Broken the Silence … now what?
Just over a month ago, a group of veteran IDF soldiers published a report containing statements confirming Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people in the recent Operation Cast Lead. The whole western media were alight with articles and commentaries on 'Breaking the Silence', critiquing and analysing their statements, methodology and conclusion highlighting Israeli war crimes.
Breaking the Silence is comprised of veteran Israeli Defence Force soldiers who collect and collate witness testimonies from soldiers who took part in campaigns in the occupied territories.
Our testimonies portray a different and grim picture of questionable orders in many areas regarding Palestinian civilians'
Their main aim is to force Israeli civilians to address the grim reality of the IDF saturated in corruption.
Immediately after Operation Cast Lead, there were calls from various human rights organisations and international communities for an independent and impartial investigation into Israel's violations and onslaught on Gaza. The government instead insisted that it was the duty of the military, i.e. the IDF (the main protagonist in this military operation) to investigate claims of 'alleged violations and war crimes' against the Palestinian people. One can come up with their own conclusions as to how 'impartial' an investigation it was.
On 15 July 2009, Breaking the Silence published a report outlining anonymous witness statements from 54 soldiers who had taken part in the recent military operation in Gaza, highlighting the IDF's 'shoot first' policy, destruction of houses and mosques and the general disregard of Palestinian life. The report details IDF's policy of using Palestinians as human shields and unwarranted use of military force, with one soldier stating '"I have the feeling that the army was looking for the opportunity to show off its strength.". Reports of military indoctrination arose, with soldiers stating the army rabbinate were calling the Gaza war a 'religious war' against gentiles who do not belong in Israel. This hateful incitement of Palestinians is ingrained within Israeli's from a young age, which can be seen in the radicalisation of Israeli youth movements in recent times.
Their original condemnation of Israel and its war policies were rebuked by the Israeli government and pro-Israeli analysts, and ridiculed for its 'half-baked' research. They were quick to highlight funding sources, namely the UK, Spain and Netherlands governments' and question their integrity in doing so. The smear campaign that followed was set in motion immediately.
In order to quash any dissent from the international community in its call for charges of war crimes against Israel, the government launched a pre-emptive strike on major human rights organisations, including Breaking the Silence. This attack is aimed at discrediting organisations and governments that support these organisations financially. The recent accusation of 'anti-Semitism' and 'anti-Israeli' made against a Swedish newspaper and denouncement of non-action of the Swedish government shows Israel's discrediting policy in action.
The Israeli government took steps to officially ask the governments' of Spain, UK and the Netherlands to halt their funding of Breaking the Silence, and rethink their policies funding non-governmental organisations involved in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict., noting that the funding was disproportionate to that for human rights organisations in Arab countries. This in turn lead to many Israeli organisations and establishments calling for the Israeli government to retract their statement citing fear of reprisals in the funding for hospitals, schools and universities.
Rather than openly debate and analyse the testimonies it collated and presented to the wider world, Israel has continued its virulent opposition to Breaking the Silence, intent on discrediting and silencing them. Given the considerable allegations against Israel and the IDF, instead of producing objective evidence to suggest otherwise, Israel has chosen to harness all its energy into ensuring such legitimate human rights organisations are 'exposed' in the public domain. As one reporter writes:
'Ironically, perhaps, BTS [Breaking the Silence] reports that the heavy-handed attempts to quash its ability to work have led more soldiers to come forward to testify. One could say that the IDF and our Foreign Ministry are shooting themselves in the foot, but perhaps in the end Israeli society will benefit from their misguided efforts.'
With this information and evidence now in the public domain, what are the necessary steps needed to bring Israel to account, if these allegations hold to be true? It cannot simply be a case of there being a 'question' or 'suggestion' that some sort of war crimes took place. It is not only the victims – the Palestinians – who have come forward in their numbers with evidence of the use of white phosphorous and human shields, but majority of the human rights organisations within Palestinian territories have affirmed this, notwithstanding the latest evidence from Breaking the Silence. The recent reports of Israeli soldiers killing unarmed civilians carrying white flags only adds to the evidence piling up against Israel. Its refusal to cooperate with the UN investigation led by Judge Richard Goldstone clearly demonstrates a determination on Israel's part to censor criticism and evade prosecution. If these atrocities had taken place in another country, perhaps in Africa, and the evidence was mounting as it is in this case, Western governments would be taking every step to bring the perpetrators to justice and have them tried at The Hague. The world should not therefore accept the view that everyone is biased except Israel's internal investigators. Now the silence is broken…who will take the daring steps to challenge Israel and bring its perpetrators to account?