A group of soldiers who took part in Israel’s assault in Gaza say widespread abuses were committed against civilians under “permissive” rules of engagement.
The troops said they had been urged to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious and said Palestinians were sometimes used as human shields.
Breaking the Silence, a campaign group made up of Israeli soldiers, gathered anonymous accounts from 26 soldiers.
Israel denies breaking the laws of war and dismissed the report as hearsay.
The report says testimonies show “the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians” was a result of Israeli military policy, articulated by the rules of engagement, and encouraged by a belief “the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions”.
One soldier is quoted saying: “The soldiers were made to understand that their lives were the most important, and that there was no way our soldiers would get killed for the sake of leaving civilians the benefit of the doubt.”
Another says: “People were not instructed to shoot at everyone they see, but they were told that from a certain distance when they approach a house, no matter who it is – even an old woman – take them down.”
Many of the testimonies are in line with claims made by human rights organisations that Israeli military action in Gaza was indiscriminate and disproportionate.
Amnesty International has accused both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in charge in Gaza, of committing war crimes during the 22-day conflict which ended on 18 January.
Israeli officials insist troops went to great lengths to protect civilians, that Hamas endangered non-combatants by firing from civilian areas and that homes and buildings were destroyed only when there was a specific military need to do so.
Other allegations in the testimonies of the 14 conscripts and 12 reserve soldiers include:
• Civilians were used as human shields, entering buildings ahead of soldiers
• Large swathes of homes and buildings were demolished as a precaution or to secure clear lines of fire for the future.
• Some of the troops had a generally aggressive, ill-disciplined attitude
• There was incidents of vandalism of property of Palestinians
• Soldiers fired at water tanks because they were bored, at a time of severe water shortages for Gazans
• White phosphorus was used in civilian areas in a way some soldiers saw as gratuitous and reckless
• Many of the soldiers said there had been very little direct engagement with Palestinian militants.
The report says Israeli troops and the people who justify their actions are “slid[ing] together down the moral slippery slope”.