Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Breaking The Silence:
Testimonies Of Israeli Soldiers
By Stephen Lendman
ccun.org, September 14, 2009
"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
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.
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 -
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
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
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 at Palestinians.
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
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 Jews
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
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
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
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
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 -
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
"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
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
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."
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
Testimony 10 - 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
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 Engagement
"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
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
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
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 us."
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."
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."
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
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
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
Testimony 20 - Rules of Engagement
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
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 look suspect."
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
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."
- 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."
- 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)
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
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
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
Testimony 33 - Rules of Engagement
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
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 suspects.
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 was.
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
Testimony 37 - House Demolitions & Vandalism
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
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
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
Shells were fired at a house
suspected of being booby-trapped. "Then some order arrived to ignite it.
The way to do that was to actually fire phosphorous shells from above.
(It) ignites the whole house."
Testimony 43 - Rules of Engagement
"One guy said he just couldn't finish this operation without killing
someone. So he killed someone...." It was war.
Testimony 44 -
Houses were cleared with live fire and people inside
taken away. There was no control. Soldiers did what they wanted. At times,
they "went crazy." They did "unnecessary damage to property, smashing
stuff, looting. Commanders didn't care.
Testimony 45 - House
Demolitions & Vandalism
More demolitions. Another neighborhood
ruined. "Some of the houses had been demolished because they sheltered
armed combatants, other(s) suspected of having tunnels underneath, yet
others blocked our line of vision....they were taken down, whole orchards
Testimony 46 - Vandalism
"In primary searches
for weapons, we go in and then suddenly a guy opens a cupboard, sees china
and begins to throw it all on the floor (to) show it to the Arabs." Stuff
was thrown out windows and walls written on also.
Testimony 47 -
"It was amazing." So many were destroyed that "At
first you go in and see lots of houses. A week later, after the razing,
you see the horizon further away, almost to the sea. They simply took down
all the houses around so the terrorists would have nowhere else to hide."
All around you see rubble.
Testimony 48 - Briefings
stressed "going in there and getting things back in order," that, of
course, meant terrorizing Gazans into submission. "An army that does these
things, that takes apart houses because there was sporadic shooting
nearby, is an unprofessional army."
Testimony 49 - Bombardment
Soldiers were forbidden to go up on rooftops because helicopters,
planes, and UAVs fired on persons detected there. "Whoever climbed to the
roof was doomed."
Testimony 50 - Rules of Engagement
Palestinians were suspects, so even ones waving white flags were shot.
"The soldiers were made to understand that their lives (mattered), and
that there was no way (they'd risk being killed) for the sake of leaving
civilians the benefit of the doubt. We were allowed to fire in order to
spare our lives." Orders were to shoot at everyone, "even an old woman -
take them down."
Testimony 51 - Human Shields
were worried about moral issues like using people as human shields.
"Personally I'm unhappy about it....I certainly don't intend to serve in
the Occupied Territories any longer....I'm not feeling good....having been
there and taken part in (operations making him) very uneasy....You always
have another option."
Testimony 52 - House Demolitions
"....most of the destruction that went on....was not necessary....the
battalion commander said that as far as we were concerned this was war."
Testimony 53 - Rules of Engagement
...."at a certain time
soldiers (use) a machine gun, rifle and grenade launcher (to) take a
house....and target it for a blast of deterrent fire. The idea is to sow
confusion, keep shifting the direction of warfare."
Testimony 54 -
"Going in, the atmosphere was 'gung-ho' and the whole
country was behind us. While inside, all of that disappeared....Listen,
coming out of there I did not feel any heroic elation or sacrifice, just
that it was sickening and unglamorous and boring and stupid. People
suffered....human beings become nothing....It is impossible to conceive of
such an extent of suffering as that which we inflicted on Gaza....that is
what I take with me in particular, how people can be indifferent to
suffering or see it as trivial."
minister Ehud Barak claims Israel has "the most moral army in the world."
The above testimonies say otherwise. They show:
-- deep moral
-- insensitivity to human lives and suffering;
-- clear evidence of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction for its own
-- civilians targeted like combatants;
-- women and
children treated no differently than men;
-- the elderly, the very
young, it didn't matter;
-- being Palestinian makes them
-- rules of engagement were "shoot first and ask
questions later" if at all.
For over six decades, Israel defiled
international law by committing the most egregious crimes of war and
against humanity against Palestinian civilians and neighboring Arab
states. The world community hardly blinks.
Stephen Lendman is a
Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization. He lives
in Chicago and can be reached at