site, you mark it as a target. When do you act against it? That depends how things develop, on the circumstances.


More snippets and information on the report below…


3. People that look at you from the window of a house, to put it mildly, won’t look anymore

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: Sergeant First Class • Location: Gaza City

If you identify a person watching you from a rooftop, do you fire a shell there? It really depends on when – at the beginning [of the operation], you didn’t wait for authorization, or you waited for authorization to make sure they were not our forces. You didn’t wait to incriminate. You identify a person, and if the tank commander considers him a suspect, you open fire. You don’t ask for authorization, no one asks for explanations. It doesn’t feel strange because that’s what we did in nearly every battle we were in, from the start up until then. And what about people looking at you from the window of a house? People who look at you from the window of a house that is in your designated area – they, to put it mildly, won’t look anymore.


7. Suddenly I saw a horse collapse to the ground

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

If you see Juhar al-Dik today, you’ll see nothing but a sand dune. When we entered [the Gaza Strip] it was a full-on orchard. I pointed the cannon at an orchard, toward an area that was half built up, half open, and every few minutes we blasted a barrage of MAG (machine gun) fire into it, nonstop. Every once in a while we fired to keep people’s heads down, so that no one would come close. If you just stand there like an idiot, eventually someone will come at you. Where did you shoot? One of our guys accidentally shot a horse – by accident. I was shooting fan-shaped bursts into the orchard the whole time – right side, left side. You sort of keep playing around with it. It was night, and our night vision showed white and green – white indicates someone’s body heat. This soldier turned around and looked at the screen and suddenly saw something white, so he fired a burst at it straight away, and suddenly I saw a horse collapse to the ground.


8. No one spoke about that at all

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

Did they discuss rules of engagement with you? What’s permitted and what’s forbidden? During training, in that respect, [they told us] that we only enter houses ‘wet,’ with grenades, and the more of them the better – and [grenade] launchers if you can use them. You’re going to ‘open’ a house? Don’t take any chances, use your grenade launcher, utilize every effective tool you’ve got. Aim, fire and only then go in. You don’t know if there is or isn’t someone in there. Go in ‘wet’ with grenades, with live fire. These were the orders for entering houses. […] Did they discuss [dealing with] uninvolved civilians with you? No one spoke about that at all. From their point of view, no one should be there at all. If there is [any Palestinian] there – they shouldn’t be. I think there was something very frightening, and also a bit paralyzing in the atmosphere. And I think that the feeling among [the soldiers] too, was that we really need to give it to them.


16. Shoot, shoot everywhere

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Gaza City

Besides that, if there’s a building that poses a threat, if you say, “I feel threatened by that tall building, I want it either smoke-screened or taken down,” then it’s deemed a target, located on the maps, they get on the radio with the brigade and report it. The feeling was that it’s all very much up to the guys on the ground – however they describe the situation to the level of oversight – the response will be in line. If [the soldiers on the ground] say “That building needs to be taken down, it poses a severe threat to my forces,” it will be shelled. In the beginning, we weren’t granted authorization if there was any fear of [harming] civilians. In the beginning there was a lot of concern about the media and that stuff. But it’s all very subject to change because you’ve got drones, and when the artillery coordination officer raises a request [to the brigade], they sit down together and look at the visuals from the drone, and ask military intelligence, “Does anybody know anything about this?” And then say, “Yes, you can go ahead and fire.” As long as there wasn’t any concrete information that [shooting a specific target] would be harmful to us – it’s “Fire away.” But the more time that passed [since the operation started], the more immediate authorizations became. The rules of engagement for soldiers advancing on the ground were: open fire, open fire everywhere, first thing when you go in.


20. It’s simple: whoever feels like shooting more – shoots more

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

There was no specific target. Every so often, ‘boom’, a shell, or ‘boom’, suddenly a machine gun was fired. What were you shooting at? At houses. Randomly chosen houses? Yes. How much fire were you using? There was constant talk about how much we fired, how much we hit, who missed. There were people who fired 20 shells per day. It’s simple: Whoever feels like shooting more – shoots more. Most guys shot more. Dozens of shells [per day], throughout the operation. Multiply that by 11 tanks in the company.


