On Thursday, June 4, 2015, the city of Zurich, Switzerland will host an exhibition by “Breaking the Silence (BtS),” a radical-leftist Israeli group. The group, claiming to be Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) reservists, will present testimonies of soldiers who participated in the Protective Edge operation in Gaza last summer and who allege human rights violations were committed by the IDF. The exhibition and travel costs are being funded by the Swiss Foreign Ministry and the City government of Zurich.
Patriotic Israeli reservists who fought in the Protective Edge operation are outraged by this deliberate attempt of a fringe anti-Israel group and their Swiss sponsors to smear the good name of the IDF. They have vowed, for the sake of their fallen comrades and IDF combat soldiers, that they will no longer remain silent. Identifying themselves on their Facebook page as “My Truth,” these reservists have written to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming they have been “abandoned on the battlefield.”
The reservists have also written to the newly installed Minister of Information, Gilad Erdan, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, and Israel’s Ambassador to Switzerland, Igal Caspi, pointing out that, “A month ago with the publication of the Protective Edge report by BtS and the debased and deceitful use by this organization’s employees of anonymous testimonials in the international media, and worldwide forums, we (My Truth group) were astonished to discover that the Israeli government officials have stood by and did nothing to confront the activities of BtS and those who fund them.”
According to NGO-Monitor, “Breaking the Silence” is an NGO “active in promoting the notion of ‘war crimes’ charges against Israel.” These charges were based on anonymous and unverifiable hearsay testimonies. NGO –Monitor using financial information submitted by the Israeli Registrar of non-profits indicates that in 2013 “Breaking the Silence” received NIS 3,077,662 (US$801,475). A partial list of the donors included the European Union, the government of Norway, and these NGO’s: Misereor of Germany, Broederlijk Delen of Belgium, AECID of Spain, Dan Church Aid of Denmark, ICCO of the Netherlands, CCFD of France, and the New Israel Fund of the USA.
In their letter the “My Truth” group stated that the BtS report was directly funded by the governments of Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, and indirectly by Ireland, UK, and Denmark through extremist Christian groups and NGO’s who officially support the BDS campaign against Israel. They went on to say that since the April publication of the BtS report, BtS employees have appeared in the EU parliament in Brussels, and in the parliaments of Germany and Denmark, in New York, Washington, and Seattle. The “My Truth” writers bemoaned the fact that despite the hundreds of thousands of civilians and Israeli NGO’s at their side, they felt abandoned in the battlefield by Israeli officialdom. This is not a debate between the political left and right they wrote, but a worrisome phenomenon that directly hits at the IDF ability to perform its duties.
The reservists concluded their letter to PM Netanyahu by urging him to end the practice of a “friendly” country knowingly and publicly funding a campaign against the IDF - against the very soldiers who will have to defend the Israeli civilians in the future. The reservists said that they “expected the Israeli Foreign Ministry to provide diplomatic support in the struggle against the funders of organizations who smear and deface the IDF soldiers in worldwide forums. We reserve to ourselves the right to act as citizens and soldiers, without diplomatic limitations. We fought in all fronts, and we intend to go everywhere in the world to confront those perpetrators of lies, face to face, whatever the diplomatic price might be.”
Matti Friedman, an author and former AP Reporter, writing in the May issue of Mosaic magazine noted that the BtS report “isn’t journalism, it is propaganda.” He pointed out that “Having promised to reveal the secrets of the civilian death toll in Gaza in the form of systematic Israeli misdeeds, and having selected, with that purpose in mind, the most incriminating segments from much longer interviews, the report fails to deliver, perhaps that is why, instead of letting the readers examine the interviews and decide for themselves, the activist-editors of BtS felt compelled to add a heated introduction announcing that their report ‘exposes’ the true face of the Gaza operation – namely, its ‘disturbing’ and ‘unprecedented’ violence directed at Palestinians by the Israeli military. This is probably also why each testimony opens with a headline like ‘if you shoot in Gaza it’s cool, no big deal.”
Friedman added, “The editors seem to want readers to believe there were ‘no rules’ in Gaza, and that the IDF acted without taking civilian life in consideration. In fact the interviews themselves show the army taking numerous steps to avoid harm to civilians. The soldiers regularly mention warning leaflets, ‘roof-knocking’ rockets, phone calls, warning shells, warning shots, lists of protected sites like UN facilities, and drones vetting targets for civilian before an airstrike. All the action we encounter in the report is happening in areas where the army had already warned Gazan civilians (and, of course, Hamas guerrillas) that soldiers were about to arrive. Indeed, what is truly striking is that the soldiers simply take all of these steps for granted, as if they were obviously part of warfare, when in fact many are unique to Israeli military practice.”
To corroborate Friedman’s point it is worthwhile considering how British Colonel Richard Kamp, former commander of the British army in Afghanistan, describes the IDF. “The IDF did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare. Israel has to fight by the law. But Islamic terrorists do their utmost to exploit what they view as one of their enemy’s main weaknesses.”
The IDF may not be perfect, but with all its imperfections, it is probably the most moral army in the world. It is therefore disturbing, particularly to those who fought Hamas terrorists in Gaza, and whose comrades in arms died in their efforts to protect innocent civilians, to have the few deviations that occurred during a war put on display. The BtS people present their “findings” without any background, or context, and clearly without proof. The context would be the fact that Hamas issued orders to its fighters to mingle with the civilian population and fire at IDF soldiers from population centers. The BtS report and exhibit are therefore nothing less than deception and manipulation under the guise of the protection of human rights.
The BtS folks understand that in Israel’s open democracy there will be no adverse consequences to their betrayal of their own people. They might be shunned by some, but they know they can depend on getting their story told by the likes of Ha’aretz newspaper. And, the rewards are quite attractive. They can expect free travel, generous funding from anti-Israel European and American NGO’s and some European governments, and they will be made to feel important - as long as they continue to spout their anti-Israel allegations. In the end however, these “useful idiots” will be disposed of like garbage, and live with a legacy of having damaged and betrayed their country and people.
The heroes in this story are the veteran combat soldiers of “My Truth.” They will not enjoy the largess of European funding and free travel. They will however live with a clear conscience, knowing that they defended the honor of an honorable army - the IDF.