Israel, Politics

"This is not the IDF we knew"

In this video by Breaking the Silence, IDF vet “Amir” testifies that no only were the rules of engagement lax, but that they barely consisted of more than instructions to shoot anything that moved. A veteran of several reserve terms in Gaza and the West Bank, Amir says he never encountered any briefings or attitudes like those conveyed by commanders during the Gaza offensive.

I know the Breaking the Silence guys, having coordinated their 2008 U.S. exhibit tour which generated substantial controversy. I spent two months living with them as we took their expose from city to city. Much criticism has been leveled against them as liars. But they have no reason to lie — and every reason to protect the Israel they love.
It is really through these men — my age, only so much older — that I approach a love of Israel. These men are aware of all the skeletons in Israel’s closet, because they committed them personally. Killing civilains, beating old men, the list is long and ugly. It breaks your heart, it broke their heart.
And yet they fight to save Israel. Why? Why wouldn’t they just leave like so many others? Come to America, leave it all behind. A few have, in pursuit of school or love or escape. And they deserve it, having bared their ugliest secrets to a society that rejects their pain because of it’s political implications! But so many stay. They work thanklessly for a job reviled by many. It is hard not to be moved by the moral imperative buzzing in their tenacity and overwhelming work load.
They are amazing moral agents: Yehuda Shaul, Mikhael Manekin and the others I’m privileged to call friends, Dotan, Arnon and Oded. They’ve faught in all of Israel’s recent battles including the Second Lebanon War, served in every city of the occupation. Now they collect the haunting stories of their peers, amassing ugly truth after ugly truth, pushing them in front of resistant naysayers who prefer pleasant lies instead. If they fight so hard to save this society, then how can I not also? All of them 26 years old, I might add. Incredible.
Breaking the Silence normally does not focus on events, but members returning from service in Gaza immediately directed them to get involved. Another whole level of IDF conduct was reached in Gaza, they said, and the army is not conducting its investigation. Danny Zamir, head of the Rabin army prepatory school which first broached such allegations, confirmed to Haaretz that he printed the claims after repeated appeals to the IDF.
Breaking the Silence does not need to reveal the identies of the soldiers, as the IDF demands. The IDF is interested in prosecuting these soldiers, but is clearly not interested in prosecuting the commanders implicated in each testimony. It’s obvious which commanders are discussed. It is clearly searching for a scapegoat and not being transparent for Israeli society. And finally a Kadima MK said the obvious: the IDF should form a committee which would include both internal and external investigators. Better yet, participate in the UN inquiry.
Amos Harel said it best, “If the IDF really never heard about these incidents, the reasonable assumption is that it did not want to know.” A reserve officer who looked at the testimonials said: “This is not the IDF we knew.”

14 thoughts on “"This is not the IDF we knew"

  1. These are truly heartbreaking stories. Kol hakavod to those who had the strength to come forward, and shame on any of us who are so attached to our fantasies of what Israel could and should be that we fail to recognize and take responsibility for the places where it fails to live up to our aspirations.

  2. It is really through these men — my age, only so much older — that I approach a love of Israel.
    These men love Israel . . . but I just don’t think Israel needs the kind of love you offer, a love that seems entirely based on others’ anger/dissapointment? What kind of love is that?

  3. KFJ, A lot of respect for being so passionate about this group, and a lot of respect to the soldiers who – assuming their reports are accurate – bravely are coming forward to tell the needed truth here.
    However (you knew this was probably coming), I have friends who also served and they have told me that while the chaos of war in urban areas especially led to many non-combatants being killed, they told me that their orders were actually quite structured, they were told by their officers to avoid civilian casulties as much as possible. They told me that they personally did not witness in their units any officer encouraging shooting at civilians, nor did they witness any soldier admitting to or boasting about shooting at civilians. I just want to point that out, because I personally think that point is important. That even if there were individual cases, and sometimes examples of officers placeing less structure that could have prevented civilians casulties, it does not mean automatically that the overall IDF policy in Gaza was lax in trying to prevent civilians deaths.

  4. This video actually casts Israel in a much better light than the testimonials, and quite different than the way kung fu is interpreting it. In this man’s experience, in all of his Military service, he had never compromised his ethics, nor been asked to. His experience in Gaza is a new aberration, and is contrary to his entire service in general. Understanding this, and taking into account the testimonials featured in, “soldiers speak out” which documents the war crimes conducted by Palestinian HAMAS, and the extreme measures which the Israelis took to protect Arab civilians, it seems that we are dealing with isolated incidents which cannot be cast as an Israeli policy. In summary, it was a war, it was tragic, and there are aggressive, militant, and xenophobic tendencies within us all, but on a whole the Israelis have used their characteristically self sacrificing restraint while exercising their right as a nationstate to the use of violence within its borders. It is my prayer that we soon have an end to all war, for it is utterly an absolutely horrible – as citizens of this planet we need to unite to create a planetwide state which will relieve the nation states of their monopoly on violence, and ensure that each nation is free to create its own laws, but no longer to engage in war.

