An Israeli soldier said that he and his colleagues bombed civilian targets in the Gaza Strip during last year’s war on the enclave for entertainment.
During an interview with French Le Monde newspaper in Jerusalem yesterday, the soldier who identified himself as Arieh, 20, said: “I was called to service early on July 2014 and was deployed to the Gaza Strip but until that time the operation [Operation Protective Edge] was not announced yet. Only some soldiers speculated that there will be war, but later our commander told us to imagine a 200 metre radius and to immediately shoot anything moving inside this circle.”
“We bombed civilian targets for entertainment,” he said, adding that “one day at about 8am we went to the Al-Bureij; a highly dense residential area in central Gaza, and the commander told us to select a random target and shoot it, at the time we did not see any Hamas fighters, no one shot at us, but the commander told us jokingly: ‘We have to send Bureij a morning greeting from the Israeli army’.”
“I remember that one day, a soldier from our unit was killed and our commander asked us for revenge so I drew the tank randomly towards a huge white residential building, just four kilometres away from us and fired a shell at the 11th floor. I must have killed civilians who were absolutely innocent,” he continued.
He pointed out that the target was to destroy Gaza’s infrastructure, not only Hamas, saying: “We entered the Gaza Strip on July 19 2014 to search for Hamas’s tunnels between Gaza and Israel, but our goal was to destroy Hamas and the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure and to create the largest possible damage to the agricultural land and the economy. Hamas had to pay an expensive bill in order to think twice before entering into a new conflict with us.”
“We destroyed many Palestinian buildings, farms and electricity poles. They told us that ‘we must avoid civilian casualties as much as possible’, but how could you do that when they ask you to leave behind so much destruction,” he added.
He stressed that what happened in the Gaza Strip violates what he learned in the army. “I learned in the army that you are responsible for setting goals and hitting them. We have also learned during our training that you cannot play with the trigger, even on a trial basis, but what happened in the enclave was contrary to our consciences.”
Arieh said: “During the operations in the Gaza Strip, the unit commander said: ‘If you see someone in front of the tank who does not immediately flee, you must kill them.’ so he could see that there are civilians.”
Arieh added that the limits for the battle were very broad and based on personal decision.
“If you see something suspicious in the window of a Palestinian home, or were afraid while you approached a house with a tank, you could fire immediately, even if there was no actual threat. This principle was contrary to everything we have learned in previous military exercises before the July 2014 operation in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
“We used shells excessively, when I saw anything moving, if an open window, I would shell it. If I saw a moving car, I would fire a rocket. We fired missiles at moving objects and not individuals. We did not see moving individuals in our surroundings, but we fired anyway. We only saw women and children and elderly in the ceasefire which lasted only for a few hours, but I was so afraid that there were suicide bombers among them that I thought to shoot near them.”
“I can confirm that we only saw civilians, we did not see any Hamas fighters. We knew they moved through tunnels. We would enter an area and suddenly they would start firing at us and we would retreat. We were more afraid than Hamas spies who stood on rooftops with their phones to reveal our locations,” the soldier explained.
Arieh said the Israeli army would fire at any house if they saw someone holding a telephone and standing on the rooftop. “We considered anyone with a telephone on a rooftop a Hamas spy, even if that person was a woman.”
Arieh is one of about 60 Israeli soldiers who agreed to testify in a report prepared by Israeli human rights organisation Breaking the Silence.
The 237-page report concluded that the Israeli army left “unprecedented harm” among Palestinian civilians during the war through random firing and the application of loose rules of engagement.
The Israeli army launched a 51-day war on the Gaza Strip on 7 July 2014, resulting in the death of more than 2,000 Palestinians and wounding about 11,000 others, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Meanwhile, 68 Israeli soldiers and four civilians were killed and 2,522 more were injured including 740 soldiers, according to official Israeli figures.