IDF Reaction to “Breaking the Silence” Human Rights Report

Today, many media outlets reported on a new Isareli NGO report in which anonymous soldiers reported distrubing actions during the Gaza conflict. Here is the official Israel Defense Forces response:

The IDF Spokesperson Unit regrets the fact that yet another human rights organization is presenting to Israel and the world a report based on anonymous and general testimonies, without investigating their details or credibility.  Furthermore, this organization denied the IDF the minimal decency of presenting the report to the IDF and allowing it to investigate the testimonies prior to the report’s publication. This was done while defaming and slandering the IDF and its commanders.

In order to ensure that the claims made in these testimonies are dealt with in an appropriate manner, the organization “Breaking the Silence” should urge those who made these claims to really ‘break their silence,’ and to present specific complaints to the IDF, and not hide behind general and anonymous statements.

Some of the testimonies in the report were brought to the attention of the IDF by the media, and these were reviewed in a preliminary fashion by the Military Advocate General.  As with the testimonies made at the Rabin Military Academy several months ago, a considerable number of the testimonies in this report are also based on hearsay and word of mouth.  Most of the testimonies are anonymous and lack any identifying details that would allow the IDF to investigate, confirm, or refute them.

The IDF engaged in Operation Cast Lead after eight years of continuous rocket fire on Israel’s southern communities, heavily affecting daily life.  During the operation, the IDF succeeded in targeting the Hamas terror organization, increasing Israel’s deterrence and restoring security to the area.

The decision of the organization “Breaking the Silence” to present such testimonies raises doubts about whether the organization really wishes for a credible and thorough investigation regarding the claims to be carried out, as is the norm in the IDF.  We regret that this is not the first time the organization has acted in this manner.

The IDF is committed to investigating any claim, supported by facts, that is brought to its attention, as was done immediately following Operation Cast Lead.  By order of the IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, five investigations headed by specialists in the field examined various aspects of the operation, including specific incidents.  In addition, the IDF is currently investigating other incidents which relate to individual claims.  As has previously been published, in several of these cases the IDF Military Police Investigations Unit has opened an investigation.

The IDF expects every soldier and commander who feels that they have witnessed a violation of the IDF commands and regulations to turn to the appropriate authorities with all of the facts regarding the incident, in accord with their legal and moral obligations.  This duty is even more important where the suspected violations have caused harm to noncombatants.

This level of professionalism and integrity should be expected of any agency, organization, or association.  The IDF is committed to thoroughly investigating any claims presented, where there is sufficient information to do so.

The IDF operates on the foundation of uncompromising ethical values. These will continue to guide the IDF in every mission, including in complex and difficult conditions.  Prior to and during Operation Cast Lead, IDF forces were given stringent briefings on the commands and orders that they should adhere to, as well as the international laws of war.  From testimonies which have been published, including those in this report, and from the investigations conducted by the IDF into the operation, it is clear that IDF soldiers operated in accord with international law and the orders they received, despite the complex and difficult fighting.

Addendum to IDF Spokesperson Annoucement

The IDF Spokesperson Unit requests that attention be given by the media to several methodological and ethical issues regarding this report:

1.      The report, as given to the IDF less than 24 hours prior to its publication, is based on testimonies that lack critical identifying features:

a.      No identification whatsoever was used for those who gave their testimonies, not even a first initial, as is customary throughout the media when a quote is given in anonymity.

b.      There is no mention of rank or position at the time of the claimed incidents.

c.       There is no mention of unit or unit type (regular or reserves).

2.      The report makes no mention of the way in which the testimonies were gathered – it is not clear whether they were gathered directly via interview or indirectly via mail or e-mail.  It is unclear whether there is one interviewer or more, or whether those who gave their testimonies were interviewed individually or in groups.

3.      There is no mention of how the credibility of the testimonies was checked:

a.      There is no way of knowing whether the testimony was given by a soldier or someone claiming to be a soldier.

b.      There is no mention of time period (date and time) or specific location with regards to the incidents described in the testimonies.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also reacted to publication of the report:

“Any criticism of the IDF from this or that organization is misplaced and misdirected. If someone has a criticism, or information or conclusions about IDF actions, they should bring them to me, as Minister of Defense of the State of Israel, and to the Israeli government that instructed the IDF to restore quiet to the communities in the South.” He added, “The IDF is the most moral army in the world and it operates according to the highest ethical code.”