- "Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran
Israeli soldiers that collects anonymous testimonies of soldiers who served
in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifada." They recount
experiences that deeply affected them, including abusing Palestinians,
looting, destroying property, and other practices "excused as military
necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases."
- They believe otherwise in describing "the depth
of corruption which is spreading in the Israeli military" to which
Israeli society and most Western observers turn a blind eye. "Breaking
the Silence" was established to force an uncomfortable reality into
the open to "demand accountability regarding Israel's military actions
in the Occupied Territories perpetrated by us in our name."
- Its new booklet features 54 damning testimonies from
30 Israeli soldiers on their experiences in Operation Cast Lead. They recount
what official media and government sources suppressed with comments like:
- "You feel like an infantile little kid with a magnifying
glass looking at ants, burning them."
- Another referred to "not much said about the issue
of innocent civilians." Anyone and anything were fair game, and laws
of war went out the window.
- They explained wanton destruction, crops uprooted, human
slaughter, women and children killed in cold blood, illegal weapons used,
free-fire orders to shoot to kill anywhere at anything that moved, and
using civilians as human shields.
- Israeli commanders refuted their accounts as groundless,
but B'Tselem reported that the military "refused to open serious,
impartial investigations," even when provided with detailed information,
including victims' names, exact dates, and precise locations of incidents.
- On its own, B'Tselem collected testimonies from Gaza
residents in which 70 Palestinian civilians were killed, over half of them
children. Israeli military sources were unresponsive, except to acknowledge
receipt of some information, nothing more or that a serious investigation
would be conducted. It never was.
- Anonymous Testimonies to Protect Soldiers from Recriminations
- First >From Earlier Operations
- A Nachal unit first sergeant recounted Israeli tanks
entering a West Bank village and crushing a car beneath the treads. "Yes,
I saw it from the APC we were in. I peeped out. Suddenly we heard a car
being crushed....I can't understand why a tank should run over a car when
the road's open." It wasn't an isolated incident. It happens often,
wanton destruction for its own sake.
- He also said that "When we got back from that operation,
we had loot so to speak. There were IDs confiscated, uniforms, Kalachnikovs.
For army intelligence."
- A Nachal elite unit first sergeant said missions were
explicitly intended to harass people. Homes were entered, arrests made.
"At various points while closing in on a house there are varying open-fire
instructions. When the whole house is surrounded, crews placed all around
it, the guy who runs out of the house is considered an 'escaper' and must
be stopped. If he exits running in a suspect manner (he) must be shot (and)
kill(ed). Shot to be stopped: in other words, shoot to kill."
- When entering villages, armed Palestinian policemen "at
certain points in time....were considered enemy troops (so) we had to shoot
to kill if we saw any." Orders were to shoot when in doubt. In describing
the atmosphere and command orders, they were "Kill, kill, kill, kill.
We want to see bodies."
- He explained his anti-terrorism training saying: "Terrorist
in sight, that's what it's called, when you run into them. It's some sort
of code. It used to be 'hostages.' So you reach the terrorist, you confirm
the kill. You don't confirm the kill, you confirm the guy has been 'neutralized,'
no chance of his getting back to you because he's been shot in the head.
That's confirming he's neutralized."
- A 401 Armor unit staff sergeant described the freedom
he had to fire a lot - "automatic fire, directed at the whole city,
at houses and at doors, was something that everybody did, not just me.
I do not know why I did it. I (had) a gun. I did not think. In the army
I never thought. I did what I was told to do. And besides, everybody did
it. That was the custom - officers and such, everybody knew."
- A Battalion 55 Artillery corp first sergeant said when
his unit "return(ed) from operations we would throw stun and smoke
grenades into the bakeries that opened between 4:00 and 5:00 am because
people in the village threw stones....Once I fired over 1500 rounds from
a machine gun at the houses in the city." Nobody cared, it was just
- An Armoured Corps first sergeant recounted earlier Gaza
and West Bank operations for the "main purpose (of) either demolish(ing)
terrorists' houses or places where they manufacture mortars, and other
such stuff, or...You would come in and ruin everything you see." At
times, "open-fire orders (were to kill) every person you see on the
street....kill him....shoot to kill. Don't mind whether he has or has no
gun on him."
