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Israeli Vets Speak Out: What Really Goes On In Gaza

Starvation, shooting at kids, casual violence—former IDF soldiers reveal the abuses by the Israeli military in Gaza.

| Mon Nov. 26, 2012 3:08 PM EST

Afterward, I counted how many bullets I had left—I'd shot ten bullets. The whole thing was terrifying—more and more and more noise. It all took about a second and a half. And then they took out the bodies, carried the bodies. We went to a debriefing. I'll never forget when they brought the bodies out at the base. We were standing two meters away in a semicircle, the bodies were covered in flies, and we had the debriefing. It was, "Great job, a success. Someone shot the wrong car, and we'll talk about the rest back on the base." I was in total shock from all the bullets, from the crazy noise. We saw it on the video, it was all documented on video for the debriefing. I saw all the things that I told you, the people running, the minute of gunfire, I don't know if it's twenty seconds or a minute, but it was hundreds of bullets and it was clear that the people had been killed, but the gunfire went on and the soldiers were running from the armored truck. What I saw was a bunch of bloodthirsty guys firing an insane amount of bullets, and at the wrong car, too. The video was just awful, and then the unit commander got up. I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot from him.

What do you mean?

That he'll be a regional commanding officer or the chief of staff one day. He said, "The operation wasn't carried out perfectly, but the mission was accomplished, and we got calls from the chief of staff, the defense minister, the prime minister"—everyone was happy, it's good for the unit, and the operation was like, you know, just: "Great job." The debriefing was just a cover-up.

Meaning?

Meaning no one stopped to say, "Three innocent people died." Maybe with the driver there was no other way, but who were the others?

Who were they, in fact?

At that time I had a friend training with the Shin Bet, he told me about the jokes going around that the terrorist was a nobody. He'd probably taken part in some shooting and the other two had nothing to do with anything. What shocked me was that the day after the operation, the newspapers said that "a secret unit killed four terrorists," and there was a whole story on each one, where he came from, who he'd been involved with, the operations he'd done. But I know that on the Shin Bet base they're joking about how we killed a nobody and the other two weren't even connected, and at the debriefing itself they didn't even mention it.

Who did the debriefing?

The unit commander. The first thing I expected to hear was that something bad happened, that we did the operation to eliminate one person and ended up eliminating four. I expected that he'd say, "I want to know who shot at the first car. I want to know why A-B-C ran to join in the big bullet-fest." But that didn't happen, and I understood that they just didn't care. These people do what they do. They don't care.

Did the guys talk about it?

Yes. There were two I could talk to. One of them was really shocked but it didn't stop him. It didn't stop me, either. It was only after I came out of the army that I understood. No, even when I was in the army I understood that something really bad had happened. But the Shin Bet agents were as happy as kids at a summer camp.

What does that mean?

They were high-fiving and hugging. Really pleased with themselves. They didn't join in the debriefing, it was of no interest to them. But what was the politics of the operation? How come my commanders, not one of them, admitted that the operation had failed? And failed so badly with the shooting all over the place that the guys tting in the truck got hit with shrapnel from the bullets. It's a miracle we didn't kill each other.

5. Her limbs were smeared on the wall

Unit: Givati Brigade

Location: Gaza Strip

Year: 2008

One company told me they did an operation where a woman was blown up and smeared all over the wall. They kept knocking on her door and there was no answer, so they decided to open it with explosives. They placed them at the door and right at that moment the woman came to open it. Then her kids came down and saw her. I heard about it after the operation at dinner. Someone said it was funny that the kids saw their mother smeared on the wall and everyone cracked up. Another time I got screamed at by my platoon when I went to give the detainees some water from our field kit canteen. They said, "What, are you crazy?" I couldn't see what their problem was, so they said, "Come on, germs." In Nahal Oz, there was an incident with kids who'd been sent by their parents to try to get into Israel to find food, because their families were hungry. They were fourteen- or fifteen-year-old boys, I think. I remember one of them sitting blindfolded and then someone came and hit him, here.

On the legs.

And poured oil on him, the stuff we use to clean weapons.

6. We shot at fishermen

Unit: Navy

Location: Gaza Strip

Year: 2007

There's an area bordering Gaza that's under the navy's control. Even after Israel disengaged from the Strip, nothing changed in the sea sector. I remember that near Area K, which divided Israel and Gaza, there were kids as young as four or six, who'd get up early in the morning to fish, in the areas that were off-limits. They'd go there because the other areas were crowded with fishermen. The kids always tried to cross, and every morning we'd shoot in their direction to scare them off. It got to the point of shooting at the kids' feet where they were standing on the beach or at the ones on surfboards. We had Druze police officers on board who'd scream at them in Arabic. We'd see the poor kids crying.

What do you mean, "shoot in their direction"?

It starts with shooting in the air, then it shifts to shooting close by, and in extreme cases it becomes shooting toward their legs.

At what distance?

Five or six hundred meters, with a Rafael heavy machine gun, it's all automatic.

Where do you aim?

It's about perspective. On the screen, there's a measure for height and a one for width, and you mark where you want the bullet to go with the cursor. It cancels out the effect of the waves and hits where it's supposed to, it's precise.

You aim a meter away from the surfboard?

More like five or six meters. I heard about cases where they actually hit the surfboards, but I didn't see it. There were other things that bothered me, this thing with Palestinian fishing nets. The nets cost around four thousand shekels, which is like a million dollars for them. When they wouldn't do what we said too many times, we'd sink their nets. They leave their nets in the water for something like six hours. The Dabur patrol boat comes along and cuts their nets.

Why?

As a punishment.

For what?

Because they didn't do what we said. Let's say a boat drifts over to an area that's off-limits, so a Dabur comes, circles, shoots in the air, and goes back. Then an hour later, the boat comes back and so does the Dabur. The third time around, the Dabur starts shooting at the nets, at the boat, and then shoots to sink them.

Is the off-limits area close to Israel?

There's one area close to Israel and another along the Israeli-Egyptian border… Israel's sea border is twelve miles out, and Gaza's is only three. They've only got those three miles, and that's because of one reason, which is that Israel wants its gas, and there's an offshore drilling rig something like three and a half miles out facing the Gaza Strip, which should be Palestinian, except that it's ours...the Navy Special Forces unit provides security for the rig. A bird comes near the area, they shoot it. There's an insane amount of security for that thing. One time there were Egyptian fishing nets over the three-mile limit, and we dealt with them. A total disaster.

Meaning?

They were in international waters, we don't have jurisdiction there, but we'd shoot at them.

At Egyptian fishing nets?

Yes. Although we're at peace with Egypt.

Oded Na'aman is co-editor of Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000–2010 (Metropolitan Books, 2012). He is also a founder of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization dedicated to collecting the testimonies of Israel Defense Force soldiers, and a member of the Israeli Opposition Network. He served in the IDF as a first sergeant and crew commander in the artillery corps between 2000 and 2003 and is now working on his PhD in philosophy at Harvard University. The testimonies in this piece from Our Harsh Logic have been adapted and shortened.

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