The Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont has once again uncritically featured a report by the radical European-funded NGO Breaking the Silence (Bts). Beaumont’s May 3rd story devotes 2100 words to a new BtS report consisting of anonymous Israeli soldier testimony regarding IDF actions during Operation Protective Edge, an article almost entirely devoid of anything critical of the activists, or the NGO they represent.
Beaumont opens by noting that the BtS report relies on “testimonies provided by more than 60 Israeli soldiers who fought in last summer’s war in Gaza” which he concludes raises “serious questions over whether Israel’s tactics breached its obligations under international law to distinguish and protect civilians”.
Tellingly, Beaumont failed to note that Breaking the Silence had reportedly “declined to share any of the evidence or testimony it collected from soldiers [to the IDF] with it before publishing”, thus preventing “the IDF from investigating any alleged wrongdoings uncovered in the report itself”.
Indeed, it’s next to impossible to fisk the soldier accounts cited in Guardian report, because they lack details necessary to research the specific incidents they’re allegedly recounting, including one soldier account cited by Beaumont suggesting that the IDF operation was compromised by anti-Arab racism.
If the rules of engagement were highly permissive, other soldiers say that they also detected a darker mood in their units that further coloured the way that soldiers behaved. “The motto guiding lots of people was: ‘Let’s show them,’ recalls a lieutenant who served in the Givati Brigade in Rafah. “It was evident that was a starting point. Lots of guys who did their reserve duty with me don’t have much pity towards [the Palestinians].”
He added: “There were a lot of people there who really hate Arabs. Really, really hate Arabs. You could see the hate in their eyes.”
If you think that the actual BtS report contains more credible evidence of Israeli racism – beyond this one activist’s peculiar ability to see in the soul of his fellow soldiers – you’d be mistaken. Here’s the introductory section of the BtS report, where it notes testimonies purporting to prove racism.
In addition to the damage to property and harm to civilians, the lenient open-fire policy was accompanied by aggression and at times even racism, (see testimonies 70 and 106).
First, here is Testimony 70 from the BtS report in its entirety – one of the testimonies purporting to demonstrate Israeli racism.
As opposed to previous operations, you could feel there was a radicalization in the way the whole thing was conducted. The discourse was extremely right-wing. The military obviously has very clear enemies – the Arabs, Hamas.
There is this rigid dichotomy. There are those involved [Palestinians involved in the fighting] and those uninvolved, and that’s it. But the very fact that they’re described as ‘uninvolved’, rather than as civilians, and the desensitization to the surging number of dead on the Palestinian side – and it doesn’t matter whether they’re involved or not – the unfathomable number of dead on one of the sides, the unimaginable level of destruction, the way militant cells and people were regarded as targets and not as living beings – that’s something that troubles me. The discourse is racist.
The discourse is nationalistic. The discourse is anti-leftist. It was an atmosphere that really, really scared me. And it was really felt, while we were inside. During the operation it gets radicalized. I was at the base, and some clerk says to me, “Yeah, give it to them, kill them all.” And you say to yourself, ‘Whatever, they’re just kids, it’s just talk’ – but they’re talking that way because someone allowed them to talk that way. If that clerk was the only one saying it I’d write her off – but when everyone starts talking like that…
First, there’s a big difference between an IDF which views Hamas as the enemy, and one which sees all “Arabs” as the enemy. The soldier of course provides no actual examples of any soldier or officer who actually said, or even indicated, that all Arabs were their enemy during the operation.
Additionally, it’s perplexing how the soldier can argue that “the discourse is racist” by the mere fact that the IDF uses the term ‘uninvolved’, rather than as civilians, to describe non-combatants.
Finally, one clerk purportedly telling the soldier “Yeah, give it to them, kill them all” in the context of a war against Hamas proves nothing, and is certainly no proof of IDF racism, as the “all” could have been merely referring to all terrorists.
Now, here’s Testimony 106 – the other testimony purporting to demonstrate Israeli racism:
Emotionally, it was a very difficult period for me. I had a very hard time with the atmosphere going on, and I had a very hard time with the things being said by the people serving with me in my unit. It was very hard for me mostly because I felt like I totally didn’t understand what was going on, and that lots of us were just acting on ‘automatic’ mode, like we just didn’t get it. I felt like I had no idea what… Whether the targets I was analyzing – and I decide if they should be hit again or not – whether it’s really imperative we hit them, or if it’s just something we do ‘casually,’ because there’s already an attack underway, there’s already a war underway, so you can hit lots of stuff as part of the fighting.
There’s like, ‘an opportunity.’ And I felt that the atmosphere was hyper militaristic. There were things said by commanders that… That is, things like, “If you ask me, we need to level their entire area over there. If you ask me, that’s where stuff is coming out of.” Or saying things like, “I don’t understand this regulation and that regulation, and I don’t get why there’s hesitation over attacking again, why not throw more bombs in there?” Stuff like that, very, very militaristic and totally out of line.
The atmosphere was very difficult, and every so often we would be updated about what was going on with the fighters who were inside – which is something that’s not supposed to be done, it influences our work. How? Let’s say there’s a [soldier] who knows there are friends of hers inside [the Gaza Strip], and she’s a soldier on regular duty, and she hears something like that and her thoughts are all going in the direction of, “Man, just level their entire place,” and so she marks every target as “suspicious, suspicious, suspicious,” and maybe manages to prove to her commander – who at that exact moment isn’t really focused on her work because he’s under a lot of pressure – he isn’t paying special attention to that area so he’s kind of skimming through it, and he tells her, “OK, all right, call in for another attack in there.” And stuff like that happened around you? Yes. And I, for example, was one of the only ones who really did take the time to open up lots and lots of angles, lots and lots of footage, to prove that there’s no need to strike again.
Me, I was really looking for reasons not to attack – and maybe that, too, is immoral, maybe that, too, is wrong – it’s all a question of perspective. I was really looking for ways to see how the buildings, how one sees, from which angle you can see a certain loor, the damage that was inflicted to the building. These are grey areas – it’s not like you go, “If you see only three columns left, that’s enough damage, if you see more than that – it’s not enough damage.” There aren’t deinitions for these things, why such-and such counts as significant damage to a structure, and stuff like that – each person takes it in his own direction.
This soldier’s anonymous testimony contains absolutely nothing to indicate racism.
In summary, a predictable charge of racism against the IDF cited by the NGO Breaking the Silence, cited uncritically by the Guardian, is levelled without any serious evidence.
(Read NGO Monitor’s analysis of the BtS report here.)