- Operation Cast Lead Testimonies
- One soldier said:
- "....In training you learn that white phosphorus
is not used, and you're taught that it's not humane. You watch films and
see what it does to people who are hit, and you say, 'There, we're doing
it too.' That's not what I expected to see. Until that moment I had thought
that I belonged to the most humane army in the world."
- Other testimonies describe white phosphorous used in
densely populated neighborhoods, wanton killing and destruction "unrelated
to any direct threat to Israeli forces, and permissive rules of engagement
that led to the killing of innocents."
- More comments reflected the "moral deterioration"
of the army and Israeli society, even affecting the rabbinate that blessed
mass slaughter and destruction prior to engagements.
- Soldier testimonies bear witness to disturbing Israeli
values "on a systemic level." Operation Cast Lead's rein of terror
was "a direct result of IDF policy, and especially (its) rules of
engagement (that sanction) shoot (first) and (don't) ask questions."
- Breaking the Silence participants offered their testimonies
as "an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to sober up
and investigate anew the results of our actions....(a disturbing) slide
together down the moral slippery slope" that affects them and all
- Testimony 1 - Human Shield
- People are called "Johnnie. They're Palestinian
civilians" in Gaza neighborhoods. In checking out houses, "we
send the neighbor in, the 'Johnnie,' and if there are armed men inside,
we (use) 'pressure cooker' procedures....to get them out alive....to catch
the armed men." When necessary, combat helicopters are called in to
fire anti-tank missiles at civilian homes. Then send a "Johnnie"
in to check for dead and wounded.
- In one home, two were dead and another alive, so supersized
Caterpillar D-9 bulldozers start "demolishing the house over him until
the neighbor went in" and got him out.
- Human shields were also used to check for booby-traps
and perform other services. "Sometimes the force would enter while
placing rifle barrels on a civilian's shoulder, advancing into the house
and using him as a human shield. Commanders said these were the instructions
and we had to do it."
- Testimony 2 - House Demolitions
- Residential buildings at strategic points were taken
over by force. Neighborhoods were described with "lots of destroyed
houses....ruins....more and more ruins, and even the houses still standing,
most of them kept getting shelled...." Other houses were blasted....blown
"up in the air" with explosives.
- "Operational necessity" sometimes meant a whole
neighborhood was destroyed so as "not to jeopardize Israeli soldiers
(and with) the day after" in mind, meaning to disrupt Gaza life to
the maximum and leave it that way after forces pulled out.
- Testimony 3 - Rules of Engagement
- Descriptions included "enter(ing) a yard and out
of sheer fear the family was waiting in an exposed spot - a father, grandfather,
young mother and babies. As we were coming in, the commander was firing
a volley, and mistakenly killed an innocent. We got to the house....he
goes in with live fire....the family was hiding from the bombings....he
happened to kill an elderly guy....it really seems insane....if I look
at it from the (other) side, there are people who deserve to go to jail."
- Testimony 4 - Rules of Engagement & Home Occupation
- Tactics taught are "dry" and "wet"
entries. In Gaza, there was "no such thing as a dry entry. All entries
were wet," meaning free-firing with missiles, tank shells, machine
guns, grenades, everything. On the ground, wet entry orders were to "shoot
as we enter a (house or) room (so) no one there could fire at us."
- Testimony 5 - Atmosphere
- What "bothered me? Many things....all that destruction.
All that fire at innocents. This shock of realizing with whom I'm in this
together....the hatred, and the joy of killing....I killed a terrorist....blew
his head off....There's nothing to hold you back." They're just Arabs.
- Testimony 6 - Bombardment
- The new 120mm Mortar was used in Gaza with "95 -
100%" accuracy. When it hits, it scatters shrapnel all around. It
was used against neighborhoods. Innocents were hit, and "our artillery
fire there was insane...."
- "Most of the time firing was for softening resistance
I think....We simply received orders. If we hit terrorists, then I guess
that was the purpose."
- Testimony 7 - Rules of Engagement
- The commander stressed using "fire power" from
the air and on the ground. "You see something and you're not quite
sure? You shoot....Fire power was insane. We went in and the booms were
just mad. The minute we got to our starting line, we simply began to fire
at suspect places....a house, a window....In urban warfare, anyone is your
enemy. No innocents." Houses were taken over with soldiers positioned
inside "according to plan."
- Testimony 8 - Rules of Engagement & Use of White
- Some of the younger soldiers "think it's cool to
wield such power with no one wanting to rein them in. They (were given)
permission to open fire" even at most people who "definitely
(are) not terrorists." Free fire used all weapons against "everything
(including) houses," whether or not they looked suspect. "I know
(that some) crews....even fired white phosphorous. Our battalion mortars
(and tanks) were also using phosphorous."
