During the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip, repeated reports of indiscriminate killings of innocent civilians and other unsavory conduct were routinely dismissed by the government as enemy propaganda. It was an easy sell: the war was extremely popular domestically and a tight censorship regime kept the stories from being independently confirmed by media outlets. Yet with the war over the Israeli government is getting an unpleasant reminder of its military’s conduct during the invasion from a source it likely never expected: its own soldiers.
Several members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) that took part in the invasion have publicly testified in recent days that, despite official claims that the troops’ behavior was impeccable, lax rules of engagement led to killings of innocent civilians. Troops were ordered to smash into homes and kill everyone within, a sniper shot an unarmed elderly woman trying to flee the area. As one soldier put it: “I simply felt it was murder in cold blood.” The Israeli military has promised an official investigation.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the Gaza war and the killings of civilians is the apparent religious aspect. One of the soldiers pointed to literature distributed to the troops by the military rabbinate, saying the clear message was “we are the Jewish people, we came to this land by a miracle, God brought us back to this land and now we need to fight to expel the Gentiles who are interfering with our conquest of this holy land.”
Yet before the blame is laid solely on the military’s religious officials, one must acknowledge the entire unsavory culture of the soldiers. Today, Haaretz reports on a custom clothing outlet that prints T-shirts for soldiers. One shirt in particular shows a crosshairs across the stomach of a pregnant woman with the slogan (in Hebrew and English) “1 Shot 2 Kills.” From the testimony emerging lately, it seems likely this was indeed standard operating procedure for at least some of the snipers sent to Gaza.