22. Anything still there is as good as dead

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

The working assumption states – and I want to stress that this is a quote of sorts: that anyone located in an IDF area, in areas the IDF took over – is not [considered] a civilian. That is the working assumption. We entered Gaza with that in mind, and with an insane amount of firepower. I don’t know if it was proportionate or not. I don’t claim to be a battalion commander or a general. But it reached a point where a single tank – and remember, there were 11 of those just where I was – fires between 20 and 30 shells per day.


26. Person looking out from a house… Whether he was or wasn’t using any lookout aids, one shoots in that direction

Unit: Mechanized Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

Heavy machine gun fire was used to locate the house and then a shell would be fired? Yes. That’s the idea. When you identify a person looking out from a house, from a balcony or a window. Whether he was or wasn’t using any lookout aids, I wouldn’t know – but it doesn’t matter, one shoots in that direction, with intent to kill. When a shell is fired at it there is no expectation that anybody inside will stay alive. Are we talking about a moment when tanks are coming under fire? No. This is for when [the Palestinian who was spotted] doesn’t constitute a direct threat, not for when there’s an anti-tank missile being fired at us.


27. A crazy urge to run over a car

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

During the entire operation the [tank] drivers had this thing of wanting to run over cars – because the driver, he can’t fire. He doesn’t have any weapon, he doesn’t get to experience the fun in its entirety, he just drives forward, backward, right, left. And they had this sort of crazy urge to run over a car. I mean, a car that’s in the street, a Palestinian car, obviously. And there was one time that my [tank’s] driver, a slightly hyperactive guy, managed to convince the tank’s officer to run over a car, and it was really not that exciting – you don’t even notice you’re going over a car, you don’t feel anything – we just said on the two-way radio: “We ran over the car. How was it?” And it was cool, but we really didn’t feel anything. And then our driver got out and came back a few minutes later – he wanted to see what happened – and it turned out he had run over just half the car, and the other half stayed intact. So he came back in, and right then the officer had just gone out or something, so he sort of whispered to me over the earphones: “I scored some sunglasses from the car.” And after that, he went over and told the officer about it too, that moron, and the officer scolded him: “What, how could you do such a thing? I’m considering punishing you,” but in the end nothing happened, he kept the sunglasses, and he wasn’t too harshly scolded, it was all OK, and it turned out that a few of the other company’s tanks ran over cars, too.


28. The instructions are to shoot right away… Be they armed or unarmed, no matter what

Unit: Engineering • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Gaza City

What was the commanders’ response? A typical officer’s response was, “It’s a complicated situation, I realize a situation might arise in which innocent people get killed, but you cannot take that risk or put your comrades at risk, you must shoot without hesitation.” The instructions are to shoot right away. Whoever you spot – be they armed or unarmed, no matter what. The instructions are very clear. Any person you run into, that you see with your eyes – shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.


29. Good Morning al-Bureij

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

I remember it, all the tanks were standing in a row, and I personally asked my commander: “Where are we firing at?” He told me: “Pick wherever you feel like it.” And later, during talks with the other guys – each one basically chose his own target, and the commander called it on the two-way radio, ‘Good morning al- Bureij.’ “We are carrying out, a ‘Good morning al-Bureij,’ guys” that was the quote. Basically to wake up the neighborhood, to show those guys that ‘the IDF is here,’ and to carry out deterrence. I remember that all the tanks were standing in a row, and we were too, I was the gunner, and I looked at some building, which was very tall, at the center of that neighborhood, and I asked my commander, “OK, where do I hit that building?” And we decided between us – “OK, if you feel like aiming a bit to the right, a bit to the left, a bit toward that window, a bit toward the floor, let’s do that.” And then the commander says on the radio: “3, 2, 1, fire.” And everyone fired shells wherever they wanted to, obviously. Nobody had opened fire at us – not before, not after, not during.


34. Worst case they’ll ask what we shot at, we’ll say it was a suspicious spot

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah What rules of engagement were you provided with before you entered [the Gaza Strip]?

