, JERUSALEM, July 15 – Israeli soldiers involved in the war on Gaza were told to shoot first and worry about the consequences later, and used Palestinian civilians as human shields, an activist group’s report said on Wednesday.
The testimony of some 30 soldiers — all unnamed — shows the massive destruction wreaked on the Palestinian territory was "a direct result of IDF (Israel Defence Forces’) policy," campaign group Breaking the Silence said in a report.
The troops regularly used civilians as human shields when approaching suspect houses during the 22-day conflict which began in December, one soldier told the group, which is made up of veteran troops who served in the occupied Palestinian territories.
"To every house we close in on, we send the neighbour in, the ‘Johnnie’," he said of an incident in which a man was sent into a house several times during breaks in the fighting to check on three militants holed up there.
Another soldier said his commander told him of instances when "the force would enter while placing rifle barrels on a civilian’s shoulder, advancing into a house and using him as a human shield."
Many said they were told to shoot first and ask questions later, leading to civilian deaths and massive destruction in the densely populated and impoverished Palestinian enclave.
"The goal was to carry out an operation with the least possible casualties for the army, without it even asking itself what the price would be for the other side. This was the thrust of things that we heard from more than one officer."
"We did not get instructions to shoot at anything that moved, but we were generally instructed: if you feel threatened, shoot," said one soldier.
"No special mention was made of innocents" in briefings on the rules of engagement before the troops went in, another testified.
Another soldier told of an incident in which the troops were having their morning coffee when suddenly the tank of the battalion commander next to them fired a shell into a building.
"It looked groundless to me, more of a ‘wakeup call’ for the company."
Others spoke of the massive destruction.
"Houses were demolished everywhere… We didn’t see a single house that was not hit… It looked awful, like in those World War II films where nothing remained. A totally destroyed city."
Another soldier related an incident in which his commander told troops not to fire warning shots at a man they saw approaching a house until he was some dozen metres (yards) away.
"Suddenly a burst of fire is heard from upstairs, making us all jump. The old man gave such a scream as I’ll never forget as long as I live… The commander comes downstairs, glowing: ‘Here’s an opener for tonight’."
When they checked on the man the next morning, they saw "the guy was clean, nothing on him. Except for a torch in his hand, a white shirt and a long beard. A 50 or 60-year-old man lying on the road."
When they asked their commander why he told them not to fire warning shots, he said: "It’s night time and this is a terrorist."
The army said in a statement that "a considerable amount of the testimony in this report is… based on hearsay and word of mouth," and said it was committed to investigating any claim of wrongdoing presented to it.
"From testimony which has been published, including in this report, and from the investigations conducted by the IDF into the operation, it is clear that IDF soldiers operated in accord with international law," the military said.