Breaking the Silence on Gaza

A new set of
revelations by soldiers who participated in the Israel
Defense Forces' (IDF) operation in Gaza offers a disturbing picture of the actions carried
out in that territory. Testimony regarding their conduct in Gaza by Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli soldiers, confirms previous denunciations by
human rights organizations and signals that urgent
attention must be paid to the economic and medical needs of a repeatedly abused
civilian population.

Operation "Cast
Lead" was initiated December 27, 2008 and ended January 18, 2009. Over 1400
Palestinians were killed, 900 of them civilians (65%), including 300 hundred
children (22%). Extensive areas of Gaza were razed to the ground and thousands of
people were left homeless, even months after the operation ended. The economy of
Gaza was all but

"Much of the
destruction was wanton and resulted from direct attacks on civilian objects as
well as indiscriminate attacks that failed to distinguish between legitimate
military targets and civilian objects. Such attacks violated fundamental
provisions of international humanitarian law,
notably the prohibition on direct attacks that failed to distinguish between
legitimate military targets and civilian objects (the principle of distinction),
the prohibition on indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, and the
prohibition on collective punishment," states
Amnesty International in its July 2009 report
entitled "Operation 'Cast Lead': 22 days of death and

Among the tactics
used by the Israeli military was the repeated firing of white phosphorus shells
over densely populated areas of Gaza. White
phosphorus ignites and burns when it enters into contact with oxygen up
to 1500 degrees Fahrenheit (816 degrees Celsius) until nothing is left or there
is no longer any oxygen. Severe and persistent skin burns can be produced, and
even burns on less than 10% of the body can be fatal because of damage to the
liver, kidneys and heart.

The IDF claims it
only used white phosphorus as a smokescreen. However, if the IDF intended it as
such, it had a readily available non-lethal alternative -smoke shells produced
by an Israeli company, concluded Human Rights
Watch (HRW). In addition, HRW stated that the IDF had deliberately or
recklessly used white phosphorus munitions in violation of the laws of

There has been a
persistent effort by several actors to deny Palestinians in Gaza their basic humanity
and needs. "Gaza
is an example of a society that has been deliberately reduced to a state of
abject destitution, its once productive population transformed into one of
aid-dependent paupers. This context is undeniably one of mass suffering, created
largely by Israel but with the active complicity
of the international community, especially the US and the European Union, and
the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank," states American political scientist
and scholar Sara Roy, writing for The
Harvard Crimson

Israeli forces
frequently obstructed access to medical care and basic humanitarian aid for
those Palestinians who were wounded and trapped. In addition, states Amnesty
International, "Israeli soldiers used civilians -including children- as "human shields, endangering their lives by forcing them
to remain in or near houses which they took over and used as military

International reported that hundreds of civilians were killed in attacks carried
out using high-precision weapons -air-delivered bombs and missiles, and tank
shells. Others, including women and children, were shot at short range even when
they were posing no threat to the lives of Israeli

An infant aged 6
months, Nancy Sa'di Wakid, was the youngest Palestinian killed in Gaza. She died as a result
of inhaled gas from phosphoric bombs dropped by the Israeli army. A poem by Jane
Kenyon entitled Sandy Hole is
a painful reminder of her untimely death,

The infant's coffin no bigger than a
The young father steps backward from the sandy
Eyes wide and dry, his hand over his mouth.
No one dares to come near him, even to touch his

"The IDF is one
of the world's most moral armies and operates according to the highest moral
code," stated at the time Ehud Barak, Israel's Defense Minister. Uri
Avnery, a former Israeli soldier and a leading Israeli human rights activist
offers an alternative opinion, "Only one conclusion can be drawn from this: from
now on, any Israeli decision to start a war in a built-up area is a war crime,
and the soldiers who rise up against this crime should be honored. May they be

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