Middle East

Israeli military 'fired indiscriminately' in Gaza

Heavily damaged buildings in the eastern Gaza City district of Shejaiya (15 April 2015) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Breaking the Silence said civilian infrastructure was destroyed "without clear justification"

An Israeli activist group has accused the military of employing a "policy of indiscriminate fire" that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians during last year's Gaza war.

Breaking the Silence said the rules of engagement during the 50-day conflict were "the most permissive" it had seen.

It published testimonies of soldiers, one of whom said they were ordered to shoot to kill any person they saw.

The military said the group had failed to provide any proof of its claims.

The fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza left a total of at least 2,189 Palestinians dead, including more than 1,486 civilians, according to the UN.

On the Israeli side, 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed.

'Shoot to kill'

Breaking the Silence, a group of serving and ex-soldiers, said its report contained interviews with more than 60 unnamed active duty and reserve Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel who took part in Operation Protective Edge.

Israel's declared aim was to stop rocket attacks from Gaza and the threat of attacks by militants using tunnels.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption One sergeant said a senior commander had told troops: "We do not spare ammo."

The group declared that its testimonies painted a "troubling picture of a drastic change in the IDF's combat norms". Guiding values, such as the principle that soldiers use the minimum amount of force necessary, were "devalued and discarded", it added.

A sergeant in the mechanised infantry said: "The rules of engagement are pretty identical: Anything inside [Gaza] is a threat, the area has to be 'sterilised', empty of people - and if we don't see someone waving a white lag, screaming, 'I give up' or something - then he's a threat and there's authorisation to open fire."

Another sergeant, who served in an engineering unit, said: "From the very start they told us, 'Shoot to kill.' As far as the IDF was concerned, there wasn't supposed to be any civilian population there."

Breaking the Silence alleged that destruction of civilian infrastructure and homes occurred "without any clear operational justification". Many homes were shelled in order to "demonstrate presence in the area", or even as an act of punishment, it added.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza claimed more than 2,200 lives

A sergeant in an infantry unit recalled that armoured bulldozers "didn't rest for a second. Non-stop, as if they were playing in a sandbox. Driving back and forth, back and forth, razing another house, another street."

Israel said militants deliberately operated in residential areas and that it took special measures to try to avoid harming civilians.

Investigations

The director of Breaking the Silence, Yuli Novak, said there was a "broad ethical failure in the IDF's rules of engagement... from the top of the chain of command", and called for an external investigation to look into the policy behind the rules.

The IDF said it was "committed to properly investigating all credible claims".

"Today, as in the past the organisation Breaking the Silence has been asked to provide any evidence or testimony related to IDF activities prior to publication, in order for genuine investigations to be carried out," a statement said.

"Unfortunately, as in the past, Breaking the Silence has refused to provide the IDF with any proof of their claims."

Following last year's conflict, Israeli soldiers and commanders were given the opportunity to present complaints, and "exceptional incidents" were referred to the Military Advocate General's office for further investigation, the statement added.