  5. Holy cow! Wow! So all those years that the IDF fought, its soldiers were NOT being told they were going to war?!!! This video presents the IDF as a force of angels!
    Yes, this was finally a real war, fought the way real wars are. These are soldiers in an army, not policemen! I can’t believe what I just saw. No one in the world conceives of war being fought any differently, and to hear an IDF soldier recount how this was actually different… Not only does this testimony refute all the hogwash that KFJ regularly writes about IDF brutality, it only emphasizes to me the immense moral standing of the IDF.
    The IDF was asked to enter a stip of land, 10km x 50km, which had been under the total control of an enemy force, which had spent years preparing its cities and countryside for the Israeli invasion. The schools were boobytrapped, the roads were mined, human shields converged on enemy strongholds to prevent their bombardment, sniper nests were arranged, tunnels were dug, weapons, ammunition, logistical support was dispersed for attrition warfare, special teams were created under command of Hezbollah commanders, some to kidnap Israeli soldiers, others to destroy tanks, still others to infiltrate into Israel and conduct terror attacks, the enemy command center itself was buried under the biggest hospital in Gaza.
    And into this teeming mass of death, 20 year old Jewish soldiers enter. And the consequences? Friendly fire accounted for more casualties than the enemy forces, 50,000 strong!
    And the consequences? Hamas had been used to IDF “operations”. Faced with a war, a real war, their Hezbollah led special teams exterminated in the first 48 hours, their leadership lying dismembered under rubble, their command and control reduced to whistling, their rocket teams so savaged that the rocket commanders themselves had to go out and launch in the last days… finally they got a war against the Jews (still with one arm tied behind our backs). Anyone hear them asking for a rematch?
    Jonathan1, I take what I said back earlier. Despite their shortcomings, Barak, Livni and Olmert accomplished one thing – they kept Jewish soldiers safe. For that, they deserve my respect.
    These testimonies are the ultimate refutation to all the anti-Israel drivel of the past 6 months, most particularly on the pages of this blog. These soldiers may not know it, but they are one of the greatest assets Israel has.

  6. Doesn’t this show the disparate treatment the West Bank gets in comparison with Gaza? Abu Mazen’s lands are pampered, and soldiers are ordered to behave like tzaddiqim. When it comes to Hamas-controlled Gaza, anything goes.
    I couldn’t decipher PurpleMan’s doublethink. Israel’s soldiers bravely speak out against the crimes of Israel, and therefore they are a testament to Israel’s benefit?!

  7. Is it not better to say: When it comes to Hamas-controlled Gaza, during Cast Lead, anything goes, at least in the places these soldiers were?
    But, as Jason writes, not everybody in Gaza received such orders.
    And, as we all know, Abu Mazen’s lands are pampered today because of the quiet achieved due to Defensive Shield, which was ordered in response two years of suicide bombings within the Green Line . . . which occured following the Israeli government’s efforts at an agreement . . . which were refubbed by the Nobel-prize recepient Arafat.
    Let’s not pretend the past decade didn’t happen.
    That’s not to say these soldiers’ testimony are not troubling, and brings into question the cost-benefit of Cast Lead.

  8. Israel’s soldiers bravely speak out against the crimes of Israel
    That’s just the point. What they are describing is not crimes by any means. Everything they described is about as civilized as combat gets in a warzone. It is amazing to any independent observers that this is not how the IDF normally fights wars, because this is exactly how every other military in the world fights.
    What is insane and criminal is to teach soldiers that war is wrong, that they are not fighting a war, and that they are really policemen whose job it is to make arrests. This is what caught Hamas and the rest of Palestinians off guard – for once, Israel launched something closely resembling a real war, it wasn’t of course, but close enough.
    Of course, if it was the Russians, or the Turks, or the French fighting, there would be no Gaza left, and no one to tell the story for UN “fact finding missions”.

  9. I have to admit…at least from this video, I too was expecting worse. I agree with the above commenters like PurpleMan – that first, this presents the IDF in general in a strikingly positive light and exonerates it much more than it incriminates it, and second, that much as we don’t like to listen to it, those sorts of commands do not actually sound so out of place for what one might expect the orders to be in a war zone if you take your pick of Western army today in any generic war-like conflict. Perhaps I would have expected some more mention of innocents, a fair criticism, but overall, I do not suspect many armies’ conclusions would be any different: very real threats do exist, and you should therefore deal with potential threats as necessary.
    Certainly there were incidents worse than this video, I am sure, and this is not to say they shouldn’t be appropriately prosecuted if necessary, but the fact that one of the “incriminating” videos is no more than *this* actually suggests that, commander for commander, order for order, I do not right now feel disappointed in the IDF as a whole, certainly not relative to other Western armies.

  10. What a bar we set for ourselves. The Jewish State has the Most Moral Army In The World, right up until we have an Army That Behaves Like Any Other Would.

  11. B.BarNavi, nails it on the head. The rhetoric around the “most moral army” claim falls apart under examination.
    There is a stage of debate in which we argue whether human rights abuses occured. That argument is done.
    Israel might not have the least moral army in the world, but it sure as hell is getting less admirable as the conflict drags on.

  12. Mmmm, I’d interpret that differently. I agree with B.BarNavi – “The Jewish State has the Most Moral Army In The World, right up until we have an Army That Behaves Like Any Other Would.”
    What a statement! That points out directly that the IDF’s *low point*, the point that Amir had *never* heard them sink to before, is the *standard* of any other Western army.
    So how has the claim fallen apart, KFJ? Which other army in the world, examined over a similar span of conflicts, has acted demonstrably better? Now, is the IDF up to the standard of some abstract concept of a perfect and perfectly moral army? Certainly not. That doesn’t affect the relative claim at all, though.

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