The relentless pummelling of Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) for seven weeks starting in early July last year shocked and outraged the world.
The scale of destruction was staggering. Around 2,200 Palestinians were killed, of them 1,483 were civilians, over 500,000 civilians were displaced and 108,000 still remain homeless, 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged and 71 Israeli nationals were killed in hostilities.
More disturbing details have emerged about the violations perpetrated on the Palestinians, this time through the testimonies of more than 60 Israeli soldiers (up to the rank of a major) that have been released in a report titled ‘This is how we fought in Gaza’, prepared by a group of IDF personnel known as Breaking the Silence.
The soldiers reveal that the rules of engagement were “unclear and lenient” and not at all geared to protect civilian life.
The report says, “soldiers were briefed by their commanders to fire at every person they identified in a combat zone, since the working assumption was that every person in the field was an enemy”.
IDF personnel operated under the assumption that any civilian who stayed back in their neighbourhoods — after receiving text messages or leaflets asking them to leave — was a terrorist.
Hence movements spotted through windows of houses or people walking hundreds of metres away were liable to invite a strike.
Excessive use of force was the norm during Operation Protective Edge.
“We fired ridiculous amounts of fire, lots of it,” said one soldier; “we were firing purposelessly all day long,” said another. Infantry units searched houses after firing grenade launchers or using other explosives.
Soldiers recount “driving back and forth, back and forth, razing another house, another street”. “It was hard to imagine there even used to be a street there at all”.
Palestinian casualties were described as “achievements” in debriefings after the fighting.
Much of the world will view these as war crimes, but will be cynical about the prospect of holding Israel accountable, given that many atrocities have been glossed over by the international community in the past.
Israel says it will investigate credible claims in a serious manner. It may be too much to expect exemplary punishment in this case since Israeli public opinion is by and large hostile.