Breaking the Silence has just published a landmark collection of soldier testimonies from the Occupied Territories spanning the period 2000-2010. The 432 page book can now be browsed, downloaded and embedded here.
If you read nothing else, take the time to look over the first to pages of the introduction for a simple and honest analysis of how the IDF degenerated into a tool of dispossession. Here’s its core:
From the descriptions given by the soldiers, one comes to grasp the logic of Israeli operations overall. The testimonies leave no room for doubt: while it is true that the Israeli security apparatus has had to deal with concrete threats in the past decade, including terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens, Israeli operations are not solely defensive. Rather, they systematically lead to the de facto annexation of large sections of the West Bank to Israel through the dispossession of Palestinian residents. The widespread notion in Israeli society that the control of the Territories is intended exclusively to protect the security of Israeli citizens is incompatible with the information conveyed by hundreds of IDF soldiers.
The Israeli security forces and governmental bodies make consistent reference in the media and in internal discussions and military briefings to four components of Israeli policy in the Territories: ‘preventing terrorism’ or ‘prevention of hostile terrorist activity’ (sikkul); ‘separation’, i. e., Israel’s “separating itself” from the Palestinian population (hafradah); the need to preserve Palestinian ‘fabric of life’ (mirkam hayyim); and ‘law enforcement’ (akhifat hok) in the Territories. But the terms that Israeli security forces apply to various components of Israeli policy in the Territories present a partial, often distorted, description of the policy and its consequences. These terms, once descriptive, quickly become code-words for activities that are unrelated to their original meaning. This book describes the Israeli policies in the Territories which the State of Israel’s institutions do not disclose. The men and women soldiers whose testimonies appear in this book are an especially reliable source of information: they are not merely witnesses to Israeli policy; they have been entrusted with the task of carrying it out, and are — explicitly or implicitly — asked to conceal it as well.
Itamar Eichner, Yediot, May 6 2010 [back-page; Hebrew original here and at bottom of post]
Anyone who happened to pass by Military Stockade 6, near Beit Oren junction, might have been puzzled by what he or she saw: is Israel keeping dozens of US Army soldiers in the military stockade? The answer, so it would seem, is no less puzzling than the question.
The IDF received a large shipment of surplus American uniforms that are marked “US Army.” The uniforms are light-colored camouflaged fatigues that US Army troops use in various theaters of operations, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. Since the uniforms are camouflaged, military officials were leery of distributing them to IDF troops, lest others mistakenly identify them as terrorists.
Instead, military officials decided to use the uniforms in the various military stockades. Reservists who were sentenced to the stockade were stunned when they were asked to put on light camouflaged uniforms marked US Army. “It seemed crazy to me to see Israeli soldiers locked up wearing American soldiers’ uniforms,” said one of the reservists.
It turns out that the Americans were not particularly pleased with the use that the IDF decided to make of their army’s uniforms. American officials said that the IDF’s decision was strange, and that it would only have been appropriate had the IDF bothered at the very least to conceal the tag marking the uniforms as belonging to the US Army.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Office issued the following response: “American uniforms that were received from US Army surpluses were disqualified for operational use in the IDF because they are camouflaged, and there is the danger of a mistake in identity in the event that they are used operationally. However, the uniforms were approved for administrative use, and that is why they were issued to military stockades, motor-pool maintenance and military factories as work fatigues—provided no one moves beyond the perimeter of the facility while wearing them.”
Since the gag order was lifted last Thursday(April 8 2010), the Israeli public debate has been largely engaged in indignant verbal stoning of whistle-blower Anat Kamm and journalist Uri Blau. The most vicious attacks have focused on the treasonous criminality of the theft (Kamm) and possession (Blau) of classified documents. Indeed, Kamm has been charged with “aggravated espionage.”
A few writers (albeit mostly bloggers and Haaretz columnists) have tried to provide some reasonable context. In a country where the army is so closely integrated in society as it is in Israel, classified documents in civilian, certainly journalistic, hands are a very common occurrence. Noam Sheizaf and Amitai Sandy note how a similar incident from the recent past was closed with an ultra-light sentence and little fanfare, Yossi Gurvitch (summarized by Dimi Reider here) provides a catalog of very senior Israeli officials with a proven record of leaking top-secret documents and Yossi Melman reminds readers that the Deputy Chief of the Mossad received a slap on the wrist for a related offense.
Writing in Haaretz this morning (April 14 2010,) Aluf Benn neatly wraps this line of argument:
Let’s keep things in proportion…In a country where everyone serves in the army, all are exposed to sensitive information that cannot be erased or forgotten. Every plane of Israeli tourists abroad carries far more state secrets than Kamm’s lost compact discs…Even the closest-guarded secrets seem ludicrous in hindsight.
Satire should also have made a contribution. Sadly, there is not much of that left in today’s Israel. Eretz Nehederet (“It’s a Wonderful Country”) Channel Two TV’s Friday night program, which occasionally has a biting skit in its lineup, was off last week.
Coteret readers may remember up and coming Israeli journalist Danit Gottfried, who broke the news that Pastor John Hagee was funding Im Tirzu, the group behind the NIF smear campaign. Gottfried is now trying to rectify this situation. Proclaiming “One document found, 1,999 to go” (Kamm reportedly took 2,000 documents), she posted on her Facebook wall a classified document found in the depths of the Ynet website (apparently an old hoax, but, with its uncanny replication of IDF-speak mentality, could easily pass for an original.)
Although it’s stamped “guarded” — second level classification — the memo deals with an incident one would have difficulty describing as secret and still maintain a straight face. Read the full translation below (click on the image to see the original document in Hebrew.) It’s funny stand-alone, but doubly so in the current context. Indeed, as Gottfried’s post spreads quickly on Facebook Israelis are crowd-sourcing comedy with wisecracking comments.
— Guarded ["Shamur" classification"] —
Re: Soldier attacked by peacock during Sunday culture day
a. Description of the event: On September 9, 2005 the regiment went on a Sunday culture day to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem. During the visit one of the soldiers provoked a peacock on display at the zoo and was attacked by it.
b. The parties involved:
i. Yigal Zaguri 72924690
ii. A peacock from the Biblical Zoo
a. Soldier Yigal Zaguri came on a visit to the Biblical Zoo in Jerusalem during a Sunday culture day for the regiment.
b. At the beginning of the visit the soldiers were told to stay away from the animals roaming freely on display at the zoo.
c. While visiting the fowl area the soldier Yigal approached one of the peacocks and began provoking it.
d. The peacock who saw the soldier as a threat attacked him and lightly injured him in the foot.
3. Further findings:
a. The peacock is a male and saw the provocation as a territorial invasion.
b. Soldier Yigal Zaguri is known to be a problematic soldier.
c. During the provocation another soldier was present and threw stones at the peacock.
a. Cause: The attack occurred because the soldier provoked the animal.
b. Points for future attention: Commanders’ alertness to the event and quick treatment of the casualty.
c. Results: A light injury to soldier Yigal Zaguri’s foot.
4. Lessons and conclusions:
a. A safety briefing should be given before any Army visit to institutions where there is contact with animals.
b. Units should be instructed on contact with animals at the base.
c. Soldiers must understand the inadvisability of provoking peacocks.
For immediate distribution in all IDF command courses
Daniel Peleg, Sergeant
Taub in Yediot: Get a grip — unless Israel launches its own credible investigation now, it faces the full brunt of universal jurisdiction
As the danger of the application of universal jurisdiction over the Gaza war crimes becomes more tangible, the buzz regarding an independent Israeli investigation is increasing.
Israeli strategy remains confused, however. Yediot reported on December 28 2009 that a limited inquiry, aimed at stemming the “political and economic tsunami” caused by the Goldstone report, would be launched “within two weeks.” The has yet to happen. A January 19 2010 report in Haaretz may help explain why: Retired Chief Justice Aharon Barak has stated that only a full-fledged commission of inquiry, with subpoena powers, would be acceptable to him. His unequivocal position is probably deterring other eminent jurists.
Apparently Israel would like to make some concrete announcement before, or along with, its official response (due apparently on February 5 2010.) Meanwhile, Israel’s advocates abroad are gearing up. A draft response to Goldstone by Alan Dershowitz has been circulating in the internet for few days. Mondoweiss publishes an excerpt, which reveals some desperation. No longer is there an attempt to deny the existence of war crimes. Rather, focus is on defense of the top brass, through the shifting of responsibility to “rogue soldiers.”
Israeli pragmatists are losing patience. In a Yediot op-ed this morning (January 20 2010; full text below) centrist author Gadi Taub after blasting Goldstone, tells the Israeli government to get a grip: Without a credible independent investigation now, Israel will bear the full brunt of universal jurisdiction.
Time is running out
Op-ed, Gadi Taub, Yediot, January 20
International law makes it possible to prosecute Israelis who are suspected of war crimes allegedly committed in Operation Cast Lead, in courts belonging to other countries. This option is subject to one restriction: It is valid if and only if Israel has not launched an independent investigation into the matter itself. This option has a time limit, and time is running out. Israel was given six months from the publication of the Goldstone report, and this period will end on March 15.
The accusations of Judge Goldstone appear to be mostly groundless. Goldstone’s method, in which clearly biased testimonies were accepted without question or further examination, is not only unfair, but absolutely scandalous. Goldstone himself admitted, in an interview to the American Jewish newspaper The Forward, that there was nothing in the report that would stand up as proof of a war crime in court. Moreover, the commission acquitted Hamas of deliberately using civilians as a human shield for fighters, and did not accuse it at all of a blatant war crime: Firing rockets at civilian targets. Instead, the report speaks about rockets fired by “armed Palestinian groups.” This is a manipulation that omits, as commented by independent journalist Jonathan Dahoah-Halevi, the entire cause of the operation against Hamas and turns Israel into an indiscriminate aggressor.
Israel erred by choosing to boycott the commission. But its choice not to honor the terms of the international community and to launch its own investigation by an independent agency, is much more severe. Such an agency could be a commission headed by a judge, or an inquiry by the State Comptroller’s Office. Read more…
Ben Caspit, Maariv, January 8 2010 [page 2]
Israel is considering the option of not extending the mandate of the TIPH multi-national mission, which has been stationed in Hebron since the interim agreement signed between Israel and the PLO as part of the Hebron protocol in 1997.
The mandate of the force, which is composed of the representatives of six countries, is renewed every six months, and is due to be renewed at the end of the month. Now, Israel is considering (and not for the first time) the possibility of not extending its mandate.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon visited Hebron yesterday, at the direct instructions of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, in order to examine the situation on the ground. Ayalon confirmed yesterday that the possibility of not extending the mandate was indeed being examined, and appeared realistic. “They are exceeding their mandate,” Ayalon told Ma’ariv. “They report cases of harassment against Palestinians, and do not deal with cases of opposite harassment.”
In addition, Israeli sources say that the extension of the mandate is supposed to be carried out in a festive ceremony with the attendance of representatives from Israel, the Palestinian Authority and TIPH, but the PA has been refusing to hold this ceremony in the past years. “The fact that this force frequently complains against IDF soldiers and serves as infrastructure for many representatives of international organizations who focus on filing complaints against Israel and the IDF, plays a role in the Israeli idea of stopping the mandate,” an informed security source said yesterday to Ma’ariv.
Stopping the mandate of the multi-national force in Hebron could spark an international furor. The timing, in the course of a considerable international effort to renew the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, appears particularly problematic. In addition, there is the issue of the force’s makeup: Its members are soldiers from Norway, Sweden, Turkey, Denmark, Italy and Switzerland. With the exception of Italy, all these countries have hit a low of one kind or another in their relations with Israel. It is believed that Foreign Minister Lieberman and his deputy Ayalon view the non-extension of the force’s mandate as an opportunity to harm Sweden and Norway (a Norwegian army general heads the force), which are defined as the two European countries most extreme in their negative attitude towards Israel at the present time. The Turkish issue is even more sensitive, and here too Lieberman has recently said that Turkey must not return to the position of mediator between Israel and Syria.
