Israeli army in Gaza shot civilians 'as they pleased' in free-fire policy

Israeli army in Gaza shot civilians 'as they pleased' in free-fire policy
An investigation has exposed the Israeli army's free-fire policy against Palestinians, as well as the deliberate destruction of civilian homes in Gaza.
4 min read
09 July, 2024
Israeli troops are able to shoot 'as they please' in Gaza under little authority, according to a new report [GETTY/file photo]

A new investigation has revealed the alarming policies of the Israeli military in its Gaza operations, including an open-fire policy towards civilians, the prolific burning of civilian homes, and a near absence of accountability or authority.

The report exposes the "total indifference" among Israeli soldiers towards Palestinians, with the interviewees describing how soldiers looted homes, defaced and burnt them down, trod on corpses, and regularly killed unarmed civilians throughout the war.

Based on the testimonies of soldiers, the investigation by Tel Aviv-based independent publications +972 Magazine and Local Call published on Monday spoke to six Israeli soldiers about their recent experience in Gaza.

The soldiers, who all remain anonymous bar one, gave accounts which reveal the open-shooting policy of the army that gives an explanation for the war's extraordinarily high civilian death toll. More than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed in nine months while over 88,000 have been injured.

All the soldiers said that it was normal to open fire and shoot as "they pleased".

Israeli military has a policy of extensive shooting to "demonstrate presence" even in abandoned areas of Gaza. Soldiers are instructed that any person walking around is suspicious and qualifies as a target, according to the report.

One of the soldiers interviewed explained that the army wants to create conditions whereby Palestinians learn that "it is forbidden to approach" the soldiers, and therefore any civilian who comes into their vicinity or "looks at" the troops becomes a suspect and eligible to be shot at.

But the open-fire policy has caused dangerous incidents for the army itself. At least 28 soldiers have been killed by friendly fire since the war began in October.

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One of the most notable results of the policy came when three Israeli hostages waving white flags were shot dead by the army in Shujaiya in December.

Even after the disaster, the open-fire regulations did not change, a soldier referred to as ‘B’ in the article said.

The same soldier also expressed concern that contrary to the image projected to the public in Israel, the lives of the hostages in Gaza were not at the forefront of the army's actions and that some soldiers would even dismiss them, saying "they have to be abandoned".

Throughout the war, there have been reports of unarmed civilians being shot at by the Israeli army from eyewitnesses, Palestinian journalists and medical teams. The Israeli army did not respond to the allegations in the +972 article, and has always maintained that it does not harm civilians, despite reports to the contrary.

Footage first aired by Al Jazeera network in June showed what appeared to be unarmed civilians being summarily executed as they walked down a coastal road in southern Gaza.

Another soldier interviewed described his deployment in Gaza as "like a computer game".

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He described how they would blow up or burn Palestinian homes, or shoot randomly when they were bored. Any civilians who entered areas deemed by the army as 'no-gone zones' – which often happened unknowingly if people were looking for scraps of aid – would be shot at.

"The soldiers testified that throughout Gaza, corpses of Palestinians in civilian clothes remained scattered along roads and open ground," the article noted.

The only other actors in the area could be humanitarian convoys in which case Israeli bulldozers would bury the corpses under the rubble out of sight before the international convoys entered the area.

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One soldier recalled an incident in November when "15 to 20" Palestinians were shot dead by Israeli troops because they exited a building "to the right" rather than in the opposite direction as ordered after gunfire broke out which sparked panic.

Israel is facing accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity at two world courts for its actions against Palestinians in Gaza.

The International Criminal Court is investigating Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and the defence minister for charges of murder, extermination and intentionally directing attacks against a civilian population while South Africa has raised a case at the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide.