Israeli Soldiers Break Their Silence on the Gaza Conflict

Of all the voices challenging the Israeli military’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories, those of Israeli soldiers stand out as powerful insights from within the military establishment. 

Avner Gvaryahu is director of public outreach for Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli veterans who are working to dismantle the traditional narrative put forth by their own military establishment. The former soldiers founded the organization in 2004 after realizing they shared deep misgivings about what they had seen and done while serving in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. They felt a moral obligation to present the truth, and over the past decade, they have collected, fact-checked, and published over a thousand testimonies from soldiers of ranks high and low. These testimonies reflect a deterioration of moral standards and worrying shifting of the rules of engagement. Through lectures, reports, and other public events, Breaking the Silence has brought to light what so many try to ignore: the grim reality of what it takes to sustain a military occupation of an entire population.

There has been tremendous backlash from the military establishment and other hawkish elements of society, which have relentlessly tried to discredit the soldiers’ testimonies. Attempts to intimidate the group, block funding, and even put forth phony veterans to give false testimonies only confirm the power of Breaking the Silence and its unique contribution to the conversation.

The group’s most recent report presents testimonies from the 2014 Gaza War. Collecting stories from over 60 soldiers, the report reveals discrepancies between what the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) and government spokespersons told the public about what happened in Gaza, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.

On June 22, the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict published a report highlighting the unprecedented scale of devastation caused by the operation with hundreds of civilians dead and the leveling of entire neighborhoods. Thanks to Breaking the Silence, we understand how shifts in Israel’s military doctrine towards more tolerance for civilian harm contributed to this, as Breaking the Silence’s report on the war concludes: “systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones … led to massive and unprecedented harm to the population and the civilian infrastructure in the Gaza Strip.”

This goes to show that ending Israel’s impunity and addressing potential crimes committed by all sides is not only important to bring justice to the victims, but will also save hundreds of innocent lives in the future.

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