Gaza soldiers speak out
In a rare insight into Operation Cast Lead, six IDF soldiers tell us what it was like to take on Hamas in Gaza
Israeli soldiers leave Gaza last month after an incursion during the assault on the Hamas-controlled Strip
Ofer, a fighter in the Golani Brigade, was in the first wave of the ground offensive:
"The first time we went in, we were given orders to target our machine guns at every suspicious point that could be used to fire upon us. And we shot at anything that moved. The civilians in the area had already been told that we were coming in, so I don't feel bad for anyone hurt there. If they remained there, they must have been Hamas. Later on we were more careful and tried to make sure that if we saw civilians, we wouldn't shoot. But it wasn't always clear who was who. It was a war zone, you can't always wait."
Dor, a soldier in a regular combat-engineering battalion:
"We must have destroyed about 100 homes in Sajaiya in the week we spent there. We used different methods, depending on the position of the building and the risk from other directions. We were shot at a lot and a few anti-tank missiles were fired towards us. Some buildings were bulldozed, in other cases we used explosives and if the firing was intense, we used the tank's cannons or called in an attack helicopter. We also destroyed public buildings, including a school, because they occupied strategic vantage points that could have been used to fire upon us. It's strange at first, destroying someone's home. But these were homes we had intelligence about, that had been used by Hamas and were potential threats. We didn't go about destroying just any house."
Efraim Steiner, a sergeant in a reserve paratrooper brigade who fought in Atatra
"I don't think it has anything to do with politics. My views are left-wing but what I saw in the area where we operated was that the use of force, which was significant, was directed only at clear sources of risk to our soldiers. I don't think it was excessive; on the contrary, in previous operations we had felt that our lives were put too much at risk so as not to harm lives on the other side. When we knew that there were civilians in a specific area, we were much more careful and the fire was closely controlled."
Ofir Shuster, a soldier in a regular mortar company:
"I don't feel bad about we did, even afterwards when I saw the pictures of the destruction. I know that the shells we fired were at targets with precise coordinates. We were covering for our soldiers going in on the ground, and unlike in Operation Defensive Shield [the April 2002 assault on the West Bank] when 14 reservists were killed when they went into a booby-trapped building in Jenin without cover, this time we didn't sacrifice any of our men on the false altar of humanism."
Arik Dubnov, in the reconnaissance company of a reserve brigade:
"From the first briefings before going in, it was clear that the army had changed its entire mindset. Instead of getting the usual precautions on not harming civilians, we were told about the need to make a very aggressive entry. We were told: 'any sign of danger, open up with massive fire'. In previous training, we prepared for fighting against guerrilla forces, but this time they told us that we would be facing Hamas fighting in full military formation - something that, obviously, did not happen. Some of us were very uncomfortable with these orders, others were pleased that finally the IDF was taking off the kid gloves. I suppose that it boils down to people's political background. When it was over, both right- and left-wingers felt that it had been a pointless exercise. The rightists said we hadn't gone far enough, the leftists said, why did we do it to begin with? But we didn't talk much about it."
Amir Marmor, a gunner in a tank crew of a reserve armoured battalion that operated in Jabalya:
"The operation was marketed to us and the entire nation as a measured retaliation to the Hamas attacks, but to me it was like a punishment exercise. That was what it seemed like from the enormous extent of the destruction. We were there for a week and despite the fact that no-one fired on us, the firing and demolitions continued incessantly. I am very doubtful how many of the demolitions can be justified. We were told to expect incoming fire from various directions; our first reaction was to blow up or bulldozer houses in a given direction so as to give us better lines of fire. But then no fire came from that direction, or any other. On another occasion we were told that an attack was expected and an artillery barrage was fired, but we didn't see anyone moving there.