IDF soldiers who took part in January's offensive in Hamas-ruled Gaza rebutted on Thursday claims of immoral conduct on the military's part.
The claims were made by soldiers who took part in the war during a post-op conference at the military academy at Oranim. The conference protocol was published Thursday.
"I don’t believe there were soldiers who were looking to kill (Palestinians) for no reason," said 21-year-old Givati Brigade soldier Assaf Danziger, who was lightly injured three days before the conclusion of Operation Cast Lead.
"What happened there was not enjoyable to anyone; we wanted it to end as soon as possible and tried to avoid contact with innocent civilians," he said.
According to Danziger, soldiers were given specific orders to open fire only at armed terrorists or people who posed a threat. "There were no incidents of vandalism at any of the buildings we occupied. We did only what was justified and acted out of necessity. No one shot at civilians. People walked by us freely," he recounted.
A Paratroopers Brigade soldier who also participated in the war called the claims "nonsense". Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said "It is true that in war morality can be interpreted in many different ways, and there are always a few idiots who act inappropriately, but most of the soldiers represented Israel honorably and with a high degree of morality.
"For instance, on three separate occasions my company commander checked soldiers' bags for stolen goods. Those who stole the smallest things, like candy, were severely punished," he said.
"We were forbidden from sleeping in Palestinians' beds even when we had no alternate accommodations, and we didn’t touch any of their food even after we hadn't had enough to eat for two days."
Graffiti scribbled on wall of Palestinian home (Photo: AP)
According to a reservist who spent a week in Gaza during the offensive, the claims of immoral behavior on the soldiers' part were "fictitious".
"Wherever we were we tried to cause minimum damage," said the paratrooper, who also asked to remain nameless. "We left some of the homes cleaner than they were before we occupied them. We even cleaned a refrigerator that really stunk.
"During one incident, we were informed that a female suicide bomber was heading in our direction, but even when women approached us and crossed a certain point we made do with firing in the air, or near the women," the soldier recalled. "Even when we came across deserted stores, we didn’t even think of taking anything. One soldier took a can of food, but he immediately returned it after everyone yelled at him."
Major (res.) Idan Zuaretz of Givati said "in every war there is a small percentage of problematic soldiers, but we must look at it from a broad perspective and not focus on isolated incidents."
Zuaretz, a company commander, also questioned the integrity of the soldiers who made the controversial claims, saying "if this was such a burning issue for them, why have they remained silent until now? On an ethical and moral level, they were obligated to stop what they claimed had occurred and not wait two months to be heard at some esoteric debate."
According to the officer, the IDF went to great lengths and employed the most advanced technology to avoid harming civilian population.
"I've seen a few things in my time, but even I was blown away by the level of professionalism displayed by the army," Zuaretz said. "I personally gave my soldiers an order on the day we withdrew from Gaza to leave all of our goodies in the last house we occupied. Some reservists even left an envelope full of money to one Palestinian family."
Meanwhile, "Free Gaza" spokeswoman Hawida Araf told Ynet that "it is hard to say that the claims of immoral conduct are surprising," adding that an international investigative committee must be set up to probe the incidents in Gaza.
"Apparently some of things the soldiers had done in Gaza weighed on their conscience to such a degree that they felt compelled to make them known," she said.
Araf, who has organized seven sails to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade, said a group of attorneys who visited the Strip following the offensive is expected to issue its report next week.
"We checked whether Israel violated any international laws in Gaza," she said, but admitted that the report was based on Palestinian eyewitness accounts and did not include soldiers' testimonies.