The report by political advocacy organization “Breaking the Silence” (BtS) on last summer conflict in Gaza, including anonymous “testimonies” of soldiers who fought in Israel’s Operation “Protective Edge” against Hamas rocket fire, ‘’lacks all credibility and objectivity,” says NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based watchdog group which provides information and analysis on the activities of NGOs.
In a reaction to the report, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said Monday it is “committed to properly investigating all credible claims raised via media (and) NGOs.”
“Unfortunately, as in the past, Breaking the Silence has refused to provide the IDF with any proof of their claims. For obvious reasons such conduct makes any investigation by the relevant IDF bodies impossible” it added.
According to NGO Monitor, the extensive foreign funding that Breaking the Silence receives, including in the European Union, as well as its international political activities, “highlight the problems with the publication of this report.”
Despite its critical flaws, the report was widely cited by international media, greatly distorting the picture of Israel’s security situation among news consumers around the world.
“Too often, when it comes to reporting on Israel and the Palestinians, unverified “eyewitnesses” or unnamed sources are a feature of media stories, especially those that impact negatively on Israel,” commented Honest Reporting, a watchdog group challenging media bias.
It added, “What about the warped journalistic ethics behind the reporting of this story? Clearly the Breaking the Silence story is based entirely on anonymous testimonies. In essence, the media are using Breaking the Silence as a middleman to avoid due diligence on the sources.”
“Breaking the Silence’s report doesn’t meet the accepted standards that journalists themselves apply to their own reports.”
‘Breaking the Silence’ claims that its mission is to address the Israeli society but its lobbying, media campaign and frequent appearances in Europe and the United States target international audiences. Their activists will appear in Switzerland next month to present their political agenda at an event organized by supporters of pro-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) groups, says NGO Monitor. “It is a politically motivated NGO that promotes political law fare through distorted narratives of complex security situations.”
“The report includes anecdotal, anonymous and unverifiable testimonies, of low level soldiers which ignores the wider background. Furthermore, it was discovered that BtS is funded by foreign donors that condition their funding with requests for minimum numbers of negative testimonies. This seriously calls into question BtS motivation and credibility,” NGO Monitor says.
“This contradicts Breaking the Silence” declarations and thus turns it into an organization that represents its foreign donors’ interest, severely damaging the NGO’s reliability and its ability to analyze complicated combat situations.”
NGO Monitor cites the example of the Oxfam group in Britain, signed an agreement with Breaking the Silence, under which Bts was to conduct interviews with “as many” soldiers as possible who would testify regarding Israeli “immoral actions that violate human rights.”
Funding comes also from Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Ireland.
The Bts report fails to mention in its introduction that terrorist groups in Gaza launched rockets, dug tunnels to commit terrorist attacks inside Israel and placed almost all of their fighting positions in civilian areas in Gaza, including mosque, schools and hospitals. “The organization provides a partial portrayal of the rationale that guided the Israel Defence Forces (IDF). Additionally, Bts does not explain that the IDF used multiple methods of warning civilians to leave areas of fighting in a way that is above and beyond the norm among Western countries, including leaflets, phone calls and “roof knocking.”
Former Associated Press (AP) journalist Matti Friedman questioned the report. “Professional journalists looking at this report, and at similar reports, should be asking… Compared to what? IDF open-fire regulations are lax – compared to what? Civilian casualty rates are high – compared to what? Compared to the U.S. in Fallujah? The British in Northern Ireland? The Canadians in Helmand Province?.”
Regarding ‘Breaking the Silence’, Friedman noted that while it was once an organization made up of IDF veterans trying to “expose Israelis to the nature of service in the occupied territories in order to have a political impact on Israeli society,” it was no longer such an organization.
“Now it is something else,” said Friedman, since its funds come largely from European donors, making it an organization, “which serves mainly to provide international reporters with the lurid examples of Israeli malfeasance that they crave.”
Asked by French daily Le Figaro to comment the Bts report, Israeli philosopher Asa Kasher, who drafted the Code of Ethics of the Israeli army but has campaigned for its flexibility, declared: ” No state has the duty to guarantee the same security for enemy civilians as to its own population.”
The use of civilian infrastructures by Hamas and its propensity to melt in the heart of the civilian population constitute in his eyes a challenge Israeli strategists do not have the right to shirk.
“Should the presence of a large number of non-combatant civilians near a building used to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel immunize this building?,” Kasher asked. “The answer is obviously No. On the other hand, Israel would simply sacrifice its right to self-defence.”
Former IDF Chief of Staff during Operation Protective Edge, Benny Gantz, at a conference regarding international law and warfare on Monday, noted that, “unfortunately, both in Gaza and in Lebanon, civilians paid the price of war.”
He added that, “Next time it will be worse – because Israel has to deal constantly with the moral dilemma,” of minimizing civilian casualties, “but at the same time with the need to protect itself,” from terrorists who have embedded themselves among civilians.
Commenting on Hezbollah and Hamas’ use of human shields in conflict, Gantz said that, “Both in Gaza and in Lebanon the enemy operated from within the civilian population,” adding that, “They have full villages that have been converted into rocket storehouses. Their living rooms are rocket rooms. I don’t have a rocket room in my house. How can we known the difference? How careful can we be?”
In light of those facts, Gantz commented on the inadequacy of international law, as it is being interpreted, to properly deal with such a situation.
“Our strategic and moral obligations are to remember that the weaker side isn’t always the just side,” Gantz said.
Commenting on the exploitation by terrorist groups of international law, he said, “Don’t tell me this is a kindergarten when I know that this is a rocket room. Don’t tell me this is a mosque when I know it is a store house for rockets.” He added that, “in the place of swimming pools, they have missile pools.”
Israel behaves differently, he said. “I am not familiar with even a single synagogue in Israel that is used as a meeting place for terrorists or as a rocket, missile or ammunition storehouse.”
Because of the impossible strategic situation posed by Hamas and Hezbollah’s exploitation of the laws of war and the civilian population, Gantz spoke of the need to change the laws of war and what constitutes a war crime under such laws.
“Think back to the time when the laws of war were meant to limit bad people. Today, those who do not obey those laws do not really care. But they will use the laws against those that do care about them,” he said.
He added, “We need to update the laws in order to allow us to protect democracy, human life, and humanitarian ethics, because the other side doesn’t care about these things at all.”
Despite this abuse and exploitation of the laws of war by terrorist organizations, Gantz said, “we will continue to act in accordance with them.”
He also commented on the internal investigations being carried out by the IDF into the conduct of its soldiers in Protective Edge. “In Gaza and also in Lebanon, we are investigating ourselves, both from the strategic and the legal point of view.”
According to Gantz, “Over 500 incidents have been investigated, and some of them led to soldiers being brought before military tribunals.” The decision to investigate these incidents, said Gantz, was not motivated by the fact that the “international community put pressure on us, but because we care to improve ourselves.”
“The State of Israel is a state of laws and the IDF is an organization that operates in accordance with international law,” he concluded.