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Home arrow Blog arrow July 2009 arrow July 19, 2009

July 19, 2009
July 19, 2009: More Breaking of the Silence: UPDATED Aug. 10, 2009 @ end Email from: Againstwall:

AROUND 30 ISRAELI SOLDIERS TESTIFY ABOUT THEIR EXPERIENCES IN OPERATION CAST LEAD – A NEW BOOKLET BY "BREAKING THE SILENCE"

"You feel like an infantile little kid with a magnifying glass looking at ants, burning them."

Fifty-four testimonies of Israeli combat soldiers who participated in Operation Cast Lead reveal gaps between the reports given by the army following January’s events; the needless destruction of houses; firing phosphorous in populated areas and an atmosphere that encouraged shooting anywhere.

Half a year after Operation Cast Lead, the organization "Breaking the Silence" is announcing the release of a new booklet today (Wed. 7/15) that includes numerous testimonies by soldiers who participated in the operation. The testimonies expose significant gaps between the official stances of the Israeli military and events on the ground.

Among the 54 testimonies are stories revealing the use of "accepted practices," the destruction of hundreds of houses and mosques for no military purpose, the firing of phosphorous gas in the direction of populated areas, the killing of innocent victims with small arms, the destruction of private property, and most of all, a permissive atmosphere in the command structure that enabled soldiers to act without moral restrictions. The booklet compiles the testimonies of about 30 reserve and regular combat soldiers from various units that participated in the fighting. The testimonies demonstrate that the soldiers were not given directives stating the goal of the operation and, as one soldier testifies, "there was not much said about the issue of innocent civilians."

Many soldiers said that they fought without seeing "the enemy before their eyes." "You feel like an infantile little kid with a magnifying glass looking at ants, burning them," one of the soldiers testified that "a 20-year-old kid should not have to do these kinds of things to other people."

"The testimonies prove that the immoral way the war was carried out was due to the systems in place and not the individual soldier," said Mikhael Mankin from "Breaking the Silence." What was proven yesterday is that through the IDF the exception becomes the norm, and this requires a deep and reflective discussion. This is an urgent call to Israel's society and leadership to take a sober look at the foolishness of our policies."

My article about Breaking the Silence

"There is a very clear and powerful connection between how much time you serve in the territories and how (messed) in the head you get." - Former Israeli Soldier


Uri Avnery
18.07.09
 
                                                The Johnny Procedure
 
LIKE THE ghost of Hamlet’s father, the evil spirit of the Gaza War refuses to leave us in peace. This week it came back to disturb the tranquility of the chiefs of the state and the army.
 
“Breaking the Silence”, a group of courageous former combat soldiers, published a report comprising the testimonies of 30 Gaza War fighters. A hard-hitting report about actions that may be considered war crimes.
 
The generals went automatically into denial mode. Why don’t the soldiers disclose their identity, they asked innocently. Why do they obscure their faces in the video testimonies? Why do they hide their names and units?
 
How can we be sure that they are not actors reading a text prepared for them by the enemies of Israel? How do we know that this organization is not manipulated by foreigners, who finance their actions? And anyhow, how do we know that they are not lying out of spite?
 
One can answer with a Hebrew adage: “It has the feel of Truth”. Anyone who has ever been a combat soldier in war, whatever war, recognizes at once the truth in these reports. Each of them has met a soldier who is not ready to return home without an X on his gun showing that he killed at least one enemy. (One such person appears in my book “The Other Side of the Coin”, which was written 60 years ago and published in English last year as the second part of “1948: A soldier’s Tale”.) We have been there.
 
The testimonies about the use of phosphorus, about massive bombardment of buildings, about “the neighbor procedure” (using civilians as human shields), about killing “everything that moves”, about the use of all methods to avoid casualties on our side – all these corroborate earlier testimonies about the Gaza War, there can be no reasonable doubt about their authenticity. I learned from the report that the “neighbor procedure” is now called “Johnny procedure”, God knows why Johnny and not Ahmad.
 
The height of hypocrisy is reached by the generals with their demand that the soldiers come forward and lodge their complaints with their commanders, so that the army can investigate them through the proper channels. 
 
First of all, we have already seen the farce of the army investigating itself.
 
