State Urges Court to Order Breaking the Silence to Identify Its Witnesses

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IDF soldiers observing Gaza in August, 2014. The war was barely mentioned.Credit: Reuters

The state has asked the court to order Breaking the Silence to identify officers who testified to the NGO anonymously.

The state’s demand, made at the request of the Israeli Defense Forces, was submitted during a classified trial being held in the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court, the newspaper Makor Rishon reported on Friday.

The Military Police has opened investigations into eight incidents, following officers’ testimonies that were published in Breaking the Silence’s report about the 2014 war in Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge.

A visitor takes a picture at the 'Breaking the Silence' exhibition at the Kulturhaus Helferei in Zurich, June 8, 2015.Credit: Reuters

The testimonies raise suspicion that the army committed war crimes and violated international law in these incidents.

The State Prosecutor’s Office and the IDF refused to comment on the matter because the case is classified.

The IDF claims it needs more details and access to the officers who gave the testimonies, in order to investigate the incidents. So far the NGO has refused to disclose the details of the witnesses, who testified on condition of anonymity.

A Palestinian boy playing on June 22, 2015 outside the remains of his Gaza City house that was destroyed during Operation Protective Edge. Credit: AFP

Military Police commander Col. Erez Raban told the army periodical Bamahane last year that it’s difficult to investigate the testimonies because they don’t include accurate details about the respective incidents’ time and the IDF forces involved.

“The stories appear anonymously and we’re trying to make out what incident the soldiers are referring to,” he said.

The report released last May described, among other things, an armored squadron’s firing at a civilian driving a car and another riding a bicycle; tanks running over cars and soldiers looting things from them; shooting an elderly Palestinian several times and killing a woman who looked mentally unstable.

Breaking the Silence’s critics have castigated the NGO for not revealing its witnesses’ identity, arguing that this does not enable verification of the allegations of wrongdoing by soldiers. In 2004, when the NGO of soldiers and former soldiers was set up, the IDF tried to obtain more information about the officers who testified and contact them.

Four reserve soldiers were summoned at the time for interrogation following a photography exhibit describing IDF soldiers engaging in improper conduct in Hebron. The state asked the court that year to order the NGO to disclose more details, presumably to get to the bottom of some of the incidents shown in the photographs, but no such order was issued.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who announced in December that the IDF was no longer cooperating with Breaking the Silence, said “in the past, attempts to sort out incidents that Breaking the Silence pointed out were thwarted.”

Breaking the Silence said in response: “Since the organization’s foundation 11 years ago we’ve received requests from the State Prosecutor and other bodies to disclose various kinds of information. Over the years we’ve assisted these bodies as much as we could and will continue to do so, without revealing out witnesses’ identity.

“Part of our job is to be a home for soldiers who choose to break the silence about their service in the territories, so we’ll continue to protect their identity. The choice to be identified remains entirely in their hands,” the NGO said.

“Breaking the Silence raises the public’s awareness of the government’s policy in the occupied territories and wishes to raise resistance to this policy. We won’t allow shifting the responsibility for the occupation or the acts in Operation Protective Edge onto the simple soldier. The policy is set by the government and IDF top brass and we’ll strongly oppose the attempt to blame the soldiers for its repercussions.”

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