Date: 02/04/2009, 8:33 PM
On March 26th 2009, Lieutenant A., commander of a Paratrooper Brigade Reconnaissance squad, gave a television interview to a foreign news agency regarding his perceptions and experiences with regards to the behavior of IDF (Zahal) soldiers during Operation Cast Lead.
The IDF (Zahal) rules of engagement during Operation Cast Lead were to fire at armed terrorists, but to avoid causing harm to uninvolved civilians. Before entering the Gaza Strip, Lt. A. had explained these rules to his soldiers and was adamant about making every possible effort to avoid harming uninvolved civilians. “It was very clear to everyone that we were entering the Gaza Strip in an attempt to create a situation in which the citizens of Southern Israel could sleep peacefully at night; inherent in our mission was the order to avoid causing harm to Palestinian civilians, their lives, and their property.”
The guidelines specifically outlined for soldiers also demanded that civilians were given time to leave before forces fired at any building that contained terror operatives or weaponry. Lt. A. specifically recalled one incident in which he entered a house with his soldiers in order to tell the uninvolved civilians to leave the scene. “We warned them and tried to evacuate all the children and women, but not all of them wanted to go.”
IDF (Zahal) soldiers made an effort to keep civilians safe and calm, and it was an important aspect of their overall mission. Lt. A. recalled an incident in which an elderly person asked the soldiers for food because it was impossible to bring food to the civilians outside. “The soldiers come into the Gaza Strip with their food rations, and it’s all they have until they leave again, which could be a couple of weeks. So when someone asks you for food, it’s a dilemma, because you only have a limited amount for yourself. Still, we decided that we wanted to share our food.”
Lt. A. also emphasized that for the IDF (Zahal), it was of utmost importance to avoid abusing the belongings of Palestinian civilians. “We didn’t use their facilities. We didn’t want to take anything that wasn’t intergral to our mission,” he explained. “Once, when we were walking next to a strawberry field, one of our soldiers was extremely hungry and asked if he could eat a few strawberries. We didn’t give him permission to do so and we stood by our promise to do our best to avoid harming anyone apart from Hamas.”
In order to protect civilians, soldiers went so far as to refrain from returning fire when they were attacked in situations where it could potentially cause harm. “I remember an incident in which we were shot at, but we knew that there were a lot of civilians around, and so we left the area,” said Lt. A.
In a separate interview, Col. Herzi Halevi, the Commander of the Paratrooper Brigade, spoke about the forces that he commanded during Operation Cast Lead. He explained that soldiers who violated the IDF (Zahal) guidelines during the operation were dealt with on the scene. “I commanded over 2000 soldiers in this operation; naturally, there were some problems. We gave very specific orders regarding our behavior in the Gaza Strip, and some soldiers were forced to leave the Gaza Strip for inappropriate actions.”
Col. Halevi placed emphasis on Hamas’s dishonorable methods, which made it incredibly difficult for IDF (Zahal) forces to avoid harming civilians. He recalled a specific example in which Hamas used a young boy as a scout for the terrorist organization. “In one incident, we met a 14 year old in an area where he was not permitted to be. We arrested him and one of my officers who is proficient in Arabic went to asses the situation. The child told us that Hamas sent him in order locate us so that he could go back and tell them where we were, enabling them to attack us. The child was starving and told my officer that Hamas sent him and told him he would only receive food after he came back with information. It’s clear that there is no morality in their fighting strategy.”