This week, NIF-grantee Breaking the Silence released a groundbreaking report (PDF) featuring more than sixty interviews with IDF soldiers and officers in the wake of last summer’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza. The first-hand testimonies from Israeli combat personnel, recounting their experiences in the month-long operation, were often-searing accounts of a war conducted in a dense urban area, with little differentiation between militants and civilians, with predictably tragic results.
A first sergeant wrote, “There were no rules of engagement. If you see anyone in that area, that person is a terrorist. In this context, it was simple. They told us they have intelligence that there are practically no civilians remaining in the area, and so if someone comes towards us, that person is a terrorist.”
Another first sergeant, this one in the armored corp, said, “We were firing purposelessly all day long. Hamas was nowhere to be seen — it’s not like they stood up on some roof for you holding a sign that says, ‘We are Hamas militants.’ You have no idea what’s going on, and because you don’t, your human nature is to be scared and ‘over’ defensive, so you ‘overshoot.’”
Collectively, the testimonies pose a challenge to the protocols put in place by the IDF. Breaking the Silence wrote, “The guiding military principle of ‘minimum risk to our forces, even at the cost of harming innocent civilians,’ alongside efforts to deter and intimidate the Palestinians, led to massive and unprecedented harm to the population and the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip. Policymakers could have predicted these results prior to the operation and were surely aware of them throughout.”
The organization puts every testimony through a rigorous process of review and fact-checking before it is included and presents its findings to the Israeli military before any information is released publicly. With this report, the testimonies were first transferred to the IDF and passed the standards of the military censor. Breaking the Silence requested a meeting with the IDF Chief of Staff in order to present and discuss the soldiers’ testimonies, without response.
Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.