- Sometimes an order was given: "Permitted, phosphorous
in the air." At times, it was used "because it's fun. Cool. I
don't understand what it's used for."
- Testimony 9 - Rules of Engagement & House Demolitions
- "From the onset....the brigade commander and other
officers made it very clear to us that any movement must entail gunfire"
with or without being shot at. Alerts were given about a suicide bomber
or sniper in the area, but "none of (these) materialized as far as
our company was concerned."
- "Houses were demolished everywhere." They were
fired at "with tremendous power. We didn't see a single house that
remained intact....The entire infrastructure, tracks, fields, roads (were)
in total ruin." D-9 bulldozers demolished everything "in our
designated area. It looked awful, like in those World War II films where
nothing remained. A totally destroyed city."
- Testimony 10 - Briefings
- Formal briefings covered "going off to war (and
in war) no consideration of civilians was to be taken. Shoot anyone you
see....this pretty much disgusted me. There was a clear feeling, and this
was repeated whenever others spoke to us, that no humanitarian consideration
played any role in the army at present."
- Language used in one briefing was something like: "Don't
let morality become an issue. That will come up later. Leave the nightmares
and horrors that will come up for later, now just shoot."
- Testimony 11 - Use of White Phosphorous & Rules of
- "We walked (with another battalion) and saw all
the white phosphorous bombs....we saw glazing on the sand (resulting) from
white phosphorous (use), and it was upsetting." Houses were targeted
and many around them were destroyed with people inside them.
- Testimony 12 - Rules of Engagement
- Moving into an area, orders were to "hold the junction,
control it." Vehicle movement wasn't allowed and those advancing were
fired on. Whole areas were abandoned. In entering houses, strict procedure
is followed, including "setting red lines. It means that whoever crosses
this line is shot, no questions asked." Orders always were shoot to
kill, including women and children.
- Testimonies 13 and 14 - Rules of Engagement
- Houses were entered with gunfire and taken over. Some
civilians were killed. Anyone out at night was called a terrorist even
if it was clear he had no weapons.
- Testimonies 15 and 16 - Rabbinate Unit
- Promoting "Jewish Awareness," rabbis talked
with soldiers and gave out materials, the Book of Psalms and some brochures.
War got a religious tone against "four enemies:" Hamas, Iran,
the Palestinian Authority even though it doesn't control Gaza, and Arab
citizens of Israel. Rabbinate briefings said "they (all) undermine
- Also that Israel was fighting a "war of choice,
(a) holy war (with) differing rules." The message "aimed at inspiring
the men with courage, cruelty, aggressiveness (and feeling) no pity, God
protects you, everything you do is sanctified....Palestinians are the enemy....everyone."
- Soldiers were told to be "crusaders," to have
a "proper fighting spirit," and show no mercy. Distributed pamphlets
said: "Palestinians are like the Philistines of old, newcomers who
do not belong in the land, aliens planted on our soil which should clearly
return to us."
- One man introduced as Rabbi Chen presented his talk in
points, also covered in pamphlets. First was "the sanctity of the
People of Israel. He put it this way: he said while going in there, we
should know there is no accounting for sins in this case." In other
words, "whatever we do is fine."
- Another point referred to the "sons of light"
waging war against the "sons of darkness" to turn the IDF into
a messianic force in a battle of good versus evil.
- Testimony 17 - House Demolitions & Rules of Engagement
- "Pressure cooker" tactics were used. D-9 bulldozers
"worked nonstop to raze orchards and take down houses suspected of
containing tunnels" or stopping sniper fire. "The feeling is
it's all sand dunes, all the streets were destroyed and there were shell
pits from the bombings before the ground offensive." After a week,
"our officer decided he'd hold a grenade-launching practice....So
we went into a house next door, took an inner room, and each person came
along and threw a grenade inside. The house was totally devastated."
- Testimony 18 - Briefings & Rules of Engagement
- Before the operation began, the battalion commander "said
we were going to exercise insane fire power with artillery and air force....There
were no clear red lines. In urban areas it's very much at the commanders'
own discretion....we were told to enter every house (using) live fire....a
grenade or two, shooting, and only then we enter."
