IDF Soldiers Ordered to Shoot at Gaza Rescuers, Note Says

Published on
by
Haaretz (Israel)

IDF Soldiers Ordered to Shoot at Gaza Rescuers, Note Says

by
Amira Hass

Palestinians stand on the balcony of their damaged house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip March 2, 2009. Israel's 22-day offensive in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip killed 1,417 people including 926 civilians, 255 police officers and 236 fighters, a Palestinian rights group said, in a revision of its earlier figures. (REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

GAZA STRIP - "Rules of Engagement: Open fire also
upon rescue," was handwritten in Hebrew on a sheet of paper found in
one of the Palestinian homes the Israel Defense Forces took over during
Operation Cast Lead. A reservist officer who did not take part in the
Gaza offensive believes that the note is part of orders a low-level
commander wrote before giving his soldiers their daily briefing.

One of the main themes in news reports during the Gaza operation,
and which appears in many testimonies, is that IDF soldiers shot at
Palestinian and Red Cross rescuers, making it impossible to evacuate
the wounded and dead. As a result, an unknown number of Palestinians
bled to death as others cowered in their homes for days without medical
treatment, waiting to be rescued.

The bodies of the dead lay outside the homes or on roadsides for
days, sometimes as long as two weeks. Haaretz has reported a number of
such cases, some of them as they happened. The document found in the
house provides written proof that IDF commanders ordered their troops
to shoot at rescuers.

The sheet of paper entitled "Situational Assessment" was found by a
field researcher of The Palestinian Center for Human Rights in the home
of Sami Dardone's family in Jabal al-Rayes, east of Jabalya. The
extended Dardone family lives in about 40 homes in this neighborhood,
built on a hilltop. Some of the homes were taken over by the army to
house troops during the offensive and to serve as sniping positions, or
for shooting in general.

Most of the homes were seriously damaged when the IDF directly
bombed them or other targets nearby at the start of the ground
operation. This was also the reason the homes' residents fled on
January 4. When the residents returned to the neighborhood at the end
of the offensive on January 18, they found that the IDF had completely
destroyed some of the homes, in addition to those that had been damaged
by shelling and others that were wrecked when soldiers broke in through
the walls. Sometimes the soldiers needed explosives to break in.

A military source told Haaretz that "the document that was found is
not an official document signed by a particular commander, and as such
the IDF cannot comment on fragments of sentences that were jotted down
on a piece of paper, and asks that this not be interpreted as
directives and instructions that were issued by commanders."

'Situational assessment'

According to the reservist officer who did not participate in
Operation Cast Lead and who received a copy of the document via fax,
the "Situational Assessment" was written by a platoon commander, or at
the highest level a company commander. The reservist says the author of
the "Situational Assessment" was making notes to brief his soldiers
based on a briefing that low-ranking commanders receive from senior
officers.

The date on the sheet is "16.1.08," clearly an error because it
should read one year later. It comments on political and military
events that occurred in mid-January 2009. It's possible to conclude
that the author is discussing the possibility of a cease-fire, which
was being discussed publicly by Israeli officials at that time.

"The next 24 hours are important; there is a likelihood they
[Hamas] will not accept the agreement," the author writes. He also
mentions the "Interior Minister." The reference is probably to Hamas
Interior Minister Said al-Sayam, who was killed on January 15 when the
IDF bombed his home. Four members of his family and five members of a
neighbor's family were killed. Among the dead were four children.

The commander's notes toward the top of the sheet are largely a
short political briefing - for example, "the local leadership wants [a
cease-fire], the external [Hamas leadership] is out of touch" - and an
assessment of the enemy's intentions - "the enemy would like to achieve
a kidnapping [of soldiers], the destruction of homes."

"Rules of Engagement" is written in the lower half of the sheet, along with one other category: - "Operational Routine."

The following is written: "Rules of Engagement: Fire also upon
rescue. Not on women and children. Beyond the tantcher -
incrimination."

"Tantcher" is what the IDF calls Salah al-Din - the route that runs
the length of the Gaza Strip. The home of the Dardone family is east of
the route, so it is possible to assume these are instructions on
shooting at anyone crossing the route to the east into areas held by
the IDF.

A reservist soldier who did not participate in Cast Lead says that
to the best of his knowledge "incrimination" refers to the process of
identifying whether a person approaching is a terrorist.

The reservist officer who did not take part in the Gaza operation
spoke with reservists who said "incriminating" was a shoot-to-kill
order, contrary to "suspect procedure," in which shots are fired in the
air and then at the legs.

The IDF spokesman said in response that "IDF forces were given
unequivocal instructions not to fire at those identified as not being
involved in the fighting, and to assist as much as possible injured
Palestinians under battle conditions."

The reservist officer told Haaretz that "according to the details
mentioned in the paper it appears the author was a low-ranking officer
who dealt with the affairs of about 30 soldiers - like organizing their
platoon equipment and oiling their weapons."

He says the author might have taken part in an earlier briefing by
more senior officers and took notes for his political and military
briefing. That is where he received his instructions on the rules of
engagement.

"The rules of engagement are not something the platoon or company commander makes up," the reservist officer said.

According to the graffiti left in the Dardone homes, and based on
what is known about the IDF's deployment in the Strip, the unit involved was part of the Golani Brigade.

The last portion of the document is entitled "Operational Routine -
Fighting Timeline," and includes things such as guard duty,
responsibility for platoon equipment and briefings. Under "Operational
Routine" a note is included whose title can be translated as "Shitting
of Houses."

The reservist officer and soldier with whom Haaretz spoke said they were not aware of that term.

Many of the homes the IDF troops took over were left in
particularly unsanitary conditions; the residents of Sami Dardone's
home found their clothes in piles with obvious signs of human feces.

Sealed bags

Haaretz asked the IDF spokesman whether "Shitting of Houses" refers
to "an intentional action of turning the homes into latrines, or
whether the commander wanted to talk to his soldiers about the fact
that they had turned their living space into latrines."

A reservist soldier who took part in Cast Lead told the reservist
officer that "going to the toilet was part of the briefing, and perhaps
'Shitting of Houses' is a reference in the briefing to where to pile up
the sealed bags the IDF provides the soldiers for relieving
themselves."

The IDF spokesman said that "soldiers who were in the homes were
instructed to relieve themselves in areas where it did not endanger
their lives, mostly inside the house, and which allowed them to carry
out their operational activities in the best possible way, and for as
long as it would be necessary."

The other side of the "Situational Assessment" sheet shows that it
was written on a letter sent to the troops by a child. "To the Golani
soldiers, good luck in the war," the letter reads in the hand of a
young child. In the middle of the page there is a drawing of an armed
soldier. "Love, the S. family."

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