Hieronder een aantal ooggetuigen verslagen van Israelische soldaten tijdens de recente Gaza oorlog. Ze vertellen allemaal hetzelfde: hoeveel aanvallen worden afgelast omdat er burgers in de buurt zijn, de dilemma’s omdat ze zelf werden beschoten maar terugschieten kan betekenen dat onschuldige kinderen worden getroffen. Hoe ze werden beschoten vanuit scholen en ziekenhuizen. Het zijn verhalen die je vreemd in de oren zullen klinken als je alleen de beelden van het NOS journaal en andere mainstream media hebt gezien, waar vaak wordt gesuggereerd dat Israel lukraak schoot op alles wat los en vast zat. Niet alle soldaten zijn natuurlijk zo zuiver als in de verhalen hieronder, maar dit is op zijn minst ook een kant die het verdient gehoord te worden. Veel soldaten probeerden oprecht om Palestijnse burgers te ontzien, soms met fatale gevolgen voor henzelf of hun maten.
.... And you know that this rocket launcher is your target but you can’t attack because you have to wait for clearance to make sure that there are no civilians in the area where the rocket is being launched.
Only once you know your target is clear, and there are no civilians nearby, then that is the time to strike.
I saw several occasions where people ran to the roof of a building that was warned of a strike, or people staying in the house, and that’s the biggest of all the dilemmas we’re facing.
It’s not a question of when something like that happened. Every strike mission I went on had those dilemmas. I can’t recall one strike that I didn’t encounter those exact dilemmas.
Many times as a pilot you’re very close to releasing a bomb, and sometimes five seconds or three seconds to launch, you abort the mission because there are civilians in the vicinity and you’re not willing to take those risks.
Sometimes the civilians aren’t exactly in the target but they’re close enough that you feel that if you attack the target they could get hurt. So sometimes you come back for landing with all your bombs, because you’re waiting two hours and still the target wasn’t clear.
About 20 to 30 percent of the targets I was assigned to were aborted for that reason.
Er was een speciale eenheid die erop moest toezien dat een doelwit geraakt kon worden zonder dat er burgers omkwamen.
A large percentage of what we’ve been doing is accompanying attacks. So if we’re talking about aerial strikes in the Gaza Strip, any bomb dropped in Gaza had some form of visual intelligence letting them know if we can see any people walking around the area. So if we were about to attack some place which might be near civilian infrastructure—which is most of what we were forced to do since Hamas places themselves within the civilian population—we had cameras in the area to make sure we could minimize civilian causalities as much as possible.
So if you’re sent out on a flight to find civilians and make sure attacks aren’t taking place where civilians are, whenever you succeed, you have a feeling of success. I never think, “Well, what are we enabling them to do?” It’s usually only once we’ve landed that we hear attacks have been launched into Israel, and then you look at yourself and say, “Look at how many opportunities have been missed to stop these attacks.” But to protect one innocent life is not worth losing another innocent life. Israeli civilians and Palestinian civilians are innocent.
How Hamas Destroys Its People, as Seen Through the Eyes of IDF Soldiers
Freelance journalist and Emmy-nominated producer
Since the beginning of the Gaza War, Israelis have insisted that Hamas uses its own civilians as “human shields.” Hamas denies it, and certain international voices take their side. Now some of those who saw it with their own eyes are speaking out.
It’s been nearly two months since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, and while it seems the hostilities are tentatively over, what has become clear is that despite claims of victory, the civilians of Gaza have paid the heaviest price. What has also become clear is that no matter how many times Israeli officials blame the high civilian death toll on Hamas, that claim continues to fall on deaf ears.
Coming from politicians like Benjamin Netanyahu or Naftali Bennett, the words “human shield” sound more like an Israeli public relations slogan than a tragic truth of guerilla warfare. The world has heard the claim that Hamas hides behind its civilians so many times that today the accusation holds very little weight.
Perhaps it’s hard to believe that Hamas, a group claiming to fight for Palestinian freedom, would use Palestinian civilians to protect themselves. Or perhaps it’s simply difficult to imagine that any human being would deliberately put innocent people in danger for the sake of winning a media war. Or perhaps it’s merely a lack of evidence, an absence of stories that tell people what the words “human shield” really mean.
Only in the past few weeks have reports began to emerge from journalists who have left the Gaza Strip and now feel safe enough to report on Hamas’s tactic of launching rockets from hospitals, schools, and other civilian infrastructure.
