Posted by: Lister | July 19, 2009

Breaking the Silence of Cast Lead

A collection of testimonies from Israeli soldiers, collected by Breaking the Silence:

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.

Haaretz reports that other Israeli soldiers give contrary testimony:

In another testimony, an Israeli-born commando soldier talks about his ordering of his soldiers to clean up a Palestinian home after they were in it and how they collected items from their own food parcels from home and left it for the family.

The SoldiersSpeakOut group, which encourages soldiers to send in their filmed testimonies via the video sharing site Youtube, describes itself as “a grassroots movement that wants to show the voices of real Israelis.”

The new movement is supported by international Israel-advocacy group StandWithUs, which specializes in high-tech quick response projects in English to what is perceives as anti-Israel bias.

Uri Avnery discusses reasons why soldiers giving unflattering testimony might want to keep their names secret:

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.

[…] 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.

[…] 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.

Regarding the BTS claims being consistent with other reports, HRW released a report asking Israeli to release camera footage of deadly attacks:

“Drone operators can clearly see their targets on the ground and also divert their missiles after launch,” said Marc Garlasco, senior military analyst at Human Rights Watch and co-author of the report. “Given these capabilities, Israel needs to explain why these civilian deaths took place.”

[…] In the six cases documented in the report, Human Rights Watch found no evidence that Palestinian fighters were present in the immediate area of the attack at the time. None of the civilians who were killed were moving quickly or fleeing the area, so the drone operators would have had time to determine whether they were observing civilians or combatants, and to hold fire if they were unable to tell the difference.

[…] On December 29, the Israeli military struck a truck that it said was transporting Grad rockets, killing nine civilians. The military released video footage of the attack to support its case, but the video raises serious doubts that the target constituted a military objective – doubts that should have guided the drone operator to hold fire. The alleged rockets, the military later admitted, proved to be oxygen canisters.

[…] The drones deployed by the Israeli military – the Israeli-produced Hermes and Heron drones – have video-recording devices so that everything viewed by the operator is recorded. Every Israeli drone missile strike during Operation Cast Lead would therefore be registered on video.

[…]Human Rights Watch called on Israel and Hamas to cooperate fully with the Goldstone investigation. Regarding drone-launched missiles, Israel should provide the recorded video footage and other documentation of its attacks in which civilians were wounded or killed.

Amnesty also has a report out:

The Amnesty International report documents Israel’s use of battlefield weapons against a civilian population trapped in Gaza, with no means of escape and is based on evidence gathered by Amnesty International delegates, including a military expert, during field research in January and February.

The report shows that Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups fired hundreds of rockets into southern Israel, killing three Israeli civilians, injuring scores and driving thousands from their homes. “Such unlawful attacks constitute war crimes and are unacceptable,” added Donatella Rovera.

The scale and intensity of the attacks on Gaza were unprecedented. Some 300 children and hundreds of other unarmed civilians who took no part in the conflict were among the 1,400 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces.

Most were killed with high-precision weapons, relying on surveillance drones which have exceptionally good optics, allowing those observing to see their targets in detail. Others were killed with imprecise weapons, including artillery shells carrying white phosphorus – not previously used in Gaza – which should never be used in densely populated areas.

Amnesty International found that the victims of the attacks it investigated were not caught in the crossfire during battles between Palestinian militants and Israeli forces, nor were they shielding militants or other military objects. Many were killed when their homes were bombed while they slept. Others were sitting in their yard or hanging the laundry on the roof. Children were struck while playing in their bedrooms or on the roof, or near their homes. Paramedics and ambulances were repeatedly attacked while attempting to rescue the wounded or recover the dead.

Oded Na’aman, a member of Breaking the Silence since 2005, answers some criticism in an article in the Guardian’s Comment is Free:

First, it should be stated that our organisation does not claim to present a full and detailed portrait of the events of Operation Cast Lead. Breaking the Silence claims only to present the personal, firsthand stories of some 30 soldiers who participated in the attack. This is not all one can hope for but it is certainly more than has been made available to the Israeli public through any official channels.

Second, with regard to methodology, Breaking the Silence verifies all of its information by cross-referencing the testimonies it collects. The material that is eventually published has been confirmed by a number of testimonies, from several different points of view.

Breaking the Silence also made it clear that the personal details of the soldiers quoted in the collection, and the exact location of the incidents described in the testimonies, would readily be made available to any official and independent investigation of the events, as long as the identity of the testifiers did not become public.

Finally, it is somewhat difficult to provide the accusations that Breaking the Silence has conducted a biased investigation with a dignified reply, when the only official investigation of the events of Operation Cast Lead has been conducted by an organisation whose involvement in the operation is anything but minor – the IDF.

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