People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 32

August 09, 200

Gaza: �Breaking the Silence�



Yohannan Chemarapally


A Report �Breaking the Silence� based on the testimony of 30 Israeli soldiers who had participated in  �Operation Cast Lead� (the military code name for the 22 day war on Gaza)  has revealed that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) had routinely committed human rights violations in the 22 day siege of Gaza. The 110 page report, released in mid-July, provides graphic testimony about the targeting of Palestinian civilians and their property. Israeli soldiers were repeatedly told by their superiors to ignore the safety of the civilian populace in Gaza. According to the report, senior IDF officers told the soldiers to shoot first rather than worry about the deaths of civilians. �Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target the enemy�, was one of the instructions given by senior IDF commanders before the Israeli army set out to destroy Gaza. Another army commander told the young soldiers that in �urban warfare, anyone is your enemy. No innocents�.  


Not surprisingly, the Israeli Defense ministry has been quick to reject the new report detailing the serious human rights violations including the use of white phosphorous and the rampant demolition of thousands of Palestinian houses. In the last week of July, the Israeli Defense ministry brought out its own report on the conduct of the war in the last week of July. The report has denied all the serious war crime charges leveled by the Palestinians, the UN and human rights groups. The Defense ministry has ordered criminal inquiries into a dozen cases. This is the only acknowledgement of possible lapses by the IDF during the Gaza war. 





One Israeli soldier whose testimony appears in the �Breaking the Silence� report said that his unit had received an order to �ignite� an area populated by Palestinians. �The way to do that was to actually fire phosphorous shells from above�. The white phosphorous lets out �an umbrella of fire� over a targeted house and sets it on fire. The soldier who gave the testimony said that he was told while undergoing training that it was �inhumane� to use phosphorous shells in warfare.


International law allows the use of white phosphorous only to obscure troop movement and to prevent the enemy from firing guided missiles. The IDF also used civilians as �human shields�. This was called the �neighbour procedure� in Israeli army jargon. Palestinian civilians were forced to enter the buildings to provide cover for Israeli troop�s intent on killing or capturing resistance fighters. The report also highlights the dubious role played by the military rabbis. The report gives many instances of the rabbis trying to inculcate messianic zeal into the soldiers. The Palestinians were compared to the �Philistines�, the tribal enemies of the Jews in the Biblical days.  


One Rabbi told soldiers during the Gaza war that they were the �sons of light� and that their fight was against the �sons of darkness�. In its summary, �Breaking the Silence� concludes that the massive destruction inflicted on Gaza �was unrelated to any direct threat to Israeli forces� and that the rules of engagement were �deliberately permissive�.


Amnesty International in a report released in the first week of July had accused Israel of �breaching the laws of War� by putting women and children �in harms way�. The Amnesty report said that women and children were forced �to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military positions�.  The Amnesty report notes that the scale and intensity of attacks on Gaza were unprecedented. Most of the civilians were killed with high precision weapons. The IDF relied on surveillance drones which have exceptionally good optics, allowing those observing the targets to see them in detail.


�The deaths of so many children and other civilians cannot be dismissed simply as �collateral damage� as argued by Israel�, said Donatella Rovera, the Amnesty official who led the inquiry. The Israeli army spokesperson has criticised both the Amnesty report as well as the report compiled by Israeli soldiers themselves, for not containing �facts� and being �based on hearsay�. The Israeli Defense ministry has conducted its own inquiry into �Operation Cast Lead� and concluded that the IDF remains the �most moral� army in the world. The Israeli Defense minister, Ehud Barak, one of the key brains behind the inhumane assault on Gaza responded to the report with the brazen statement that the Israeli army �behaves in accordance with the highest ethical code�.


Many human rights organisations have given detailed reports about the way in which the IDF went about targeting civilians and their property. The Israeli human rights lawyer Michael Sfard said that the �Breaking the Silence � report showed that the Gaza operation violated the �number one principle of international laws of war�that of distinguishing between the civilian population and combatants�. Recently Dor Yermiya, a 95 year old Jewish freedom fighter who participated actively in the creation of Israel, renounced his faith in the Zionist state. In his letter, Yermiya said that Israel �turned what would have been Palestine into a giant detention camp and is holding a whole people captive under an oppressive and oppressive regime, with a sole aim of taking away their country, come what may.�


An UN Board of inquiry investigating alleged Israeli war crimes had come out with its own report which has also been highly critical of Israel�s 22 day attack on Gaza. It is another story that the UN secretary general Ban ki-Moon has chosen to give the report a quite burial. Only the summary of the reports has been made available. The summary of the report stated that the IDF had attacked 53 UN installations, including 37 schools. The attack on the UN run Jabaila school had resulted in the deaths of more than 40 Palestinian civilians. The UN secretary general had limited the scope of enquiry to the attacks on UN installations only.


However, a separate investigation into all human rights violations by the IDF during the Gaza operations has been ordered by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The four member UN team headed by the eminent South African jurist, Richard Goldstone was in Gaza a week before the Israeli soldier�s testimonies came out. Israel had refused to grant the UN investigating team visas. The UN team had to finally enter Gaza through Egypt.





Meanwhile, Gaza which was already in a bad shape before Israel unleashed Operation Cast Lead on its hapless population, is crying out for urgent international attention. Ever since Hamas took over Gaza two years ago, Israel has imposed draconian sanctions. Israel seems to have the tacit support of the US, EU and many of the Arab governments as it seeks to starve the Gazans into submission.  Today, there is no industry to speak of in the Gaza Strip. Smuggling of a few essential goods through a labyrinth of tunnels has prevented the total collapse of the Gazan economy. After the recent Israeli military assault, 80 per cent of its agricultural output was destroyed. The result is that 96 per cent of the Gazan population of 1.4 million is now dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. But Israel is continuing its war on Gaza by other means. Israel is drastically curtailing the entry of desperately needed food and other essential supplies to Gaza.


The American president Barack Obama in his Cairo speech had called for the speedy reconstruction of Gaza. Obama said that the �humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel�s security interests� but has done nothing to pressure Israel into lifting its punitive economic blockade. The initial tough stance he had taken against Israel�s colonisation process is now being considerably watered down. The international community had pledged $5.2 billion towards Gaza�s reconstruction but mainly due to Israeli intransigence and stonewalling, very little of the aid has reached the war ravaged Strip. The bombed out concrete houses are being replaced by ramshackle mud houses because of the lack of cement and other building materials. Thousands of families are still living in rudimentary tents or continue to be exposed to the elements.


A June 2009 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) described Gaza as �looking like the epicenter of a massive earthquake�.  Gaza�s heath care system after Operation Cast Lead is in utter disrepair. Equipment and medicine for the treatment of serious illness are unavailable in Gaza because of the Israeli blockade. Even pain killers and X-ray film developers are put on the restricted list by Israel. Those seeking treatment in Israeli hospitals have to either agree to be collaborators or wait for months to get clearance from Israeli authorities. In a new UN sponsored report, a Palestinian human rights group said that pregnant Palestinian women, many of them from Gaza, were �chained to their beds until they enter the delivery rooms and shackled once again after giving birth�.


The ICRC survey found that over 70 per cent of Gazan families survive on $1 a day. Many Gazans, according to the ICRC report �have exhausted their coping mechanisms�. They feel that the international community is now willfully ignoring their plight and has abandoned them to the mercy of the rabidly right wing government that has taken office in Israel.