- Testimony 19 - Bombardment
- It was designed "to gain control of the area....The
whole cover thing starts, massive fire, auxiliary fire, and then my company
goes it....In the first phase, we open fire in every zone." Every
house in a designated area is entered....At the end of the day the platoons
are set up in the houses. Each house becomes a small army outpost with
positions...." Then other houses are occupied and searched. Families
inside were assembled in one room, then told to leave and walk into the
city. In some houses, the men were gathered together and shackled.
- Testimony 20 - Rules of Engagement
- "Our objective was to split the Gaza Strip, fragment
it," take total control.
- Testimony 21 - Briefings & Rules of Engagement
- The commander said don't "feel bad about destruction
because it is all done for the safety of our own soldiers." If someone
is suspect, "we should not give him the benefit of the doubt. Eventually
this could be an enemy, even if it's some old woman approaching the house.
It could be an old woman carrying an explosive charge."
- We had constant reports about suspect women or pairs,
stuff like that, but never ran into any.
- "There are two phases: there's the primary phase
of taking objectives....whatever is suspect is targeted for fire."
Youngsters in the ranks "are out for action and most of them have
pretty racist views....some of them say (they) don't want wars, but what
can (they) do, this is how things are and we'll never have peace with the
Arabs." Those with more moderate views are in the minority. For most
soldiers, "there are two possibilities: either you're terribly scared
or terribly gung-ho. Better gung-ho than frightened, for this way you can
do a better job of it."
- Testimony 22 - Bombardment
- One home "was known as a Hamas activist's house.
This automatically gets acted upon...the house was bombed while these guys
were inside. A woman came out, holding a child, and escaped southward."
Reports were that people inside were unarmed. "But that's not the
point. The point is that four men standing outside the house conferring
- Testimony 23 - Rules of Engagement & Home Searches
- "In routine work there are outposts, windows, observation
posts and stairs....you go out, take the house, spend (enough time) inside,
then go back to the same house or to another one....You're also told to
wreck floor tiles to check for tunnels. Television sets, closets (everything).
Many explosive charges were found, they also blew up, no one was hurt."
- Before going in you shoot....we didn't really need to
shoot after the tank had wrecked the house....Physically the houses were
ruined." In some, drawings were made on walls, even with lipstick,
and "the closets were all trashed. It sounded retarded....you go into
a house and turn it all inside out."
- Testimony 24 - Briefings & House Demolitions
- Initial briefings by commanders never mentioned "the
lives of civilians (or) showing consideration to civilians." Here
it wasn't mentioned. "Just the brutality, go in there brutally....In
case of any doubt, take down houses. You don't need confirmation for anything...."
- D-9 operators "cannot show consideration. If he's
ordered to demolish a house, he" does it...."houses and agricultural
areas as well, orchards and hothouses." At the end of the operation,
the commander said "We demolished 900 houses....a really huge number.
We demolished a lot."
- Testimony 25 - Briefings & Rules of Engagement
- "The battalion commander said there would be lots
and lots of terrorists and we should really watch out but don't worry,
everyone will have taken plenty of people down (because) insane fire power
(gives us an) advantage over them."
- Testimony 26 - Briefings & Rules of Engagement
- Before going in, "the battalion commander....defined
the operation goals: 2000 dead terrorists, not just stopping the missiles
launched at (Israeli) communities around the Gaza Strip. He claimed this
would bring Hamas down to its knees....No one said 'kill innocents.' "
But orders were for the army to kill everyone thought to be suspect.
- "The issue of civilians became irrelevant as soon
as you'd enter combat - the rules change. You shoot. It's war. In war no
questions are asked."
- Testimony 27 - House Demolitions
- Suspect houses were targeted with white phosphorous shells
"to serve as an igniter, simply make it all go up in flames,"
and in the process destroy weapons and tunnels.
- Testimony 28 - Rules of Engagement
- Neighborhoods were cleaned out, areas "where infantry
had not yet entered." After going in, "terrorists" were
identified and killed. "We kept working with snipers, infantry 'straw
widows,' where they identify targets for you and you fire shells....You
shoot even if (targets not) identified."
- Testimony 29 - House Demolitions & Bombardment
- In controlled areas, orders were "to raze as much
as possible....Such razing is a euphemism for intentional, systematic destruction,
enabling total visibility....so no one could hide anything from us"
and operational objectives could be accomplished - destroying suspected
booby-trapped houses and tunnels. Also leaving behind minimal infrastructure
after the operation was concluded.
