Haarez Week's End Supplement, March 20, 2009 - Less than a month after the end of Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, dozens of graduates of the Yitzhak Rabin pre-military preparatory program convened at Oranim Academic College in Kiryat Tivon. Since 1998 the program has prepared participants for what is considered meaningful military service. Many assume command positions in combat and other elite units of the Israel Defense Forces. The program's founder, Danny Zamir, still heads it today and also serves as deputy battalion commander in a reserve unit.
The previous Friday, February 13, Zamir had invited combat soldiers and officers who graduated the program for a lengthy discussion of their experiences in Gaza. They spoke openly, but also with considerable frustration.
Following are extensive excerpts from the transcript of the meeting, as it appears in the program's bulletin, Briza, which was published on Wednesday. The names of the soldiers have been changed to preserve their anonymity. The editors have also left out some of the details concerning the identity of the units that operated in a problematic way in Gaza.
Excerpt: "At first the specified action was to go into a house. We were supposed to go in with an armored personnel carrier called an Achzarit [literally, Cruel] to burst through the lower door, to start shooting inside and then ... I call this murder ... in effect, we were supposed to go up floor by floor, and any person we identified - we were supposed to shoot. I initially asked myself: Where is the logic in this?
"From above they said it was permissible, because anyone who remained in the sector and inside Gaza City was in effect condemned, a terrorist, because they hadn't fled. I didn't really understand: On the one hand they don't really have anywhere to flee to, but on the other hand they're telling us they hadn't fled so it's their fault ... This also scared me a bit. I tried to exert some influence, insofar as is possible from within my subordinate position, to change this. In the end the specification involved going into a house, operating megaphones and telling [the tenants]: 'Come on, everyone get out, you have five minutes, leave the house, anyone who doesn't get out gets killed.'
"I went to our soldiers and said, 'The order has changed. We go into the house, they have five minutes to escape, we check each person who goes out individually to see that he has no weapons, and then we start going into the house floor by floor to clean it out ... This means going into the house, opening fire at everything that moves , throwing a grenade, all those things. And then there was a very annoying moment. One of my soldiers came to me and asked, 'Why?' I said, 'What isn't clear? We don't want to kill innocent civilians.' He goes, 'Yeah? Anyone who's in there is a terrorist, that's a known fact.' I said, 'Do you think the people there will really run away? No one will run away.' He says, 'That's clear,' and then his buddies join in: 'We need to murder any person who's in there. Yeah, any person who's in Gaza is a terrorist,' and all the other things that they stuff our heads with, in the media."