Israeli army killed Palestinian civilians and intentionally destroyed their property during the Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, according to the recounts of soldiers who participated the offensive on Thursday.
During a pre-military preparatory conference at the military academy at Oranim Academic College on Feb. 13, combat pilots and infantry soldiers of Israel Defense Force (IDF) made the statements in a discussion over the Gaza operation, Ha'aretz daily reported.
According to the testimony made by an infantry squad leader, an IDF sharpshooter mistakenly shot a Palestinian mother and her two children.
"There was a house with a family inside ... We put them in a room. Later we left the house and another platoon entered it, and a few days after that there was an order to release the family. They had set up positions upstairs. There was a sniper position on the roof," the soldier was quoted as saying.
"The platoon commander let the family go and told them to go to the right. One mother and her two children didn't understand and went to the left, but they forgot to tell the sharpshooter on the roof they had let them go and it was okay, and he should hold his fire and he ... he did what he was supposed to, like he was following his orders."
According to the squad leader: "The sharpshooter saw a woman and children approaching him, closer than the lines he was told no one should pass. He shot them straight away. In any case, what happened is that in the end he killed them.
"I don't think he felt too bad about it, because after all, as far as he was concerned, he did his job according to the orders he was given. And the atmosphere in general, from what I understood from most of my men who I talked to ... I don't know how to describe it .... The lives of Palestinians, let's say, is something very, very less important than the lives of our soldiers. So as far as they are concerned they can justify it that way," he said.
Another testimony from a squad leader of the same brigade describes an incident where the company commander ordered that an elderly Palestinian woman, walking on a road about 100 meters from a house the company had commandeered, be shot and killed.
The squad leader said he argued with his commander over the permissive rules of engagement that allowed the clearing out of houses by shooting without warning the residents beforehand. After the orders were changed, the squad leader's soldiers complained that "we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist."
The squad leader said: "You do not get the impression from the officers that there is any logic to it, but they won't say anything. To write 'death to the Arabs' on the walls, to take family pictures and spit on them, just because you can. I think this is the main thing: To understand how much the IDF has fallen in the realm of ethics, really. It's what I'll remember the most."
The head of the pe-military course, Danny Zamir had presented the transcript of the discussion to IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi. Zamir said Wednesday that he did not expect in advance what the soldiers would say at the gathering, and what they said "shocked us."
The IDF Spokesperson's Office issued a statement saying the matter would be inspected in depth.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio on Thursday morning that he was certain the IDF would examine the findings "with all necessary seriousness."
"I still say we have the most moral army in the world. I have seen what happened in Yugoslavia, I read reports of incidents in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I nevertheless maintain that ours is the most moral military. Of course there may be exceptions [in the conduct of some soldiers and officers] but I have absolutely no doubt this will be inspected on a case-by-case basis," the defense minister said.