The court will hear a petition by the State Prosecutor’s Office on Sunday, looking to force the nonprofit Breaking the Silence to reveal the identity of a soldier who provided testimony that raised suspicions of war crimes. The prosecution’s demand is scandalous and wrong. Such action could lead to the end of collecting anonymous testimonies from soldiers regarding what happened during fighting, and could be a severe blow to the organization.
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Soldiers’ testimonies are a significant tool in civil society for disclosing what happened on the ground during fighting. It is an important way to hear from soldiers about the reality of the situation, which is sometimes subject to attempts to whitewash or conceal, and is also a good mechanism for providing outside oversight – something any entity needs, no matter how professional or reliable.
For this tool to exist, those providing information must be granted immunity. Just as it is in the media, where journalists are protected, and the legal world, where attorney-client privilege prevails, people who give information to human rights groups must be afforded the same immunity.
The prosecution’s demand – allegedly made because of the need to determine whether a crime had been committed – will compromise the possibility of dealing with cases involving violations of the laws of war, because it will prevent such testimony in the future. The prosecution has enough tools to investigate the extensive information that was made public about harm to civilians during Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, and in other incidents, without compromising the immunity of the people providing the information.
The prosecution’s demand is part of a series of recent assaults on Breaking the Silence from various quarters, including the ousted defense minister calling them traitors (a term he later withdrew).
This case smacks of scapegoating. Instead of investigating the Israel Defense Forces’ assault policies, as reflected by the last Gaza war, the Military Police and State Prosecutor’s Office are focusing on a single case of low-level severity.
The State Prosecutor’s Office and the attorney general must investigate the IDF’s methods in Operation Protective Edge. To do so, there is no need to compromise the confidentiality of an individual who testified before Breaking the Silence. Rather, the policies of the army, dictated from above, should be investigated, along with the politicians who sit above the army.
The State Prosecutor’s Office should withdraw its unacceptable demand to force Breaking the Silence to reveal the identity of the individual. If it does not do so, Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court must reject the demand out of hand.