- The destruction in Gaza "was on a totally different
scale (than anything) I had previously known....the ground was....constantly
shaking. I mean, there were blasts all the time. Explosions were heard
all day long, the night was filled with flashes, an intensity we had never
experienced before. Several D-9 bulldozers were operating around the clock,
constantly busy....What is a suspect spot? It means you decided it was
suspect and could take out all your rage at it."
- Testimony 30 - House Demolitions & Bombardment
- Most "mosques were demolished. (Our) brigade commander
(said) we should not hesitate to target mosques. Nothing is immune, nothing
and no area. He explicitly mentioned mosques....If you see sand bags, you
shoot without the shadow of a doubt....You run into a curve in the road
and know there's an angle from which you cannot monitor a certain area,
first you shoot, see if anything happens, then you proceed....If you don't
know what's in a building, you fire at it. Such were the general instructions...."
- Testimony 31 - Rules of Engagement
- "We weren't told outright to shoot anything we saw
moving but that was the implication. I asked, 'What if I see a girl outside?'
She has no business being outside. 'So what do I do?' Check if she's armed
- then shoot her." For anyone engaged at short range, it's "understood
from (our) briefing that it's better to shoot first and ask questions later."
- Testimony 32 - Briefings
- "There was less talk of values, more of professionalism,
not a moral issue." The atmosphere placed little value on Palestinian
lives. Jewish ones were another matter.
- Testimony 33 - Rules of Engagement
- "We fired rounds at houses in front of us (in) which
we didn't see movement....But these were houses that we identified as looking
out over us. We fired into windows, before the ceasefire....everyone started
shooting. I heard this happened in other areas as well."
- Testimony 34 - Rules of Engagement
- Even though Israeli forces faced no resistance on entering
Gaza, orders were that everyone is suspect. "There is no such thing
as suspect arrest procedure. If I detect a (possible threatening) suspect
- I shoot (to kill)."
- Commander briefings stressed "aggressive action,"
protecting soldier lives, and having no regard for civilians. They're all
- Testimony 35 - Vandalism
- Soldiers "took out notebooks and text books and
ripped them. One guy smashed cupboards for kicks, out of boredom....The
deputy company commander's staff wrote 'Death to Arabs' on their walls."
Lip service only was paid to looting. Don't ask, don't tell was how it
- Testimony 36 - Rabbinate Unit
- They gave pep talks and handed out booklets about "the
importance of serving the People of Israel who have been persecuted all
these years and (are) now back in (their) homeland and need to fight for
it." The usual hot button issues were mentioned - the Holocaust, defending
God, and the rights of Israeli Jews. Arab ones don't matter.
- Testimony 37 - House Demolitions & Vandalism
- Houses were entered with live gunfire, grenades, and
other destructive force. Extensive damage was done. Soldiers inside did
much more. They had no regard for "even the simplest most basic sanitary
stuff like going to the toilet, basic hygiene. I mean you could see they
had defecated anywhere and left the stuff lying around." No one cared.
- Testimony 38 - Rules of Engagement & House Demolitions
- "The amount of destruction was incredible....Not
one stone left standing over another. You see plenty of fields, hothouses,
orchards, everything devastated. Totally ruined. It's terrible. It's surreal....in
my own company there were plenty of people who fired just for the hell
of it, at houses, water tanks. They love targeting water tanks." D-9
operators also...."love to demolish, and when the commander sends
them off, 'Go take down that house,' they're happy."
- Testimony 39 - Vandalism
- Doors inside houses were blasted open. Contents were
smashed, television and computer screens. Things of value were looted.
"The guys would simply break stuff. Some were out to destroy and trash
the whole time. They drew a disgusting drawing on the wall. They threw
out sofas. They took down (pictures) just to shatter (them)." They
did what they wanted. Who'd stop them? The assumption was "everyone
is a terrorist (so) it's legitimate to do just anything we please."
- Testimony 40 - Bombardment
- Targeted houses were bombed, destroying others nearby.
Indiscriminate bombing was commonplace.
- Testimony 41 - Bombardment
- Helicopters and UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) were
directed against suspect houses. "I'm not certain what is considered
suspect and what proper rules of engagement are. We responded to anything
that seemed suspect to us." In one area, all houses were fired on.
"There was massive fire."
- Testimony 42 - Home Demolitions & Use of White Phosphorous