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Shovrim Shtika (Breaking the Silence) is an Israeli organisation of former soldiers which interviews and collates testimonies from Israeli soldiers about their actions in the West Bank and Gaza. Overnight they released a booklet which contains the testimonies of 54 soldiers who took part in Operation Cast Lead – the attacks on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009. The testimonies include
“stories revealing the use of ‘accepted practices,’ the destruction of hundreds of houses and mosques for no military purpose, the firing of phosphorous gas in the direction of populated areas, the killing of innocent victims with small arms, the destruction of private property, and most of all, a permissive atmosphere in the command structure that enabled soldiers to act without moral restrictions. The booklet compiles the testimonies of about 30 reserve and regular combat soldiers from various units that participated in the fighting. The testimonies demonstrate that the soldiers were not given directives stating the goal of the operation and, as one soldier testifies, ‘there was not much said about the issue of innocent civilians.’
Many soldiers said that they fought without seeing ‘the enemy before their eyes.’ ‘You feel like an infantile little kid with a magnifying glass looking at ants, burning them,’ one of the soldiers testified that ‘a 20-year-old kid should not have to do these kinds of things to other people.’ ‘The testimonies prove that the immoral way the war was carried out was due to the systems in place and not the individual soldier,’ said Mikhael Mankin from Breaking the Silence. ‘What was proven yesterday is that through the IDF the exception becomes the norm, and this requires a deep and reflective discussion. This is an urgent call to Israel’s society and leadership to take a sober look at the foolishness of our policies.’”
Many international news organisations have reported on this (not the australian media as yet I don’t think), and some quotes from the testimonies can be found at the NY Times website. CNN, The Guardian, Haaretz, Al Jazeera etc also have articles.
What is so important about these testimonies is not just that people who were not there are able to get a sense of what was done in Gaza, but also that it is made clear that the atrocities were not just the work of individual soldiers: individuals were conducting themselves as the army teaches them too. Unsurprisingly, when armies do the work they do, it is needlessly violent, brutal, inhumane, and unjust. Hopefully you didn’t need a report to tell you this. But if you did, if for some reason you believed that Israel’s army was humane and only did the bare necessities of what is necessary to wage war (as if that would be ok!), then this report reveals that that is a bald-faced lie. Israel’s army, to its core, is making an Israeli citizenry violent and filled with disregard and hatred towards Palestinians. Violence is thereby reinforced as an acceptable way, as the only way, of resolving problems. What an incredibly dangerous and unethical mindset to promote. It makes me desperately sad and angry.