Breaking the Silence on War Crimes.
When yesterdays report by Israeli NGO "Breaking the Silence" was released it was another report confirming the findings of the Amnesty report "Operation Cast Lead 22 Days of Death and Destruction." Both reports found a disproportionate use of force, the use of human shields by the Israelis and a by any means necessary approach to minimising Israeli casualties at the cost of Palestinian civilians.
The two organisations are quite different, Amnesty is an international pressure group which sends researchers to areas where there are potential human rights abuses to gather information, it tries to remain impartial and to simply catalogue human rights abuses where and when they occur. Our researcher was one of the first people into Gaza after the conflict, and found evidence of the use of white phosphorous and interviewed hundreds of witnesses both in Gaza and in the towns affected by the missiles shot into Israel by militants. Facts are checked and checked again approaches were made to both governments and to military personnel.
Breaking the silence is an organisation made up of disillusioned ex-Israeli soldiers; it was initially established to support those soldiers who refused to serve in the Occupied Territories. It has gathered the testimony of hundreds of soldiers about what abuses during the second intifada. I think it is important to note at this point that joining the military in Israel is not a choice, it is by conscription but it does enjoy considerable support by the majority of Israelis. Breaking the Silence is not anti-Israel or even anti military but it does want the Israeli state to face up to the brutalities being carried out in its name.
Both these reports a report by Human Rights Watch and a report by the UN have uncovered extensive war crimes during the Gaza conflict. The only investigation which has exonerated Israel is their own internal investigation which admitted a few mistakes were made but this was not policy. Yet still Western governments refuse to hold Israel to account. They run scared of being too critical, keen to profit by selling them weapons, unwilling to censor them at the UN and terrified of being called anti-Semitic for criticising Israel. There is a further report for the UN Human rights Committee being chaired by Richard Goldstone who was the most senior judge in the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia it will be interesting to see if any action will be taken by the international community if it finds further evidence of war crimes. The British government has taken small steps by halting the sale of arms to Israel but an interesting question will be…If it is proved that a nation has sold weapons to a sate (Israel) where there is a real danger that they will be used to commit human rights abuses/ war crimes will that state be in fact in breach of international law?
Any time Israel Palestine is mentioned in the blogosphere it elicits strong reactions and numerous posts. CIF gets more posts on Israel/Palestine than any other issue. Yet it is also important to remember that states employ an army of PRs to rebut allegations in the press, blogs, goodness probably even on private facebook pages. The Israeli PR machine has been in over drive since the report came out yesterday, why are the testimonies anonymous? The accounts have already been investigated.
Well the reports are anonymous because when soldiers have come forward they have had their credibility and reputation shredded publically, and there is a strong correlation between military service and getting a good job in the future, it takes guts and maturity to challenge a state machine and most conscripts are 19-21 year old kids who may not feel equipped to put themselves against the full might of the state. Breaking the Silence have pointed out that many of the reports have been passed up the command for investigation. Unfortunately after cases such as Tom Hurndall and James Miller it is difficult to have faith in Israeli justice.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.