During the conflict with Hamas in the last summer, the Israeli army “went to any lengths humanly possible to protect civilians even at the risk of allowing Hamas to be prepared for attacks,” Matan Katzman, a former IDF soldier, who is a member of pro-Israel advocacy group Stand with us, told a meeting of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights on Wednesday.
The meeting saw a presentation by controversial Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence of about their recent report on anonymous testimonies of 70 IDF soldiers who served during Operation Protective Edge alleging that Israel acted illegally during this war.
The committee’s meeting highlighted the stark contrast between the IDF and Hamas, the Islamist movement governing Gaza, and the IDF when it came to respect for fundamental human rights.
Whilst Hamas eagerly uses the Palestinian population as collateral damage in their PR war, Katzman stressed that Israel respects international humanitarian law and laws of armed conflicts, as repeatedly stated by high ranking generals and majors who have observed and seek to emulate IDF’s best practices in cases of armed conflict.
In a moving and deeply personal testimony, Katzman outlined to the MEPs a number of situations he found himself in during the army’s incursion into Gaza.
As far from the IDF blood lust as propagated by Hamas and by the Breaking the Silence report, Katzman outlined a restrained and moral approach by the IDF, guided by his training and the maxim “if in doubt, don’t shoot”.
“Not only is this a moral imperative, but a legal one too.” said another speaker, Ohad Zemet, from the office of the legal adviser at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, outlining the strict guidelines in place that ensure Israel meets, and often exceeds international legal norms.
This approach entails he explained, extensive early warning systems, limitations on timings and locations of counter strikes.
“Hamas is probably the only enemy in the world that receives advance warnings of places and timings of counter strikes”, Zemet mentioned.
Katzman acknowledged that “there are bad eggs in every batch.” “But the Israeli society rejects them. They don’t represent the army as a whole and are tried and sentenced to the full extent of the law.” It’s Not something that can be said for Hamas terrorists who use human shields and whose actions are glorified and celebrated with impunity,” he said.
For him, the Breaking the Silence report is “problematic,” as statements are “anonymous, unverified, distorted and out of context,” adding that they fail to represent the realities and complexities of the war zone. Some 70 soldiers speaking to a “politically motivated NGO,” he said, do not represent the full truth or extent of the matter. He described the organisation and its activities outside of Israel as an exercise in “Israel bashing.”
The Israeli government last Sunday published the result of its investigation into the Gaza war, stating that Operation Protective Edge was “lawful” and “legitimate”, and that it did not deliberately target civilians, praising the IDF as the “most moral army in the world.”
After conducting a fact-finding mission, a so-called High Level International Military Group, consisting of 11 former chiefs of staff, generals and US and European officials, went as far as to say that Israel went out of its way to protect Palestinian civilians during the conflict.