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Israeli Newspaper Haaretz Details Israeli Forces’ Use of “Kill Zones” in Gaza

One Israeli reserve officer told the paper that, “orders are to shoot and kill, even if that person is unarmed.”

Palestinians inspect the damage in the area around Gaza's Al Shifa hospital after the Israeli military withdrew on April 1, 2024.

Israel’s military says it has killed around 9,000 militants in Gaza since October 7 — and adamantly denies targeting civilians.

But new reporting published Sunday by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz casts serious doubt on the IDF’s estimate and details how the U.S.-armed military has established combat zones that have become death traps for ordinary Gazans.

The boundaries of such “kill zones” are not clearly marked, making it almost impossible for Palestinian civilians to know whether they are entering one. An Israeli reserve officer told Haaretz that “as soon as people enter” a kill zone, “orders are to shoot and kill, even if that person is unarmed.”

“To a large extent, the tragedy in which three hostages were killed by the IDF is such a story,” the newspaper reported, “since in fleeing from their captors the three entered a kill zone in the middle of the Shujaiyeh neighborhood of Gaza City.”

Significant discretion is given to Israeli commanders to decide whether to open fire on people near a kill zone. Unnamed Israeli soldiers told Haaretz that “there are commanders who will shoot at a building with a suspect in it even if there are civilians in the vicinity, while other commanders will act differently.”

“For our commanders, if we identified someone in our area of operation who was not part of our forces, we were told to shoot to kill,” said one soldier. “We were explicitly told that even if a suspect runs into a building with people in it, we should fire at the building and kill the terrorist, even if other people are hurt.”

One Israeli commander described to Haaretz “incidents in which civilians tried to reach areas they thought the army had left, possibly in the hope of finding food left behind.”

“When they went to such places, they were shot, perceived as people who could harm our forces,” the commander said.

The new reporting points to a recent example documented by Al Jazeera in which the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said it attacked “a terrorist” who was allegedly behind a rocket attack on southern Israel.

“Ostensibly, this was another statistic in the roster of dead Hamas militants,” Haaretz reported. “However, over a week ago, other documentation of the incident surfaced on Al Jazeera. It showed four men, not one, walking together on a wide path, in civilian clothing. There is no one nearby, only the ruins of houses where people once lived. This apocalyptic silence in the Khan Younis area was shattered by a loud explosion. Two of the men were killed instantly. Two others were wounded and tried to continue walking. Perhaps they thought they had been saved, but seconds later, a bomb was dropped on one of them. You can then see the other one falling to his knees and then, a boom, fire, and smoke.”

A senior IDF officer told the Israeli newspaper that the individuals who unwittingly entered a kill zone “were unarmed” and “didn’t endanger our forces in the area in which they were walking.” It was also not clear they were involved in the rocket attack.

“It’s quite possible that Palestinians who never held a gun in their lives were elevated to the rank of ‘terrorist’ posthumously, at least by the IDF,” Haaretz noted. As one officer who served in Gaza told the newspaper, “In practice, a terrorist is anyone the IDF has killed in the areas in which its forces operate.”

Last week, Al Jazeera published video footage showing Israeli forces gunning down two unarmed Palestinians in northern Gaza, one of whom was waving a piece of white fabric. They are believed to have entered an Israeli “kill zone.”

Israeli forces have killed more than 32,600 people in Gaza since October 7, according to Gaza health officials. One human rights monitor recently estimated that 90% of those killed were civilians, contradicting the Israeli military’s estimate of the civilian-to-militant death ratio.

“One reason why the Israeli government, media, the Biden administration, et al. have been trying to undermine the credibility of Gazan casualty figures is to deflect from the fact that the IDF’s own figures are almost certainly bullshit,” foreign policy analyst Derek Davison wrote Sunday in response to the Haaretz story.

Brianna Rosen, a senior fellow at Just Security, argued that the “kind of indiscriminate killing” detailed in Haaretz’s reporting “is illegal and falls far short of any gold standard for civilian harm.”

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