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What I Saw in Gaza


Today, January 11, 2024, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will be hearing a case levied by South Africa, accusing Israel of the crime of genocide in the ongoing war in Gaza. While I do not claim to be an expert in international law, I do hold a perspective that will be notably absent at today’s hearing; I’ve actually been to Gaza.

On December 25th, 2023, I, along with the 6408 Sayeret Nachal Reservists Battalion, entered the El Bureij area of Central Gaza. There I fought for the operational capture and dismantling of Hamas’ terror infrastructure and personnel and the freeing of captured hostages.

Given my experiences, I recognize that I have the unique opportunity to explain, from a primary perspective, what the reality is on the ground in the most divisive conflict in the world at the moment.

In the following paragraphs, I look to add context and explain some of the more controversial aspects of the war based on what I saw on the frontlines.

Genocide:

The Oxford Dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group.”

Working with this definition, I want to call upon three instances that show that we were not only not committing acts of genocide in Gaza but that we went above and beyond in our efforts to avoid civilian casualties on the battlefield.

The evacuation of El Bureij began four days before we entered the area. The morning before we went in, I watched as an IAF plane flew thousands of fliers over the El Bureij neighborhood, urging the civilian population to clear out before the capture began. If our goal was to “destroy Palestinians in Gaza as a nation or group,” why would we purposely inform civilians (as well as Hamas) of our troop movements before they happen? This practice objectively endangered my life and made our mission much more dangerous, and I am grateful to serve in an army that is willing to take that risk in order to protect the lives of civilians in Gaza.

Close proximity of air and artillery strikes to troops.

It was immediately evident that targeted air and artillery strikes were occurring within 500 meters of our position. Based on the sound and the following shockwave, we understood that these strikes were occurring incredibly close to us. Once again, this begs the question: Why would the IDF risk strikes so close to troops if it weren't out of concern for civilians? Based on my experience as well as reports from the Air Force, the claim that the IDF engages in “indescrimate” or “carpet” bombing is nothing but a bald-faced lie.

Face-to-face encounters with Hamas terrorists.

While capturing a neighborhood in El Bureij, two individuals were spotted in the trees around 50 meters from our position. Rather than immediately opening fire and eliminating the threat, we chose to send a drone out and verify that the individuals were armed combatants and not civilians. These extra minutes could have been the difference between life and death for us. Nonetheless, we chose to take such a chance in order to verify that we would not be shooting at civilians. It’s nothing less than an insulting slap in the face to have risked my life to protect Gazan civilians only for those who will never understand my experience to accuse me of genocide against those very civilians.

Destruction:

A recent report by the Wall Street Journal revealed that over 70% of structures in Gaza have been destroyed or damaged since Hamas’ attack on October 7th and the IDF’s subsequent retaliation (1). This level of destruction has even led to a number of groups accusing Israel of the “crime” of “domicide(2), an unrecognized concept in international law that relates to the mass destruction of buildings in a given area.

So is Israel guilty of intentionally destroying buildings with no just cause, or “domicide”?

Before we entered El Bureij, one of the first things we were informed of was the widespread existence of tunnel networks and entrances all throughout Gaza. Any forward movement was under the constant threat that, at any time, a terrorist could pop out of a tunnel entrance and attack our forces.

During our movement in Gaza, we encountered a tunnel entrance on average every 100 meters.

These tunnel entrances were almost always placed in the middle of civilian neighborhoods, schools, farms, and public facilities. Based solely on my personal experience, I would guess that every house in Gaza is within a 200-meter radius of a tunnel entrance, or bunker, in use by Hamas and other terrorist groups in Gaza.

Understanding this, the widespread destruction started to become much more understandable. Pro-Hamas pundits will push the narrative that the IDF destroys structures in Gaza for no reason or because we are comically evil or racist. The reality of what I saw in Gaza is that, based on the deliberate placement of tunnel entrances, Hamas has turned nearly every building in Gaza into legitimate military targets. Unfortunately, a tunnel entrance placed in the middle of a block of 10 houses means that the IDF can only safely collapse that tunnel without eliminating the structures around it.

This combat tactic by Hamas reflects a clear lack of respect for the homes and communities in Gaza.

UNRWA:

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency is the branch of the UN specifically tasked with aiding Palestinian refugees. This internationally funded organization is responsible for the majority of development in the Gaza strip, rather than Hamas, the elected government in Gaza.

UNRWA has a history of involvement with terrorist organizations like Hamas (3). This history has led to the suspicion that foreign aid (such as food and water supplies) intended for displaced Gazans during the war has instead been diverted by Hamas to supply their fighters.

Based on my experience,I can say with 100% certainty that a significant amount of aid intended for Gazan civilians was instead being used by Hamas combatants. Nearly every Hamas position that we captured was littered with UNRWA-branded supplies. Large white bags filled with rice and lentils with the UN insignia printed on them were frequently accompanied by rockets, weapons, vests, and ammunition. We found paperwork from different relief agencies working through UNRWA that pointed to a clear violation of the intended destination of this international aid. It is extraordinarily clear that for every dollar that has entered the Gaza Strip through foreign donations, Hamas takes a share.

My experience in Gaza is not necessarily representative of the entire strip. However, using what I saw in El Bureij as a case study, I can confidently come to three main conclusions:

The operations of the IDF in Gaza do not constitute anything remotely close to genocide. In an average urban warfare conflict, the ratio of civilian to combatant casualties is 9:1 (4). Since October 7th, the ratio in Gaza has been around 2:1. Setting aside sensationalist rhetoric by people entirely disconnected from the conflict, it is clear that the IDF goes well beyond what conventional armies do in the realm of negating civilian casualties.

The widespread destruction of Gazan buildings and infrastructure is a legitimate consequence of war. The continued use of human and urban shields by Hamas is the sole reason for the level of destruction in Gaza, not an overzealous Israeli Air Force.

Foreign donations to relief organizations are at least partially funding Hamas through UNRWA. It's an incredibly sad truth that the good will of people around the world towards innocent Gazans is being abused by UNRWA and Hamas in order to feed and supply terrorists.

I thank God and those who fought by my side for my safe return from Gaza, and I am grateful to have the opportunity to spread truth in a conflict so deeply encompassed by propaganda and the fog of war.

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