Israeli soldiers who fought in last winter’s Gaza War say the military used Palestinians as human shields, improperly fired incendiary white phosphorous shells over civilian areas and used overwhelming firepower that caused needless deaths and destruction, according to a report released on Wednesday.
The testimonies were by far the strongest allegations to come from war veterans that the army used excessive force during the three-week offensive and echoed claims already leveled by Palestinian and human rights groups. The military rebutted the report, saying the accounts were anonymous and impossible to verify.
The accounts of 26 war veterans were collected by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli army reservists critical of their country’s treatment of Palestinians. They described demolishing buildings, vandalizing homes and using more than essential firepower, given the relatively light resistance they encountered. One said the army needlessly used white phosphorous, a masking agent that can cause severe burns, for smokescreens. Others said regulations for opening fire were vague and that soldiers were expected to do whatever was necessary to protect themselves.
“There were no clear red lines,” one soldier told the group.
“If you’re not sure, kill. Fire power was insane,” said another.
Military officers have acknowledged that rules of engagement were relaxed to minimize army casualties but insisted civilians were never targeted.
Israel launched the offensive last December after rocket attacks by Palestinian militants on southern Israel over an eight-year period. More than 1,400 Palestinians, including at least 900 civilians, were killed in the fighting, thousands of homes were destroyed and Gaza’s infrastructure was battered, according to Gaza health officials and human rights groups.
Israel puts the death toll closer to 1,100 and says most were armed fighters. Thirteen Israelis were killed.
Wednesday’s report was sure to fuel a debate that still rages six months after the offensive over whether Israel violated the rules of war.