Amira Hass / In Gaza, Cast Lead Felt Like a War on Civilians

IDF investigation of Gaza war crimes, including point-blank killing of civilians in front of their families, has yielded a scapegoat.

It was clear by January 5, 2009 that something terrible had happened to the Al-Samouni family, after a few survivors of the bombed building reached the hospital. In front of Al Jazeera cameras, a father gestured toward the bodies of several of the family's toddlers and said in Hebrew: "We just want to understand what these children did, that they killed them."

Gaza war, AP, 2009
AP / Archive

A statement from the IDF Spokesman's Office said: "In light of the complexity of the incident, the chief of staff has ordered that it be investigated by an expert."

In fact, it took several days to recreate exactly what led up to the incident that claimed the lives of 29 members of the Al-Samouni family. Haaretz documented and reconstructed these events in at least six articles.

In the Gaza Strip, Operation Cast Lead was experienced primarily as a war against civilians. In the neighborhood of Zeitun, it was manifest in the point-blank killing of civilians in front of their families; preventing the arrival of rescuers, including shooting and killing them; stopping civilians fleeing the neighborhood from taking the injured with them (at least five people died this way, including two children, not only from the Al-Samouni family ); shooting at people waving a white flag; using human shields (in a home that was turned into a temporary a command post ); destroying homes, greenhouses and agricultural areas; spraying graffiti on walls, with "Kill the Arabs" being the most innocuous of the messages left behind; and leaving filthy homes that had been used as bases.

What was "unique" in Zeitun was that soldiers, who spoke in Hebrew to some family members, ordered them, according to every testimony given, to gather in a one-story house. About 100 members of the Al-Samouni family did so, certain they would be safe because the soldiers had seen that there were elderly people and children among them. The next day, the house was bombed (it is hard to know from testimony and the remains of explosives whether by tank or from the air ).

What is clear is that the members of the Al-Samouni family were not killed due to the error of a single soldier.