The Israeli soldiers’ testimonies from the Gaza onslaught of last summer compiled by the veterans group Breaking the Silence — called, “This is How We Fought in Gaza” — includes a remarkable number of statements about shitting. The soldiers were occupying Palestinian homes, and often defiling them, sometimes destroying the houses later. And they had different protocols about how to relieve themselves and get rid of the waste. Here are five accounts:
First sergeant, engineering, Gaza City:
We would go in ‘wet’ (using live fire). I could hear the shooting, everything was done ‘wet.’ When we entered this house everything inside it was already a mess. Anything that could shatter had been shattered, because everything had been shot at. Anything made of glass – windows, a glass table, picture frames – it was all wrecked. All the beds were turned over, the rugs, the mattresses. Soldiers would take a rug to sleep on, a mattress, a pillow. There was no water, so you couldn’t use the toilet. So we would shit in their bathtub.
First sergeant, infantry, northern Gaza:
You enter ‘wet’ (using live fire) or ‘dry’ (using no fire)?
Sometimes this way, sometimes that way, it depends on the mood. The house is ‘sterilized,’ we yell, “Sterilized, sterilized” to each other. We went into a house that was a candy shop once. There was candy everywhere. We just shoved everything aside.
You didn’t eat any?
No, first of all because it wasn’t especially tasty candy and also because during the first few days we were still in the ‘no touching’ phase, being moral and all that. Later we would laugh about it more: “We’re blowing up this house, but we can’t eat this bag of Bamba (peanut butter snacks)?” …
What did the house look like after 30 soldiers were in it for three days?
It looked pretty bad, first because lots of things were blown up inside and also because no one cared. You smoke inside the house and then toss the butts inside the house. You throw your trash inside the house, no one cares. Our medic was a reservist doctor and it was really important to him that we be orderly and throw our trash in a bin and not shit inside the house – a hygiene thing, mostly. Pretty soon people did start getting diarrhea and lots of soldiers were evacuated because they felt really bad and had the runs. Toilets didn’t work because there was no water, and pretty soon they were overflowing. They told us, “Don’t shit in the bathroom because it’ll get clogged and it’ll be awful.” So we would shit in plastic bags and chuck them out the window. The first few days it was really ugly and then it got a bit better. But it looks bad, first because you do everything quickly and you don’t care – and also because your security is top priority, it justifies everything
First sergeant, Infantry, Khan Yunis:
What did the house look like?
A single-family Arab house, one for which construction hadn’t been completely finished. You could tell people had fled from the house – there were beds, mattresses, furniture. Outside every house we were in there were ducks, goats, donkeys, dogs. Every house we got to we would immediately go to the animals and make holes in their cages for them so they could escape…
How many soldiers were you?
We were a platoon of 13, 14. The Arabs, they have tons of mattresses and pillows in every house. To rest you use either the beds, or those mattresses, or the floor, what can you do. We messed up in the first and second houses – the explosives were placed on the concrete right by a pipe. When it was detonated the entire sewage system blew up, the place reeked. When you arrive [at a house] the officer comes over and sets rules: where to shit, where to piss. Whether or not you’re allowed to go out for a second to take a piss. If we were on the ground floor of the house and it was possible, we would go out and make a ‘crap chair.’ We would make holes in a chair and take it outside, and whoever had to shit would go out with a helmet on, armed and with a bulletproof vest. The guy next to him would go out with all the equipment and a combat vest, and they would walk four or five meters from the house, and he would sit there and shit while another soldier covered for him. If it was a multi-story building we would allocate a room for shitting.
On the floor?
No, in pots. You shit into the pot and and then throw it out with the pot. But afterwards we would take a pot, put a shirt in it and shit into that.
A shirt from a closet in the house?
Yeah. And then you use the shirt like a pooper scooper and throw it out the window, and the pot stays.
Was there anything left in the closet after 14 guys were in the house?