According to a new report published by the IDF, Hamas launched more than 1,600 rockets from civilian sites.
Yet we still haven’t really heard any substantive, first-hand, on-the-ground stories of Hamas using Palestinian civilians as tools of war. Spoken of even less are the Israeli military’s efforts to limit civilian casualties.
Notably, the people we haven’t heard from throughout this information war are the soldiers themselves, the young men who were on the ground in Gaza, fighting the actual war. They, better than anyone else, can speak of their experience fighting against Hamas and the unconventional warfare they faced.
Below is a collection of personal stories gathered from soldiers who saw with their own eyes Palestinian civilians being used as strategic elements of Hamas’ fight against Israel. In some cases, only first names have been used in order to protect identities, as some were still in the midst of the operation when interviewed.
While they all served in different units, and fought different battles, some from the sky and some from the ground, all of them spoke of their painstaking efforts to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians at the risk of their own lives. Each soldier interviewed for this story had his own personal account, sometimes several accounts, of trying to avoid civilian casualties in the face of Hamas efforts to exploit them. And all of the soldiers shared the same frustration that despite all of their painstaking efforts, the world continues to view Israel’s war in Gaza as a war against humanity, when in their eyes, it is very much a war against a terrorist organization that has taken its own people hostage.
In the beginning we were in neighborhoods in Southern Gaza that had all been evacuated a week before. A lot of the houses we searched were booby trapped with explosives. A lot of houses you would go in and find an Israeli soldier uniform, along with Hamas uniforms.
You’d go into the house—just a normal house—and see pictures of a family, a wardrobe in a couple’s room, a children’s room. You’d see children’s toys in one room, and in the next room you’d find an AK-47. So there were no lines between who’s a civilian and who’s a terrorist.
We also found a number of tunnel entrances in the area, in the middle of a neighborhood. I don’t even think everyone in the neighborhood knows there’s a tunnel in their neighborhood. The entrance would be in a building, covered by a sofa or a closet. It would just be in a house, someone’s kitchen—a tunnel that led into Israel.
The whole time we barely saw any terrorists. They stayed deeper in the cities where it’s denser, and where the civilians hadn’t been evacuated.
There was one point when there was a 24-hour humanitarian ceasefire and during that time civilians came back to their neighborhoods. So at one point we were in a house of a known Hamas affiliate and the owners actually came back to the house. It was eight of them—a dad and seven boys. They weren’t all his children. Some were his nephews. But one of his sons was a Hamas affiliate. He was in his early twenties.
When they came back to the house we talked to them and the man said “I don’t know what all my sons are up to. I didn’t know he was affiliated with Hamas.” And I remember him saying, “When I left my house, I locked the doors because I knew that after people left their houses Hamas would go in and booby trap them. So I did that on purpose, so my house wouldn’t be a trap that would explode.”
And his house had stayed locked.
The father was actually really nice. He used to work in Israel before the border became contentious. He had a beautiful, gorgeous house, with three stories and lots of rooms. And he said, “The way I was able to pay for this house was because of the years I worked in Israel.”
He said Hamas has ruined their lives here, and that it was great having a good relationship with Israel because it helped him economically. He said that since Hamas came into power, he’d lost the ability to work in Israel, and was just living off of what he had made in Israel.
I remember he was joking with my company commander, saying that the best hummus is in Israel, in Petach Tikva. And then he recommended a shakshouka place. It was really funny to hear their conversation. And this was right after we arrested his son. He was a really friendly, nice guy. I think unfortunately he was stuck in the middle of the conflict.
This was before the big event that happened in Rafah…
Another time during a ceasefire we were in a house and a 16-year-old boy came into the neighborhood that was supposed to be fully evacuated. So my company commander went out to talk to him, because you know, you don’t know who’s a Hamas affiliate and who’s not. So he talked to him and said, “We know there’s a tunnel in the area, do you know where it is?” And the boy was clearly innocent. You could tell right away. He said “no, we don’t have food, so I just came to the neighborhood to try to find food for my family.”
We had like 30 people in the house and we were supposed to have food rations for 24 hours. So the company commander sent his radio control operator upstairs to gather all of our food for the next 24 hours. It was like olives, tuna, beans, nothing that delicious, you know, corn and stuff. And he put it all in a big box. On his way out, I was on guard duty with a guy named Hadar. We had just opened up a pack of gummy worms we had gotten as a donation from Israel, and we put that in there as well.
