About that breaking the silence report on Gaza

Breaking the Silence/Shobrim Sheteeyka has released its report of witnesses from the Gaza War in Hebrew and English

It certainly makes no claim of balance. All of the reports are of excesses by Tzahal, no mention of the many extraordinary efforts by Tzahal to avoid civilian casualties and no examination of the systematic war crimes by Hamas most notably the use of human shields, using civilian sites including mosques as bases for attacks and intentionally targeting Israeli civilian population centers with their missile attacks and attempts–one successful– to infiltrate Israel including one successfully infiltrating Israel through a tunnel. And not a word asserting none of the above occurred.

I would acknowledge that there are issues with breaking the silence (shobrim sheteeka.) I also attended their tour of Hebron (highly recommended) where they made clear they don’t back any particular policy on the territories. While they didn’t give an opportunity for settler spokesmen to speak the tour was confined to illustrating the reality on the ground. The army made no attempt to restrict us in any way on our tour.

But I find the reaction to the report by serious journalists disappointing to say the least.

On respected journalist Mati Friedman’s Facebook page (in a post he seems to have removed) he doesn’t engage in any specific rebuttal of the report. But he makes this outrageous “proposal” which I have never heard expressed about any other Israeli group and I doubt Friedman would advocate across the board I think he is way too fair minded for that. He argued that groups advocating social and political change in Israel confine their discussion to Israeli audiences in Hebrew. I did just check he seems to have taken it down.

Here at the Times of Israel military correspondent Mitch Ginzburg presents an article with the headline Breaking the Silence bids to place IDF, Hamas on level field.

In the article he writes, “The NGO’s most recent report, at its core, seeks to change how Israel wages war.”

What follows is a long very interesting analysis of arguments about Israel’s use of force dating back to an academic article in 2008 and including recent debates. There is not a single mention of any connection between breaking the silence and those opinions, In fact I dont know who would be more surprised at the connection made by Ginsburg: the speakers/authors cited or people associated with BTS. Clearly any connections between the two occur in the authors mind and nowhere else he cited.

BTS has just released their report of testimonies on Gaza, while the report has been criticized no specific incidents have been contradicted by eyewitnesses. Those responsible for investigating the war within tzahal which is still investigating close to 100 Gaza related incidents did not refute any of the incidents and in fact released regret that the shobrim sheteyka “witnesses” will not testify for tzahal investigators.

This latter point is the most important criticism to be levelled at the BTS Gaza report. The fact that it is being used by indiscriminate biased critics of Israel is not a function of BTS in my opinion, No objective person would deny  those critics  give Hamas a free ride on their war crimes (which Israel intends to bring to the ICC if complaints about Tzahal activity are brought up in that forum)

BTS makes no claim to present a comprehensive analysis of the war or any investigation of Hamas’ behavior. Most troubling is their refusal to cooperate with the IDF military advocate general.

But what is most disturbing in the reactions to the report is the way even a professional journalist engages in convoluted analysis instead of simply listening to what the BTS spokesmen say. Here is a quotation in Hebrew to an Israeli audience last night (May 12) in Tel Aviv where they presented their report, I was unable to attend because of commitments in my hometown of Jerusalem but I hope that the Times of Israel military correspondent attended, asked tough questions and will be reporting.

Members of Breaking the Silence said Tuesday that even though many of the reactions to the report had been critical, the group felt it was succeeding in its goal of opening a public debate on what it claims was the army’s reckless disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians during last summer’s conflict.

“People do want to listen, even if there were angry reactions – we want to initiate a discussion on our morality and on the way we fought in Gaza,” said Avner Gvaryahu, a spokesman for the group.

“We want Israeli society to take responsibility,” he said at a presentation of the report held in a Tel Aviv conference hall. “We placed a mirror to the face of Israeli society, and the reflection is not a pretty one.

Interestingly here is what Ginsburg wrote in his article “analyzing” the ‘agenda’ behind the BTS report

Critical to the IDF’s capacity to credibly counter reports like that of Breaking the Silence is that allegations of abuse be investigated and that the effort to minimize civilian deaths be relentless.

Seems to me that is exactly what BTS wants although they should be hashly questioned about their lack of cooperation with Tzahal operations. Interestingly the Tzahal Military Advocate General has not disputed any of the testimonies and has appealed to the BTS”witnesses” to present testimony to the IDF directly. That is what responsible criticism of the BTS report should center on, that or direct public refutation by eyewitnesses that dispute the BTS reports.

The above example is of the reaction of a professional journalist to the BTS report. Of course the vicious name calling guilt by association BTS are all traitors etc reaction by non professional (and some professional) commentators is more common. I am sure the comments section to this article will soon fill with them. That kind of behavior is not part of necessary responsible discussion…of any issue.

It is close to a year since the terrible summer of last year. We Israelis deserve the thorough investigation into many aspects of the Gaza war. The actions described in the report are only a part of what should be information released to the public. The tragic story of 7 heroic soldiers who died in combat in Gaza  because of being sent to fight with inadequate equipment was reported by an independent journalistic investigation on Israel channel 10 around Yom Hazikaron in addition to the many acts of bravery and humanity by our soldiers. There are many questions with regard to the discovery and destruction of the tunnels which have not been explained.

I don’t expect those that engage in simplistic sloganeering on either side to engage in such activity, But I would hope professional journalists such as the military correspondent of Times of Israel would engage in that kind of tough work instead of “analyzing” the ‘agenda” of BTS.

About the Author
Larry Weinman is an investment advisor and recent oleh.He is active in organizations and study with groups involved in "hitchadshoot hayahadut" study and activity between dati and lo dati Israelis and in organizing activities by these groups in the United States. He is also active with other political/social change groups. His writings have been published in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal and Washington Jewish Week.