When the message of Israeli war crimes in Gaza was delivered yesterday in the form of a 110-page booklet of IDF soldiers' testimonies, the knee-jerk response of the rightwing government and the IDF was to 'shoot the messenger', the IDF veterans group, Breaking the Silence. But now sensible folks are beginning to weigh in. Amos Harel, who has close knowledge and ties with the military, wrote a good piece this morning here.
A new wave of damning testimonies by Israel Defense Forces soldiers who took part in the recent fighting in Gaza has unleashed a knee-jerk reaction from the already sensitive Israeli public. (Leading the charge was Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who on Wednesday demanded that all criticism in military matters be directed at him, not the soldiers.)
The testimonies were released by "Breaking the Silence," an organization of former soldiers who use personal experiences to illustrate what they perceive to be the folly of Israeli policies in the Palestinian territories. Once again, the organization has been singled out for rebuke. …
The nay-sayers should simmer down. The men behind the testimonies are soldiers, that is certain. Three of them met with Haaretz, at the paper's request. While there is no definite way of vouching for the credibility of their reports, it is safe to say that they did fight in Gaza and that they provided enough authentic detail to prove that they are not imposters.
The refusal to disclose their identities, especially for those witnesses still completing their mandatory military service, stems from a fear of possible retribution, both from their commanders and from their peers.
Telling their stories to outside organizations, in particular the media, is seen as tattling. It was enough for these soldiers to hear from graduates of a pre-army prep course about the onslaught they faced after previous Cast Lead testimonies - vehemently denied in the Military Advocate General's subsequent report - to understand that their fears are not unfounded. It will be interesting to hear the full version of events once these soldiers are discharged.
On the flip side, Breaking the Silence, founded in 2004 by veterans of the second intifada, has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a "human rights organization." Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the "corruption which permeates the military system" is not a neutral observer.
The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices. The fact that the material was published just six months after the end of the conflict will diminish its impact in the eyes of a public supportive of their troops.
But this does not mean that the documented evidence, some of which was videotaped, is fabricated. It goes without saying, however, that the vague contextual descriptions hamper the possibility that the IDF could use such testimonies in a criminal investigation.
Harel is not a supporter of BtS, and he does not share BtS's skepticism that the IDF is incapable, in a long-term occupation, of acting as a professional army with moral standards. Well and good. But he knows better than to dismiss the testimonies as false, fabricated, or of no value.
And Nahman Shai, former IDF spokesperson and now a Kadima member has called for forming an independent commission which would include both internal and external investigators, to investigate the claims of Breaking the Silence. Such a committee would be able to examine the testimonies and determine their veracity. Read it here
It may be that Shai is just grandstanding, especially since he knows that neither the IDF nor the government will hearken to his call. (Opposition members of parliament do that all the time.) But the fact remains he criticized explicitly the IDF reaction to the report (I heard him on the radio – the IDF radio station – with Ilan Dayyan this morning, where he said that the report should be taken seriously.)