First sergeant, Infantry, northern Gaza
[T]he moral aspect [was] – that we need to try and return the house to its former state, as much as possible. When we left [the Gaza Strip], most of the houses we had stayed in were blown up, so it’s kind of funny… But the way we treated all the following houses was different. It becomes clear that you don’t have it in you to deal with this – not emotionally, not physically. You don’t have the patience to keep a house clean. It was a dilemma, when we entered houses. There’s one image that’s burned into my memory. There was a house that we entered, which we stayed in for a very long time – we had taken to sitting on the couches – and if the floor got wet we tore off a piece of mattress to wipe it up with. In the end, one thing that was very dangerous was the illnesses. We used whatever we had around in the house. At a certain point you have to go to the bathroom.
Did you use the bathrooms in the houses?
Yes. You use a plastic bag and then throw it out. But when you wake up in the middle of the night you’re a little more disrespectful – when it comes down to it, it’s a difficult situation emotionally, and you don’t have the emotional energy – especially when it comes to your most basic needs: peeing, shitting, and eating. So sometimes you find yourself peeing in a toilet that you know is getting flooded, and whoever comes back to that house will have a very hard time getting the place back to the way it was.
First sergeant, infantry, northern Gaza:
I’m thinking about that poor family whose rooftop was turned into a public bathroom by the entire company, what an awful thing.
What’s this story?
At some point you need to take a crap, and at first we weren’t given the bags one stashes in one’s helmets, which are really uncomfortable, so one of the guys found a plastic chair, a simple classroom one, and unscrewed its seat, and that chair was moved from one shaded place to another shaded place. The entire battalion had diarrhea and was throwing up. How awful, I thought, it would be to come back home and discover your bathroom is clogged and half the pots in your kitchen have shit in them. Your entire roof is covered in shit, and there’s shit in your garden.
People shat in pots?
Yes. There were lots of disputes among the commanders about this. At a certain point we entered a house that had working cooking gas. First thing everyone thought was, ‘Let’s make ourselves some coffee.’ So then there was a very, very heated argument among the company commanders over whether it was legitimate or not to use it. There were some commanders who thought it was legitimate to use their coffee pot if we washed it afterwards. ‘I made a hole in their wall and floor, so what, I’m not going to make some coffee in their pot?’
So did you make coffee?
Yeah, and it was tasty. But the shitting in pots bit was very clear to everyone. There were some assholes who were just like, “What, I don’t like shitting in a helmet.” So they just shat in pots. There were very few houses that had running water in them, and in most houses there, what you have are squat toilets. But once in a while you would get to a house with a real [seated] toilet, which is a whole other world, proper hospitality… There was no running water the entire time we were in Beit Hanoun. There were some houses where I think the residents had prepared for the situation in advance – bathtubs filled with water and all kinds of things like that. The residents there saved up water because they knew what was coming. But in most houses the sewage system didn’t work and it usually overflowed very quickly. When you shit in the toilet it stays there, the water doesn’t go down. That’s on the one hand. But then on the other, if there is a toilet there – why shouldn’t I shit in it? So the simple soldiers, like good soldiers, found the ‘middle path’ themselves; they got their hands on some laundry detergent and whoever finished taking a dump would throw a handful on it. Eventually I figured out that there are some battles where it’s you fighting a wall. You need to decide where you’re going to invest your energy, with regard to discipline. Successfully upholding a routine of discipline within the platoon, while in a combat situation, is a very difficult, complicated thing. It was clear to me that I couldn’t win everything. If I wasn’t going to discipline soldiers, then besides creating a bad atmosphere and frustration for both them and me, I wouldn’t get much accomplished. So I would tell them my opinion, and explain what I thought wasn’t OK, and ultimately I let each man decide for himself, whether he sees it as OK or not. I know there was one platoon where everyone – from the commander all the way down – took dumps in pots, out of some kind of operational principle. Whatever.
PS. The report has gotten wide coverage, even in the Washington Post, because soldiers said that they would shoot at anybody in zones they occupied and fire shells indiscriminately in those areas. “Kill Anything,” on Democracy Now! today. But everyone is waiting for the New York Times. So far, no report. As Peter Feld has commented on Twitter:
News of IDF Gaza atrocity confessions: Fit to print for the @NYTimes of Israel, but not the NYT of New York. [Link to Haaretz]
Explosive Israeli soldier #warcrimes testimony in BBC, Guardian, Telegraph, Haaretz, WaPo but not @rudoren’s @nytimes [Link to Guardian]