• Military chiefs promise inquiry into disclosures
Striking testimony has emerged from Israeli soldiers involved in the recent Gaza war, in which they describe shooting unarmed civilians, sometimes under orders from their officers.
One soldier described how an Israeli sniper shot dead a Palestinian mother and her children, adding that troops believed Palestinian lives were “very, very, less important than the lives of our soldiers”.
The accounts, published in two Israeli newspapers yesterday, gives rare insight into how the soldiers acted. It reinforces Palestinian accounts of disproportionate Israeli force and contradicts the Israeli military’s official version of events.
The accounts come from unnamed soldiers who were graduates of a pre-military course at Oranim Academic college, in Tivon, near Haifa. Their testimony was given in mid-February, and the transcript of the session was published this week.
Ha’aretz newspaper printed one infantry squad leader’s description of the shooting of unarmed civilians: “There was a house with a family inside … We put them in a room … a few days after there was an order to release [them]. There was a sniper position on the roof. The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn’t understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was OK, and he should hold his fire and he … he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders.
“The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them … In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.”
He believed the sniper did not feel regret. “I don’t think he felt too bad about it, because, after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to … I don’t know how to describe it … the lives of Palestinians, let’s say, is something very, very, less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way.”
According to a Palestinian human rights group, more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the three-week war, which began in late December. Thirteen Israelis were killed in the conflict.
A second squad leader, from the same brigade, related how a commander told troops to shoot a Palestinian woman walking near a house the soldiers had taken over. He added that “to write ‘death to the Arabs’ on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them” happened “just because you can”. The Israel Defence Forces had “fallen in the realm of ethics”, he said. Another soldier, recalling ransacking Palestinian homes, said: “The entire contents of the house flew out the windows: refrigerator, plates, furniture.”
The head of the Oranim course reported his concerns about the soldiers’ observations to the army chief, Major General Gabi Ashkenazi. Yesterday the Israeli military first denied “any previous knowledge or information” but later said the chief of staff had received a letter from the course head. The military said an investigation would be held into the accounts.