I don’t really remember what was discussed in terms of formal instructions before we entered, and after we entered nobody really cared about the formal instructions anyway. That’s what we knew. Every tank commander knew, and even the simple soldiers knew, that if something turns out to be not OK, they can say they saw something suspicious. They’ve got backup. They won’t ever be tried.


Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. They complete report can be found on their site: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)” This booklet is a collection of testimonies from over 60 soldiers in mandatory and reserve service that took part in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. About a quarter of the testifiers are officers that go all the way up to the rank of major. The testimonies underwent a meticulous investigative process to ensure their veracity. The testifiers, who served in various units – from ground, to naval, to air forces, and in headquarters and command centers – expose the nature of IDF operations in various combat zones. The testimonies in this collection close the yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.


From the introduction: The operation, which was conducted under a policy determined by the most senior commanding ranks who instructed the soldiers’ conduct, casts grave doubt on the IDF’s ethics. As IDF soldiers and officers, in mandatory and reserve service, we feel it is our civil obligation to publicly expose these testimonies. The findings that arise from the testimonies call for an honest and thorough investigation into how IDF forces were activated during Operation Protective Edge. Such an investigation will only be effective and meaningful if carried out by an external and independent entity, by actors that can examine conduct at the highest ranks in the security and political establishments. Anything less, as we have seen in past experience, will lead to placing the responsibility for the acts on more junior and lower ranks, thereby precluding the ability to bring about fundamental change that can prevent a recurrence of the harsh reality we witnessed in the summer of 2014.

1:28 PM PT: Changed the title, found a better quote. The title was originally:

“The discourse was extremely right-wing… The discource is racist” – Breaking the Silence on Gaza

“we do not spare ammo – we unload, we use as much as possible” – Breaking the Silence on Gaza

In the summer of 2014, 2,205 people were killed in Gaza. 547 children were among those killed and over 1,000 were permanently disabled. Entire families died in their homes as a result of IDF bombs. Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organization of former veterans. They released a report today on Operation Protective Edge: This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014) The Guardian has the best coverage I’ve found so far. They have excerpts from the report up at: In their own words: Israeli troops break ranks on Gaza campaign They also have an article written up with background: Israeli soldiers cast doubt on legality of Gaza military tactics I have two other diaries on this subject, the second one is here and third one here.

[The report] include allegations that Israeli ground troops were briefed to regard everything inside Gaza as a “threat” and they should “not spare ammo”, and that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without knowing whether they were legitimate military targets or contained civilians. In their testimonies, soldiers depict rules of engagement they characterised as permissive, “lax” or largely non-existent, including how some soldiers were instructed to treat anyone seen looking towards their positions as “scouts” to be fired on. The group also claims that the Israeli military operated with different safety margins for bombing or using artillery and mortars near civilians and its own troops, with Israeli forces at times allowed to fire significantly closer to civilians than Israeli soldiers.

“The rules of engagement for soldiers advancing on the ground were: open fire, open fire everywhere, first thing when you go in,” recalled another soldier who served during the ground operation in Gaza City. The assumption being that the moment we went in [to the Gaza Strip], anyone who dared poke his head out was a terrorist.”

In at least one instance described by soldiers, being female did not help two women who were killed because one had a mobile phone. A soldier described the incident: “After the commander told the tank commander to go scan that place, and three tanks went to check [the bodies] … it was two women, over the age of 30 … unarmed. They were listed as terrorists. They were fired at. So of course they must have been terrorists.”

“The motto guiding lots of people was: ‘Let’s show them,’ recalls a lieutenant who served in the Givati Brigade in Rafah. “It was evident that was a starting point. Lots of guys who did their reserve duty with me don’t have much pity towards [the Palestinians].” He added: “There were a lot of people there who really hate Arabs. Really, really hate Arabs. You could see the hate in their eyes.” A second lieutenant echoed his comments. “You could feel there was a radicalisation in the way the whole thing was conducted. The discourse was extremely rightwing … [And] the very fact that [Palestinians were] described as ‘uninvolved’ rather than as civilians, and the desensitisation to the surging number of dead on the Palestinian side. It doesn’t matter whether they’re involved or not … that’s something that troubles me.”

