“We didn’t see a single house that was not hit. The entire infrastructure, tracks, fields, roads — was in total ruin,” an anonymous soldier says, describing his days in the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion last winter. “Nothing much was left in our designated area … A totally destroyed city … The few houses that were still inhabitable were taken by the army … there were lots of abandoned, miserable animals.” The destruction continued daily, he testifies, though Palestinians — fighters and civilians — had fled the area.
So much lay in ruins, says another Israeli soldier, that it was hard to navigate. “I entered Al Atatra [in the northern Gaza Strip] after seeing aerial photos and didn’t identify anything … I remembered that 200 meters further on down the track there should be a junction, with two large houses at the corners, and there wasn’t. I remembered there was supposed to be a square with a Hamas memorial … and there wasn’t. There was rubble, broken blocks.” Later, he says, he was in an operations room where soldiers were directing air strikes. Landmarks that were supposed to serve the pilots as reference points had already been destroyed, he says, making it harder to direct the planes, more likely that they would hit the wrong building.
The two soldiers are among 26 whose first-hand accounts appear in Operation Cast Lead, a book released today in Hebrew and English by the Israeli veterans’ group, Breaking the Silence. Half the soldiers were serving in the regular army at the time of the fighting; half were called up as reservists. To protect them, their names do not appear — only their words. A brief introduction notes that the Israel Defense Forces spokesman’s office has argued consistently since the war that if any moral problems arose in Israel’s conduct in Gaza, they were due to “delinquent soldiers.” The soldiers’ testimony presents a very different picture — of a policy set by top commanders that led to unnecessary civilian deaths and massive physical damage. …
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