Chronicle of a tragedy foretold in Gaza

If there’s one takeaway from the newly published Breaking the Silence report, it’s that the IDF is most certainly not the most moral army in the world.

By Ido Even Paz

An Israeli artillery unit fires a shell toward the Gaza Strip from its position near the border, July 24, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/
An Israeli artillery unit fires a shell toward the Gaza Strip from its position near the border, July 24, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/

Breaking the Silence member Idan Barir published an article during last summer’s Gaza war, in which he warned against the firing of artillery into densely populated areas such as the Gaza Strip. The use of a ‘’statistical’’ weapon, he wrote, would bring about disastrous consequences, due to its inherent imprecision.

Now, nearly a year after the last shell of Operation Protective Edge fell silent, it has become clearly evident that the concerns voiced by Idan were well founded.

One of the most deep-seated conventions among Israelis is that their army is “the most moral in the world.” One of the cornerstones of this ethos is the assumption that the IDF does everything in its power to prevent harm to innocent civilians.

That assumption did not come out of nowhere. The Israeli public is force-fed this mantra by the IDF’s official and unofficial spokespersons. Loyal and obedient, they repeat, no questions asked.

The booklet of testimonies published on Monday by Breaking the Silence, a compilation of first-hand accounts of around 70 soldiers who took part in the operation, tells a markedly different story. In effect, it refutes the “most moral army in the world” paradigm entirely. The soldiers’ testimonies paint a disturbing picture of the IDF’s massive use of indiscriminate weapons, directed in some cases at densely populated residential areas. Here is, for example, an excerpt from a lieutenant’s testimony:

With regard to artillery, the IDF let go of the restraints it once had. Ahead of every ground incursion there was a day of scouting and artillery was fired at the houses that formed the front line… I have no doubt that artillery was fired on houses. Tanks, too, were firing a lot in there.

In another testimony, an officer speaks of the inherent problem in using artillery in densely populated areas:

[Artillery is] statistical – it has a 50 meter radius. In the end, that’s one of the problems, too – [mortars are] a statistical weapon and people don’t get that. There is this conception that we know how to do everything super accurately, as if it doesn’t matter which weapon is being used… But no, these weapons are statistical, and they strike 50 meters to the right or 100 meters to the left, and it’s… It’s unpleasant. What happens is, for seven straight days it’s non-stop bombardment, that’s what happens in practice.

Another lieutenant describes the meaning of returning fire, using statistical weaponry:

In the beginning, they tried to define priorities, and [we were encouraged] to avoid directing high-arc trajectory fire into built-up areas. But in practice, when we were in the field and we had a combat chopper or some other aircraft up in the air, we used it first thing [to fire at the site from which the launch was detected]. But at times when [air support] wasn’t available due to constraints – we employed [the artillery] straight away… We identify the spot where it landed – I don’t know if I could say whether it was right on target – but if we saw that it landed in the same area from which we saw the rocket being launched, then we authorize the artillery guys to fire, say, five shells.

Like Idan, I served in the Artillery Corps and I know the limits of artillery weaponry. When I heard at the end of the operation that the IDF had fired over 35,000 artillery shells in the Gaza Strip, I was appalled.

An Israeli artillery unit fire towards the Gaza Strip from their position on Israel-Gaza border, on July 21, 2014.<span class="s1"> Israeli attacks have killed 550 Palestinians in the current offensive, most of them civilians. (Yotam Ronen/
An Israeli artillery unit positioned on the Israel-Gaza border,  July 21, 2014. (Yotam Ronen/

In his article, Idan wrote that the use of artillery is like Russian roulette. But there is one major difference between artillery fire and that lethal game: the rules of Russian roulette are that a contestant points a gun to their own head and pulls the trigger. If a bullet is fired, they lose their life. If not, they win a prize.

But artillery fire means pointing a firearm at someone else’s head. We are not gambling with our own lives, but with the lives of 1.8 million residents of the Gaza Strip. And those who manage to survive this fatal game of roulette are not promised any prize, quite the opposite.

As experience demonstrates, and as we can learn from statements made by our leaders, another round of fighting in Gaza is only a matter of time. The people of Gaza will once again face their fate, and once again become victims of someone else’s gamble.

This warped game must be stopped. We must speak out and call on the decision-makers to immediately stop playing with innocent people’s lives. Otherwise, the blood of those killed will be on our hands, too.

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