Israeli security forces arrive at the Gaza border

Israeli security forces arrive at the Gaza border at Erez Crossing in Israel on February 29, 2024.

(Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times)

IDF Soldier Confesses That in Gaza, 'It's Permissible to Shoot Everyone'

Detailed accounts by former Israeli soldiers describe how they fired their weapons out of "boredom," designated any Palestinians in sight as a threat, and routinely burned homes down.

Disputing the repeated claims of Israeli officials and their vehement supporters in the Biden administration, who have scoffed at concerns that the Israel Defense Forces are targeting civilians in Gaza, in-depth reporting on Monday based on the testimony of six former IDF soldiers described how they were encouraged to fire their weapons to relieve "boredom" and felt "authorized to open fire on Palestinians virtually at will, including civilians."

In their latest investigative report on the IDF's rules of engagement in Gaza, Israeli publications +972 Magazine and Local Call interviewed six soldiers who had been released from active duty.

Medical providers and eyewitnesses have described the shooting of Palestinian women and children by Israeli snipers, and footage has shown unarmed Palestinians being executed while walking along a road, but the soldiers confirmed that the IDF has been operating with "total freedom of action," as one said, since October.

"If there is [even] a feeling of threat, there is no need to explain—you just shoot," said a soldier identified as B.

If troops see a person approaching and don't know whether they are armed or pose a threat, "it is permissible to shoot at their center of mass [their body], not into the air... It's permissible to shoot everyone, a young girl, an old woman," said B.

"Every day, at least one or two [civilians] are killed [because] they walked in a no-go area. I don't know who is a terrorist and who is not, but most of them did not carry weapons," said one soldier.

The soldiers said they sometimes fired their weapons as "a way to blow off steam or relieve the dullness of their daily routine," with one reservist saying that they wanted "to experience the event [fully]."

The reservist described shooting "for no reason" at times, "into the sea or at the sidewalk or an abandoned building," while a soldier identified as S. told +972 and Local Call that the IDF would engage in a tactic called "demonstrating presence," in which they would repeatedly fire their weapons to show any Palestinians in the area that they were there.

They would "shoot a lot, even for no reason—anyone who wants to shoot, no matter what the reason, shoots," said S.

The report follows the publication of an analysis by medical experts in The Lancet, who said the death toll in Gaza—officially over 38,000—could be off by roughly 150,000 people due to the deaths of Palestinians who have starved, died of medical conditions that couldn't be treated due to the destruction of the healthcare system, and succumbed to other "indirect" impacts of the war.

Al Jazeera journalist Laila Al-Arian said that the confessions of the Israeli soldiers to +972 only confirm what "has been clear since the beginning."

"Israeli soldiers in Gaza are operating under the premise that they can kill anything that moves and that every Palestinian is fair game for slaughter," she said.

The soldiers also described "routinely" executing Palestinian civilians because they had entered an area designated a "no-go zone" by the IDF, and allowing their surroundings to become "littered with civilian corpses, which are left to rot or be eaten by stray animals."

The soldiers were instructed to hide the bodies when international aid groups arrived, to ensure that "images of people in advanced stages of decay don't come out."

S. said they "saw a lot of civilians—families, women, children," and confirmed that "there are more fatalities than are reported."

"Every day, at least one or two [civilians] are killed [because] they walked in a no-go area. I don't know who is a terrorist and who is not, but most of them did not carry weapons," they said.

B. told +972 and Local Call that the army suspects any male between the ages of 16 and 50 of being a terrorist, and treats anyone walking around outside or looking at the IDF from a building as suspicious—and a legitimate target.

"You shoot," said B. "The [army's] perception is that any contact [with the population] endangers the forces, and a situation must be created in which it is forbidden to approach [the soldiers] under any circumstances."

The report follows previous revelations from the Israeli news outlets on the IDF's use of artificial intelligence to target Palestinians, with little regard for civilians who might be killed when suspected Hamas members were attacked in their homes.

A soldier identified as A. said that working alongside commanders in an operations room and determining which buildings should be struck "felt like a computer game."

"I, too, a rather left-wing soldier, forget very quickly that these are real homes," said A. "Only after two weeks did I realize that these are [actual] buildings that are falling: if there are inhabitants [inside], then [the buildings are collapsing] on their heads."

Yuval Green, who served in the 55th Paratroopers Brigade late last year and signed a letter with 40 other reservists last month refusing to take part in the invasion of Rafah, testified that soldiers were ordered to burn down homes that they had occupied.

"If you move, you have to burn down the house," he said, adding that the policy did not make sense to him in an operation that was supposedly aimed at targeting Hamas.

"We are in these houses not because they belong to Hamas operatives, but because they serve us operationally," Green said. "It is a house of two or three families—to destroy it means they will be homeless."

Policy analyst Tariq Kenney-Shawa addressed those who might be surprised that "Israeli soldiers would so readily admit their war crimes."

"It's simple," Kenney-Shawa said. "They've never faced any consequences. They are only rewarded for their massacres."

Yael Berda of the Middle East Initiative said the latest dispatch from +972 regarding the orders IDF soldiers are given is likely just a fraction of the truth that will eventually come out about the war in Gaza.

"I am pretty sure we don't know half of what went on during these nine months in Gaza," she said.

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