By David Daoud
IDF soldiers from various units who fought in last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip called a recent report by NGO Breaking the Silence a “total lie.”
The soldiers spoke to Israel’s Channel 2 to tell their side of the story, and to counter the testimonies compiled by Breaking the Silence.
One soldier called the report “a wicked story” and a “stab in the back.”
Another soldier, Lt. Oren (a pseudonym), was a platoon commander in the 7th Brigade during the previous Operation Cast Lead, which began in late 2008. The Breaking the Silence report claimed that one of the tank commanders in Oren’s platoon carried out a “revenge attack” by targeting civilian houses in Gaza.
Oren refuted the claim, saying “this nonsense about ‘fire on the house that you want for revenge’ is simply a total lie.”
He said “it is very hard for me to believe that one of ours said something like that, definitely not someone who was there.”
Oren, who was personally involved in the operation, told a different story.
He said that any “revenge” incident might have occurred after Armored Core Capt. Dmitri Levitas (26) was killed in battle, but that the Breaking the Silence testimony “simply is not true.”
He said despite the fact that he and his fellow soldiers were severely affected by the death of Levitas, “we maintained combat ethics.”
“While it’s true there was heavy [IDF] fire, this fire was directed at positions from which we were being fired upon, or suspicious locations,” he recalled.
IDF tanks only fired “in accordance with procedure, and after a very strict identification process,” he said.
Oren emphasized that despite “losing a great commander and friend … we still abided by shooting procedure.”
He said that field commanders operated according to very accurate and high quality intelligence regarding almost every single home.
Oren said, “They knew where the majority of the tunnels were located and where there were no civilians … Every shell was fired only after going through the proper procedure in which we had been trained long before the Operation.”
He added that, “Before the Operation and also after it, we conveyed to the commanders and we conveyed to the soldiers the importance of precise fire, the importance of identifying the target and not to fire on innocents.”
Oren said that this was not the only instance where his soldiers exercised extreme caution when it came to Palestinian civilian lives. “I can tell you about two instances where we could have fired upon what we suspected was a dispatcher, but we didn’t out of concern for innocent lives.”
Lt. Oren was not the only soldier to speak out, nor was his story unique. Another soldier, who was a battalion commander during Protective Edge and an officer with the rank of Lt. Col., also came forward. He said that before entering Gaza, “we were provided with a large amount of intelligence, and we requested permission after permission, verification after verification.”
The officer said that when he was notified that he and his soldiers would be entering Gaza, “I conveyed to the fighters the importance of precise fire and avoiding harming innocents.” According to him, this is a message that he and many other officers conveyed to their soldiers not just before entry into Gaza, but during ground operations as well.
He said that every round fired received either his approval or that of another responsible officer, and that “every entry we made into an area was done after we told [civilians] to leave the area.”
“Come now, tell me one example in history, one, of an army in the entire world that notified the enemy where it was planning to act or what they are planning to do. This is something entirely irrational,” he said.
Channel 2 said many more soldiers and high ranking officers stepped forward to present a very different story from the one conveyed in the Breaking the Silence report, emphasizing the IDF’s strict adherence to international law – which sometimes goes beyond the requirements of the Law of Armed Conflict – and the caution the army exercised to prevent Palestinian civilian deaths.
Breaking the Silence offered a response to the interviews, saying, “in the book that was published this week, testimonies of dozens of soldiers and officers who served in Protective Edge are presented. We welcome every discussion taking place among the public over the fighting in Gaza and we are proud that the publication of these testimonies encouraged other soldiers to step forward and relate what happened throughout the operation.”
“Among all of the testimonies that have been published in the last few days by those other than us, not a single one of them disproved the central point related to the policy of indiscriminate fire which led to the harm of innocent civilians,” the statement read, even though the Channel 2 testimonies seemed to indicate otherwise.
“Many different soldiers came out with different feelings about the operation, and it is our duty as the public to listen to them, and to ask ourselves if such a policy is acceptable to us, and what our moral limits are as a community,” said Breaking the Silence.