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'Breaking the Silence' vs. 'Soldiers Speak Out' on Cast Lead

An EU-funded organization publishes rumors that the IDF abused Arab civilians in Gaza, while a rival group exposes Hamas crimes.
By Maayana Miskin
First Publish: 7/17/2009, 9:47 AM

(file)

A new controversy has broken out over the three-week Cast Lead counter-terror operation that the IDF waged in Gaza earlier this year. Two organizations have come out with video testimony from IDF soldiers reporting what they saw and heard during the intense fighting.

The first group, Soldiers Speak Out, has collected several testimonies in English in which soldiers recall witnessing war crimes perpetrated by Hamas. One describes finding rocket launchers in an ambulance whose drivers claimed to be transporting an elderly patient.

Others list the measures they took to protect Arab civilians, from withholding fire on terrorists to tidying up civilian homes after entering them for combat purposes.

The second group, Breaking the Silence (Shovrim Shtika), has collected several testimonies of soldiers saying they saw soldiers causing damage to Arab property, or heard rumors that Arab civilians were used as human shields. Unlike the Soldiers Speak Out videos, the charges set forth by Breaking the Silence were widely reported by international media outlets, including the Associated Press, Reuters, AFP, CNN and The Guardian.

While Soldiers Speak Out testimonies were given by soldiers who used their full names and identified themselves, the Breaking the Silence videos were given anonymously, and soldiers' faces were blurred.

In March of this year, several major Israeli and international media outlets published testimony from IDF soldiers claiming that the army had committed war crimes in Gaza. Subsequent investigations showed that the reports were based on rumors and media reports, and that none of the soldiers who made serious allegations regarding harm to Arab civilians had witnessed any such incidents themselves.

IDF: Allegations Unproven
IDF officials slammed the Breaking the Silence videos on Wednesday, as the accounts were eagerly spread by media worldwide. “The IDF regrets the fact that a human rights organization would again present to the country and the world a report containing anonymous, generalized testimony without checking the facts or their reliability,” an official statement said.

Golani Brigade Commander Avi Peled pointed out that one of the soldiers who made the most serious allegations in his testimony was not in Gaza at the time that the events he reported allegedly took place. The testimony, in which the soldier claimed that Arab civilians had been used by the IDF as human shields, was based entirely on rumors and second- and third-hand accounts, Peled said.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak asked that criticism of the IDF be directed through the proper channels. Criticism or allegations regarding IDF behavior in Gaza “should be addressed to me... and to the Israeli government,” he said.

Funding for Allegations from EU
Breaking the Silence is one of many organizations tracked by NGO Monitor. Like many other Israel-based organizations known for making allegations against the IDF and Israelis in Judea and Samaria, “Breaking the Silence” is funded largely by the European Union and various European countries.

In 2007, the group's total budget amounted to roughly half a million shekels, with much of the money coming from the New Israel Fund (NIF). The NIF money was given for “raising public awareness of the destructive consequences that serving in the occupied territories ha on Israeli society.”

Breaking the Silence managed to triple its annual budget in 2008 with major donations from the EU and the British and Dutch embassies in Israel.

Unlike some other groups on the NGO Monitor list, Breaking the Silence is not a true non-profit, but rather is listed as a registered company. As a company, it is not required to be honest regarding its funding, but Breaking the Silence founders insist that they have reported all donations to NGO Monitor and others who ask, saying they have “nothing to hide.”