Second, and this is the main point: only a person intent on becoming a martyr would do so. A solder in a combat unit is a part of a tightly knit group whose highest principle is loyalty to comrades and whose commandment is “Thou shalt not squeal!” If he discloses questionable acts he has witnessed, he will be considered a traitor and ostracized. His life will become hell. He knows that all his superiors, from squad leader right up to division commander, will persecute him.
 
This call to go through “official channels” is a vile method of the generals – members of the General Staff, Army Spokesmen, Army Lawyers – to divert the discussion from the accusations themselves to the identity of the witnesses. No less despicable are the tin soldiers called “military correspondents”, who collaborate with them.
 
 
BUT BEFORE accusing the soldiers who committed the acts described in the testimonies, one has to ask whether the decision to start the war did not itself lead inevitably to the crimes.
 
Professor Assa Kasher, the father of the army “Code of Ethics” and one of the most ardent supporters of the Gaza War, asserted in an essay on this subject that a state has the right to go to war only in self defense, and only if the war constitutes “a last resort”. “All alternative courses” to attain the rightful aim “must have been exhausted”. 
 
The official cause of the war was the launching from the Gaza Strip of rockets against Southern Israeli towns and villages. It goes without saying that it is the duty of the state to defend its citizens against missiles. But had all the means to achieve this aim without war really been exhausted? Kasher answers with a resounding “yes”. His key argument is that “there is no justification for demanding that Israel negotiate directly with a terrorist organization that does not recognize it and denies its very right to exist.”
 
This does not pass the test of logic. The aim of the negotiations was not supposed to be the recognition by Hamas of the State of Israel and its right to exist (who needs this anyway?) but getting them to stop launching missiles at Israeli citizens. In such negotiations, the other side would understandably have demanded the lifting of the blockade against the population of the Gaza Strip and the opening of the supply passages. It is reasonable to assume that it was possible to reach – with Egyptian help - an agreement that would also have included the exchange of prisoners.
 
No only was this course not exhausted – it was not even tried. The Israeli government has consistently refused to negotiate with a “terrorist organization” and even with the Palestinian Unity Government that was in existence for some time and in which Hamas was represented.
 
Therefore, the decision to start the War on Gaza, with a civilian population of a million and a half, was unjustified even according to the criteria of Kasher himself. “All the alternative courses” had not been exhausted, or even attempted.
 
But we all know that, apart from the official reason, there was also an unofficial one: to topple the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip. In the course of the war, official spokesmen stated that there was a need to attach a “price tag” – in other words, to cause death and destruction not in order to hurt the “terrorists” themselves (which would have been almost impossible) but to turn the life of the civilian population into hell, so they would rise up and overthrow Hamas.
 
The immorality of this strategy is matched by its inefficacy: our own experience has taught us that such methods only serve to harden the resolve of the population and unite them around their courageous leadership. 
 
 
WAS IT at all possible to conduct this war without committing war crimes? When a government decides to hurl its regular armed forces at a guerrilla organization, which by its very nature fights from within the civilian population, it is perfectly clear that terrible suffering will be caused to that population. The argument that the harm caused to the population, and the killing of over a thousand men, women and children was inevitable should, by itself, have led to the conclusion that the decision to start this was a terrible act right from the beginning.
 
The Defense Establishment takes the easy way out. The ministers and generals simply assert that they do not believe the Palestinian and international reports about the death and destruction, stating that they are, again in Kasher’s words, “mistaken and false”. Just to be sure, they decided to boycott the UN commission that is currently investigating the war, headed by a respected South African judge who is both a Jew and a Zionist.    
 
Assa Kasher is adopting a similar attitude when he says: “Somebody who does not know all the details of an action cannot assess it in a serious, professional and responsible way, and therefore should not do so, in spite of all emotional or political temptations.” He demands that we wait until the Israeli army completes its investigations, before we even discuss the matter.
 
Really? Every organization that investigates itself lacks credibility, not to mention a hierarchical body like the army. Moreover, the army does not – and cannot – obtain testimony from the main eye-witnesses: the inhabitants of Gaza. An investigation based only on the testimony of the perpetrators, but not of the victims, is ridiculous. Now even the testimonies of the soldiers of Breaking the Silence are discounted, because they cannot disclose their identity.
 
 
IN A war between a mighty army, equipped with the most sophisticated weaponry in the world, and a guerrilla organization, some basic ethical questions arise. How should the soldiers behave when faced with a structure in which there are not only enemy fighters, which they are “allowed” to hit, but also unarmed civilians, which they are “forbidden” to hit?
 