A classified Foreign Ministry document, which was recently prepared on the performance of the multi-national force, levels harsh criticism at its activity: “Due to the tendentious mandate of the force (protecting the Palestinians), it is clear that the reports (that it issues—BC) deal mainly with criticizing Israel… a certain tension is revealed at times between the Israeli government and the force’s activity, in light of our position that the force sometimes exceeds its mandate, among other things by demands to investigate incidents that took place and/or demands that Israel account for its actions to the donor states, in addition to extensive public relations activity—for example, by means of an impressive web site, which offers forms for Palestinian residents to file complaints against the Israeli authorities.”
The report states further: “The recent assessment reached by the Foreign Ministry following staff work done on the matter by professional echelons is that Israel has no interest as such in the continued activity of the force, but diplomatic circumstances do not enable the termination of its activity and/or non-renewal of its mandate. However, it was agreed that the issue of the force’s continued activity should be examined, within the framework of possibilities that could be raised with the Palestinians in a future dialogue on Hebron.”
The Yediot report expands on yesterday’s (January 5 2010,) which revealed that a senior IDF delegation to UK was cancelled at last minute for fear of arrests. At bottom is a Maariv news item on the attempt by British Attorney General Patricia Scotland, currently visiting Israel, to placate the local elite.
Note that Colonel Virob is also in hot water for testifying that the beating of Palestinian detainees in the West Bank constituted normative behavior in the IDF. A Haaretz report from February 2009 describes Brigadier Halevi as a “brilliant officer, who also excelled in combat [who] categorically refuses to open the Pandora’s box of moral debate [regarding the Gaza war.]“
Yossi Yehoshua and Itamar Eichner, Yediot, January 6 2010 [page 9]
Yedioth Ahronoth has learned that Brig. Gen. Herzi Halevi and Colonel Itai Virob were part of the military delegation that was supposed to leave for Britain last week.
As reported yesterday, Israel canceled the planned visit by the military delegation to the UK after British authorities said they could not guarantee that the IDF officers would not be arrested. Brig. Gen. Halevi was the commander of the Paratroopers Brigade during Operation Cast Lead, and Colonel Virob, formerly the commander of the Kfir Brigade, also entered the Gaza Strip in the course of that operation with one of his battalions. Meanwhile, the British attorney general, who is visiting Israel at present, said yesterday that the UK would take urgent action to change the policy that allowed for arrest warrants to be issued against high-ranking Israeli officials [More on UK AG's statement in Maariv item below].
Eli Bardenstein, Maariv, January 6 2010 [page 6]
British Attorney General Patricia Scotland said last night in a lecture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem: The government understands the urgent need to change the system in order to prevent lawsuits against Israelis, and is determined to enable Israeli leaders to travel freely to Britain.
Among the people came to hear Scotland were Supreme Court President Judge Dorit Beinish, Supreme Court Judge Edna Arbel and British Ambassador to Israel Tom Phillips.
The British attorney general said that there should not be a safe haven for war criminals in any democratic country, but it should also be ensured that the law would not be used for the sake of one political campaign or another. Scotland emphasized that until the law was amended, the policy according to which judges could issue arrest warrants against senior Israeli figures would not change.
Earlier in the day, Scotland met with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman.
From a report on a briefing to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee by Defense Minister Ehud Barak today (December 28 2009)
Barak also condemned the Islamic regime’s crackdown on opposition protesters, a day after at least eight demonstrators were killed across Iran.
“These demonstrators are just looking for a normal life,” he said. “It bothers me to say the way the free world is responding to what’s going on there? They are crushing civilians from above, there.”
This, from the man responsible for the suppression of the Palestinian non-violent protest movement.
Not that I’m comparing, but still, glass houses and all that.