What led to IDF bombing house full of civilians during Gaza war? (HAŽARETZ NEWS) By Amira Hass 05/02/12)
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A Military Police investigation into an air strike that killed 21
Palestinian civilians during Operation Cast Lead, according to a
recent Haaretz report, indicates senior air force officers had
approved the attack. The report, published on Friday by Amos Harel
and Anshel Pfeffer ("IDF probes top officers on Gaza war strike that
killed 21 family members" ), alleges senior officers authorized the
bombing despite being warned by more junior officers that civilians
were likely located at or nearby the target site.
One officer involved in approving the attack is then-Givati Brigade
commander Col. Ilan Malka. To date it has not yet been determined
whether he will stand trial as an officer involved in the affair.
The incident took place on January 5, 2009, in the Zeitun
neighborhood of Gaza City. During Givati Brigade activity in Zeitun,
a house there - home to the Al-Samouni family - was identified as
harboring armed Palestinians. The Israel Air Force hit the house
twice with missiles, killing 21 civilians, including women and
children, and wounding 19 others.
While some Givati soldiers agreed to testify to Breaking the Silence
(an organization of veteran combatants who served during the second
intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli
public to everyday life in the occupied territories ) about their
part in Operation Cast Lead, notably absent are the soldiers who
manned the position nearest the house that was bombed on Malka´s
On the morning of January 4, the commanders of this force ordered the
dozens of members of the extended Samouni family to leave the three-
story house (the home of Talal Samouni ), which they then turned into
their outpost. The soldiers told them to gather in the one-story home
of Wail Samouni, on the other side of the road and about 30 meters
southeast. The Samounis took the fact that the soldiers themselves
concentrated the family in one building, and saw that there were
infants, children, women, elderly people and unarmed men, as
insurance that they would not be harmed.
Despite the intense firing heard all around them that entire evening,
the family´s fears were mitigated by the proximity of the soldiers
who had assembled them into the one home. Several of the Samouni men
even left the house on Monday morning (January 5 ) to collect wood
for a fire, hoping to bake pita and heat up tea. They also called out
to a relative who had remained in his home, a few meters east of
them, and suggested he join them because their house was safe.
Shortly before that, one of the women of the house ventured outside
with a child to draw water from a nearby well, as the water tanks on
the roof had been riddled by the soldiers´ bullets a day earlier. The
woman and the child were within view of the soldiers, a fact which
the Samounis reported to Haaretz, in Gaza, over a year and a half
ago. Their testimony received extensive coverage in Haaretz, in world
media outlets, and in reports filed by Palestinian and Israeli human
Straight from the war room
A small wooden structure stood next to the house, and several of the
men apparently began climbing onto it to take apart the boards. This
activity was seen in drone photographs shown on the screen in the war
room headquarters, which according to testimony obtained by Breaking
the Silence is of poorer quality than the screen before the person
operating the aircraft.
In the war room the poles the men were holding were taken to be RPGs
(rocket-propelled grenades ) and the people carrying them were marked
as a squad of terrorists who should be shot immediately. First the
group of men outside the house was shelled. They ran into the home,
which was then shelled twice. The structure was not destroyed, but
because it was so crowded inside, dozens were killed and wounded.
One soldier who had testified to Breaking the Silence told Haaretz
about two months ago that soldiers at another outpost, east of the
Samouni compound, received information from the war room on the two-
way radio that an RPG squad was walking around in the area.
On the morning of Monday, January 5, a group of stunned Palestinian
civilians, including a woman and her baby daughter whose fingers had
been lopped off, arrived at that soldier´s outpost. The soldiers
managed to understand that the woman´s husband had just been killed.
The woman´s husband, the soldier confidently told Haaretz, had been
killed by a Palestinian RPG that was aimed at the other soldiers´
outpost but by mistake had hit the adjacent Samouni home.
Most of the Givati soldiers who gave testimony to Breaking the
Silence didn´t even know 21 civilians had been killed in a shelling
carried out under war-room orders, based on drone photographs. They
didn´t know in real time, nor did they know a year and a half later,
when they spoke to Haaretz. They hadn´t heard of the "Samouni"
family, despite the extensive media coverage as well as the space
devoted to this family´s history in the Goldstone report.
On January 4, 2009, the Sunday after the ground incursion had begun,
a Givati force set up outposts and bases in at least six houses in
the Samouni compound at the southeast end of Zeitun - as revealed
upon matching the testimony of local Palestinians with that of the
soldiers. Immediately after the ground incursion, IDF soldiers had
already killed five Palestinian civilians, most of them from the
Samouni family, in separate incidents that took place late at night
and in the morning. One child who was seriously wounded when forces
broke into his home, bled there to death until the next day - 24
hours after his father was killed at short range.
These details were also unknown to the soldiers that Haaretz found
with the help of Breaking the Silence. They agreed to the
organization´s request to testify because they were horrified by two
other incidents they witnessed, when their comrades killed civilians
at close range. The soldiers were upset by the destructive actions of
the IDF, the trigger-happy atmosphere and the virtual reality, as
they described it, created by IDF spokesmen inside Israel, to the
effect that there was serious fighting in the Gaza Strip. The
soldiers soon understood that they were not actually confronting the
dangerous Hamas resistance for which they had been prepared on the
eve of the attack.
Until now the order to bomb a house full of civilians has been
explained and understood as an ostensibly legitimate interpretation
on the part of the brigade commander of drone photographs displayed
on the screen in the war room. According to the findings of human
rights organizations and Haaretz investigations, during the course of
Cast Lead many other civilians were killed and wounded by aerial
strikes, in a similar process: based on how drone photos on war-room
screens were interpreted.
The many incidents described in the human rights organizations´
reports indicate that the drone photographs are not as precise or
clear as they are said to be, or that the technology
considered "objective" also depends on commanders´ interpretation:
Children playing on the roof are liable to be regarded as "scouts,"
people trying to speak to their relatives over the phone are liable
to be "signal operators for a terrorist brigade," and families that
went to the garden to feed the goats, squads of Qassam launchers.
In the case of the Samounis, the possibility of cross-referencing
sophisticated technological information with human information from
the field was available 24 hours before the "RPG squad" ostensibly
appeared on the war room screens.
The Givati Brigade commander, fearing Hamas attempts to kidnap IDF
soldiers, insisted that not a single ambulance enter the sector under
his control. That was also learned from soldiers who spoke to
Breaking the Silence. Testimony from the Zeitun area, which was
reported by Haaretz in real time based on conversations with
neighborhood residents, told of at least two children and two adults
who bled to death after being shot by Givati soldiers, because the
Red Cross and the Red Crescent were unable to coordinate with the IDF
the approach of ambulances to the area.
According to the testimony of the family of Hussein Ayedi, who lived
in eastern Zeitun, only a week after he was injured and after daily
coordination efforts by Physicians for Human Rights, were they
allowed to leave on foot, under various conditions, and to meet up
with ambulances at a distance of over three kilometers.
According to one soldier who spoke with Breaking the Silence, brigade
commander Malka insisted that if there were wounded, they should be
taken on foot. But according to many reports from the field,
sometimes even convoys of civilians were not allowed to progress on
foot and the soldiers fired at them. (© Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz
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