Kasher cites several such situations. For example: a building in which there are both “terrorists” and non-fighters. Should it be hit by aircraft or artillery fire that will kill everybody, or should soldiers be sent in who will risk their lives and kill only the fighters? His answer: there is no justification for the risking of the lives of our soldiers in order to save the lives of enemy civilians. An aerial or artillery attack must be preferred.
 
That does not answer the question about the use of the Air Force to destroy hundreds of houses far enough from our soldiers that there was no danger emanating from them, nor about the killing of scores of recruits of the Palestinian civilian police on parade, nor about the killing of UN personnel in food supply convoys. Nor about the illegal use of white phosphorus against civilians, as described in the soldiers’ testimonies gathered by Breaking the Silence, and the use of depleted uranium and other carcinogenic substances.
 
The entire country experienced on live TV how a shell hit the apartment of a doctor and wiped out almost all of his family. According to the testimony of Palestinian civilians and international observers, many such incidents took place.
 
The Israeli army took great pride in its method of warning the inhabitants by means of leaflets, phone calls and such, so as to induce them to flee. But everyone – and first of all the warners themselves - knew that the civilians had nowhere secure to escape to and that there were no clear and safe escape routes. Indeed, many civilians were shot while trying to flee.
 
 
WE SHALL not evade the hardest moral question of all: is it permissible to risk the lives of our soldiers in order to save the old people, women and children of the “enemy”? The answer of Assa Kasher, the ideologue of the “Most Moral Army in the World”, is unequivocal: it is absolutely forbidden to risk the lives of the soldiers. The most telling sentence in his entire essay is: “Therefore…the state must give preference to the lives of its soldiers above the lives of the (unarmed) neighbors of a terrorist.”
 
These words should be read twice and three times, in order to grasp their full implications. What is actually being said here is: if necessary to avoid casualties among our soldiers, it is better to kill enemy civilians without any limit.
 
In retrospect, one can only be glad that the British soldiers, who fought against the Irgun and the Stern Group, did not have an ethical guide like Kasher.
 
This is the principle that guided the Israeli army in the Gaza War, and, as far as I know, this is a new doctrine: in order to avoid the loss of one single soldier of ours, it is permissible to kill 10, 100 and even 1000 enemy civilians. War without casualties on our side. The numerical result bears witness: more than 1000 people killed in Gaza, a third or two thirds of them (depending on who you ask) civilians, women and children, as against 6 (six) Israeli soldiers killed by enemy fire. (Four more were killed by “friendly” fire.)
 
Kasher states explicitly that it is justified to kill a Palestinian child who is in the company of a hundred “terrorists”, because the “terrorists” might kill children in Sderot. But in reality, it was a case of killing a hundred children who were in the company of one “terrorist”.
 
If we strip this doctrine of all ornaments, what remains is a simple principle: the state must protect the lives of its soldiers at any price, without any limit or law. A war of zero casualties. That leads necessarily to a tactic of killing every person and destroying every building that could represent a danger to the soldiers, creating an empty space in front of the advancing troops.
 
Only one conclusion can be drawn from this: from now on, any Israeli decision to start a war in a built-up area is a war crime, and the soldiers who rise up against this crime should be honored. May they be blessed.


permlink:   http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1247930861

 

data & Daily updated occupation related reading 

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http://www.btselem.org

http://www.ochaopt.org



UPDATE Aug. 10:
Netanyahu’s attempts to silence Breaking the Silence
August 8 2009 by Rob Lipton

Netanyahu has asked Spain, Britain and The Netherlands to stop directly funding the Israeli human rights group Breaking the Silence (BTS).  BTS has been releasing IDF soldier testimony on the invasion/massacre in Gaza.  The accounts by the soldiers are harrowing and document war crimes.  The Israeli government claims that governmental support of “politicized” NGOs undermines democracy in the Jewish state.  Netanyahu is “contemplating legislation that would ban foreign government funding for groups such as Breaking the Silence.”  The main argument is that foreign governmental funding of non-governmental institutions that are ostensibly working “against” the interests of the duly elected government are undemocratic.  Ron Dermer, Netanyahu’s senior political adviser, was quoted as saying that funding from foreign embassies for the group amounted to “blatant and unacceptable” intervention in Israel’s internal affairs.

