Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Breaking the Silence - Israeli military speak out about Operation Cast Lead

Some of you may have heard this story on the BBC today. It is encouraging that more Israelis, especially the military, are speaking out about the Israeli army’s treatment of Palestinians and that this is being covered in mainstream media. On their trip in May, the Colorado Sabeel delegation met with representatives of Breaking the Silence, the organization of Israeli soldiers that gathered this testimony. Read the BBC story and below you will find a link to some of the solders’ testimony.

Israel soldiers speak out on Gaza
Soldier testimonies appear to contradict official Israeli statements

A group of soldiers who took part in Israel's assault in Gaza say widespread abuses were committed against civilians under "permissive" rules of engagement.

The troops said they had been urged to fire on any building or person that seemed suspicious and said Palestinians were sometimes used as human shields.

Breaking the Silence, a campaign group made up of Israeli soldiers, gathered anonymous accounts from 26 soldiers.

Israel denies breaking the laws of war and dismissed the report as hearsay.

The report says testimonies show "the massive and unprecedented blow to the infrastructure and civilians" was a result of Israeli military policy, articulated by the rules of engagement, and encouraged by a belief "the reality of war requires them to shoot and not to ask questions".

One soldier is quoted saying: "The soldiers were made to understand that their lives were the most important, and that there was no way our soldiers would get killed for the sake of leaving civilians the benefit of the doubt."

From Paul Wood, BBC Middle East correspondent:
Until now, Israel always had a ready answer to allegations of war crimes in Gaza. Claims were, they said, Palestinian propaganda. Now the accusations of abuse are being made by Israeli soldiers.
The common thread in the testimonies is that orders were given to prevent Israeli casualties whatever the cost in Palestinian lives.
The Israeli military says past allegations of wrong-doing in Gaza were the result of soldiers recycling rumours.
But Breaking the Silence has a long - and to many, credible - record in getting soldiers to talk about experiences which might not reflect well on the army.
Breaking silence on abuses

Another says: "People were not instructed to shoot at everyone they see, but they were told that from a certain distance when they approach a house, no matter who it is - even an old woman - take them down."

Many of the testimonies are in line with claims made by human rights organisations that Israeli military action in Gaza was indiscriminate and disproportionate.
Amnesty International has accused both Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in charge in Gaza, of committing war crimes during the 22-day conflict which ended on 18 January.

Israeli officials insist troops went to great lengths to protect civilians, that Hamas endangered non-combatants by firing from civilian areas and that homes and buildings were destroyed only when there was a specific military need to do so.

Read some of the soldiers’ testimony: Breaking the Silence report on Operation Cast Lead[469KB]

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