Israel Troops Speak out on Gaza War

Some troops fighting in Israel’s war on Gaza were urged by their commanders to shoot first rather than worry about killing civilians, a document from an Israeli activist group shows.

Published on Wednesday, the document also gives an insight into Israel’s policy of house demolitions and its use of white phosphorus during its 22-day campaign.

"Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy," one soldier is recorded as saying, speaking about instructions given to him in advance of the operation, which ran from December 27 to January 18.

Another interpreted the orders given to him as: "If you’re not sure, kill … In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents."

Under such conditions, it is possible the Israelis feared attacks by suicide bombers.

"There were lots of suicide bomber alerts at the time, all the time," said one of the unnamed soldiers whose testimony was recorded in the document.

Report Rejected

The Israeli military has rejected the criticisms leveled against it, saying in a statement the they were "based on hearsay".

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, an Israeli army spokesperson, criticized the document for not containing "facts", such as the names or ranks of the soldiers or dates on which the testimonies were recorded.

She also defended the Israeli army’s conduct during its Gaza campaign.

"We did many things in order to try to save lives of the population, such as half a million leaflets were dropped from the air, numerous phone calls to terrorists’ homes were made, we used the local media to warn the public and so on and so forth," she said.

Some of the soldiers’ testimonies in the report record the use of white phosphorous, a controversial weapon that can cause chemical burns.

One soldier said that his unit had received an order to "ignite" an area.

"The way to do that was to actually fire phosphorus shells from above," he said.

"What the phosphorus does is to let out an umbrella of fire over the target and naturally that ignites the whole house."

Human Shields

The results of a white phosphorus bombardment were "upsetting" another soldier said, "because in training you learn that white phosphorus is not used, and you’re taught that it’s not humane".

International law permits the use of white phosphorus as an "obscurant" to cover troop movements and prevent enemies from using certain guided weapons.

Soldiers also described a "Neighbour Procedure" in which civilians were forced to enter suspect buildings ahead of troops.

They cited cases of civilians advancing in front of a soldier resting his rifle on their shoulder.

An earlier report by rights-group Amnesty International accused Israel of "breaching laws of war" and accused it of putting children and other civilians in harm’s way "by forcing them to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions".

UN Investigation

Israel has consistently said its troops had respected international law during its war on Gaza, in which over 1,300 Palestinians were killed, many of them children.

Ten Israeli soldiers and three civilians were also killed in the fighting.

The UN says that Gaza, six months after fighting ended, is just beginning to clear 600,000 tonnes of rubble.

The soldiers’ testimonies published by Breaking the Silence come soon after a UN team investigating possible war crimes in Gaza ended a week-long fact finding mission in the Strip.

The four-member team entered from Egypt after Israel failed to grant visas, despite repeated requests by the UN.

Israel accuses the UN branch carrying out the mission of bias against it.

An inquiry by the Israeli military into its own conduct during the war found no evidence of war crimes being committed.

( English and Agencies)

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