But Don Futterman (program director, Israel, of the Moriah Fund, a private American foundation working in Israel to support civil society and democracy, immigrant absorption and education.) has a different take,

“If our defense minister (Avigor Lieberman) wants us to live up to the claim that the IDF is “the most moral army on earth,” he should welcome soldiers who speak out about illegal acts that they have witnessed or were asked to perform. In our post-war rush to elections, we unfortunately - and perhaps, conveniently - skipped over any discussion concerning the morality of what the army has done. But even our fears of one-sided international condemnation of our actions in Gaza cannot justify official attempts to silence the messenger, especially when that messenger is us.”

He also argues that:

BTS is not an advocacy organization, It is made up of IDF reservists who have served in the territories during their regular military service over the last nine years. In addition to recognizing the harm we are doing to our Palestinian neighbors, the organization urges us to look closely at the damage we are doing to our own soldiers when they are asked to engage in acts of questionable morality or legality. BTS gathers and then publicizes testimony in both words and pictures from soldiers who are willing to come forward. The organization makes every effort to check the veracity of these testimonies, and will not publish any soldier’s comments unless it has corroborating testimony from at least one other reliable source.”

Indeed, a senior Israeli official objected to friendly nations funding “opposition bodies” inside Israel. IDF soldiers are now considered “in opposition” who do not go along with the government line on Gaza. Futterman, in my opinion gets to the heart of this matter:

“Presumably, what the official meant is that the government and the IDF find intolerable opposition to their attempts to control the discourse concerning Israel’s behavior in the territories”

Democracy is not just the process of voting, selecting representation etc, it is also about discourse freely exchanged.

“Some Jewish organizational officials counter that a ban on foreign government support of NGOs is more characteristic of a dictatorship, and would undermine U.S. efforts to support NGOs in Iran and other countries with poor human rights records.

One senior official at a centrist Jewish organization said such an initiative was profoundly counterintuitive, considering how much the Israeli and Jewish establishments had reaped from Western government backing for NGOs assisting Jews in the Soviet Union during the Cold War — and how such support continues today in Iran and the former Soviet Union.

“It’s a little surprising,” said the official, who spoke anonymously to avoid embarrassing Israel’s government. “All over the world, NGOs are accused of taking other governments’ dollars and being tainted by that — the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute, the National Republican Institute. If the Israeli government says we’re going to only let certain human rights groups operate, it makes it harder to make our case” elsewhere.”

The good news is that the government’s heavy handed attempts to silence BTS has only emboldened soldiers to come forward.

Futterman continues:

Our government (Israel) should welcome other expressions of foreign support for our civil society, not attempt to control it. If the United Kingdom or Spain or any other state wants to be a true friend to Israeli democracy, it will renew its commitment to BTS.

Akiva Elder also brings up the point from Gush Shalom that:

“the discriminatory blocking of European government funding to a specific group of legal and legitimate NGOs may well result in a public backlash in the EU, which would force your government to cut all funding to Israeli NGOs, including to universities and hospitals.”

Further, such NGO mettling could effect Chrisian Zionist organizations in the EU supporting settlement activity in the West Bank.

Presently, partially as a result of this effort to stop the funding of BTS there is a move by EU based human rights groups to pressure EU governments and the European commission to stop all funding to Israeli NGO’s. This is a definite “shoot yourself in the foot moment.” Not that surprising for the Netanyahu/Lieberman government, but certainly something that would have real effects on Israeli civil society.

Some of the arguments in support of such a ban are either manifest-destiny-loony or racist. For example, one “pro Israel” critic of such NGO support said that “the difference is that Israel is a first world democracy — democracies meddling in the business of other democracies is inappropriate.”   By implication, those places
defined, by whatever arbitrary process, as not being first world can be meddled with because they are not democratic so its okay for first world democracies to act undemocratically as long as they are doing so in undemocratic/non-first world counties.

Its really the cliché about who’s ox is being gored, trying to limit such support in a supposedly democratic system in order to limit the free speech rights of a specific group will almost always end badly and undermines the core tenants of any functioning democratic system.

Robert Lipton


http://www.muzzlewatch.com/2009/08/08/netanyahus-attempts-to-silence-breaking-the-silence/

 


   
 
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