And it was nice, the company commander sent the boy off with the cardboard box. It was nice. We didn’t have food for the next 12 hours; we just had some bread, but he told us were going to get new rations in 12 hours and you don’t know when this kid is going to get food again.
I really respect him for that. He had a really good heart. This is the same commander who had the conversation with the father about shakshouka. His name was Benaya Sarel.
It was an hour after the ceasefire, and I think they purposely put a man that looked like a civilian, just a normal man, to kind of entice us to come out to go talk to him, and then waiting down below were a bunch of explosives and a suicide bomber.
On Friday morning [August 1] we went outside and there was a man who was watching from a window. We didn’t know at the time that he was with Hamas. He was about a 40-year-old guy, wearing a blue t-shirt. He didn’t have a gun on him, or not that we saw at least. He had his hands over a windowsill, looking out from the window of a 2-story building. It was an hour after the ceasefire had taken effect. It had gone into effect at 8 AM that morning and it was a little after 9 AM.
So it was the company commander that I keep talking about, Benaya Sarel, Hadar Goldin, and Liel Gidoni, the radio operator who went upstairs to get the food for the kid the other day. It was six of us: those three, me and two others.
So we see this guy who looks like a civilian, with his hands leaning on the windowsill. He wasn’t supposed to be there. This area was supposed to be evacuated. Benaya said he wanted to go talk to him, to see if he could get any information from him. So those three went in one direction to talk to him, and I went the other way with the other two guys.
Benaya didn’t feel any imminent danger, or else he wouldn’t have done that. He just didn’t want the guy to run away and get scared. So the three of them walked towards him, and from my point I heard shots ring out and an explosion. And this was supposed to be during a ceasefire.
By the time we got there, it had ended. What had happened was that a suicide bomber had come out of a tunnel on the first level of the building where that man was, and had killed all three of them. And I guess the man up above and whoever else was in there, I think it was a few of them, they had dragged Hadar’s body down the tunnel that was on the first floor.
I think the whole thing was a trap. It was an hour after the ceasefire, and I think they purposely put a man that looked like a civilian, just a normal man, to kind of entice us to come out to go talk to him, and then waiting down below were a bunch of explosives and a suicide bomber.
When we heard the shots, we ran back to get to them but it had already ended. When we got there, we saw two dead bodies: Benaya and Liel. They had died immediately from the explosives and the suicide bomber. The suicide bomber was dressed in an Israeli uniform.
And that ended up being the tunnel we were looking for all along.
Our assistant company commander went into the tunnel after to get Hadar’s body back, not knowing if Hadar was alive or not. And from what he said, it was a very elaborate tunnel. He said you could stand two people, and he’s taller than me, about a meter and 80 or 85 [centimeters—approximately six feet]. He said you could stand tall; you didn’t need to crouch at all. And there was room for two people to walk side by side. And he said there were twists and turns and everything. There was a ridiculous amount of weapons there; it was like a weapons storage center. There were bags of ready-made kits with a gun in there, a vest, and gun magazines. So the terrorists could just grab it and just go out and make an attack.
So he went down there and he said he saw that they had dragged Hadar’s body. He saw a trail of blood and just kind of followed it for a while. He realized that it went on for a long time so he came back out.
Benaya used to say that the worst kind of event is when you can’t fight back, when you can’t react. That’s exactly what that was. The worst part was that we got there and there was nothing for us to do. All we could do was put them on stretchers and send them back to Israel.
Benaya was an amazing commander. People really respected him. There wasn’t a person that didn’t look up to him. But there’s no commander in the army who would have shot that guy in the window who didn’t have a gun on him. When I first saw him, I was looking through the zoom on my gun and my red dot was on him but I wasn’t going to shoot him, because he didn’t have a gun. Even though he wasn’t supposed to be there. I think that’s just part of the IDF’s moral compass. That’s not the way we fight.
During guard duty I would sit with Hadar and he would tell me that he’s engaged, getting married in 2 months. He said he wanted to be a doctor after the army. I remember we were sitting on guard duty and he drew a picture of me, it was a goofy picture of a soldier. It was funny. He was just a nice guy.
[Benaya Sarel was also engaged, and his wedding was scheduled to take place on August 21.]