One sergeant who served in a tank in the centre of the Gaza Strip recalls: “A week or two after we entered the Gaza Strip and we were all firing a lot when there wasn’t any need for it – just for the sake of firing – a member of our company was killed. “The company commander came over to us and told us that one guy was killed due to such-and-such, and he said: ‘Guys, get ready, get in your tanks, and we’ll fire a barrage in memory of our comrade” … My tank went up to the post – a place from which I can see targets – can see buildings – [and] fired at them, and the platoon commander says: ‘OK guys, we’ll now fire in memory of our comrade’ and we said OK.”

Excerpts from other newspapers below the fold along with more about Breaking The Silence. I am making my way through the report itself and shall post excerpts I find particularly interesting in a followup diary:


Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.

The complete report: This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)

This booklet is a collection of testimonies from over 60 soldiers in mandatory and reserve service that took part in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. About a quarter of the testifiers are officers that go all the way up to the rank of major. The testimonies underwent a meticulous investigative process to ensure their veracity. The testifiers, who served in various units – from ground, to naval, to air forces, and in headquarters and command centers – expose the nature of IDF operations in various combat zones. The testimonies in this collection close the yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.

Major papers are covering the release of this report: Financial Times: Israel’s military criticised for indiscriminate firing in Gaza war

Israel’s military fired indiscriminately as a matter of policy during last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli non-governmental group has claimed, underlining a “drastic change” in its combat norms that led to the deaths of many innocent civilians. […] Its findings will raise further questions about the conduct of the war by the IDF, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described as “the most moral army in the world“.

Washington Post: Israeli veterans say permissive rules of engagement fueled Gaza carnage

The soldiers describe reducing Gaza neighborhoods to sand, firing artillery at random houses to avenge fallen comrades, shooting at innocent civilians because they were bored and watching armed drones attack a pair of women talking on cellular phones because they were assumed to be Hamas scouts. […] The soldiers describe how they were told by commanders to view all Palestinian in the combat zones as a potential threat, whether they brandished weapons or not. Individuals spotted in windows and rooftops — especially if they were speaking on a cellular telephone — were often considered scouts and could be shot.

Haaretz: Report: Army veterans slam IDF policy in Gaza war

Breaking the Silence organization says principle adopted of minimum risk to soldiers meant more civilian casualties. […] The rules of engagement basically established that “Anyone found in an IDF area, which the IDF had occupied, was not a civilian. That was the assumption,” one of the soldiers stated. An armored infantry soldier reported that, at some point, it was understood that any home which Israeli forces entered and used would be destroyed afterward by large D9 bulldozers. “At no point until the end of the operation … did anyone tell us what the operational usefulness was in exposing [razing] the houses,” he said. “During a conversation, the unit commanders explained that it wasn’t an act of revenge. At a certain point we realized this was a trend. You leave a house and there’s no longer a house. The D9 comes and exposes [it].” […] He said he understood he was firing at civilians. Asked about it, he said, “I think, deep inside, it bothered me a little. But after three weeks in Gaza, when you’re firing at everything that moves, and even things that don’t move, at a psychotic pace, you don’t really … good and bad get a little mixed up and your morality starts to get lost and you lose your compass. And it becomes like a computer game. Really, really cool and real.”


Back to the report itself:

Many soldiers spoke of a working assumption that Palestinian residents had abandoned the neighborhoods they entered due to the IDF’s warnings, thus making anyone located in the area a legitimate target – in some cases even by direct order. This approach was evident before the ground incursion, when the neighborhoods IDF forces entered suffered heavy shelling, as part of the “softening” stage. This included, among other things, massive use of statistical weapons, like cannons and mortars, which are incapable of precise fire. They are intended for broad area offensives, through the random distribution of shells over a range that can reach up to hundreds of meters from the original target (see testimonies 1, 88, and 96). In practice, during the preliminary shelling, the army pounded populated areas throughout the Strip with artillery shells in order to scare off enemy combatants who were in the area, and at times also to urge the civilian population to flee.