The IDF Price Tag

In effort to silence testimonies on war crimes, army warning soldiers to stay silent about Operation Cast Lead.

Something in the soldiers' testimonies published by the organization Breaking the Silence last week must be scaring the Israel Defense Forces. Otherwise, its battery of spokespeople - official and unofficial - would not be taking part in such a violent campaign to silence it.

Our media is independent. It isn't the delegitimization campaign that has caused it to be dismissive of these testimonies. Unlike the Second Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead has been relegated to the archaeology department as far as public interest goes, because the number of Israelis killed was low. Even without the lobbying of the IDF Spokesman's Office, the media did not intend to waste much energy on these testimonies.

Breaking the Silence managed to reach soldiers who were not selected by the army, and to speak to them despite their commanders' strict prohibition against divulging details of the operation outside the military complex. However, the IDF can still be proud of its ability to impose discipline. Not one of the soldiers interviewed contacted the organization on their own. Of the thousands of soldiers whom Breaking the Silence and its volunteers contacted, only a few dozen agreed to talk. The interviewees, incidentally, think the military onslaught was justified but their consciences were bothered by a number of phenomena. All of them participated in the ground offensive. Not one was a pilot or someone who by pressing a button released missiles from unmanned aircraft, though most of the killing and destruction was caused from the air.

Breaking the Silence's policy is to publish cases about which two or more soldiers from the same unit have given evidence. They have other testimonies about far graver incidents, but these have not been corroborated. So in the booklet published last week there are only a few testimonies about killings of civilians that could have been prevented without a doubt.

The silencing and slander campaign is directed at the members of Breaking the Silence, but its aim is different. The mudslinging is the IDF's price tag, like the fires that outpost inhabitants set in Palestinian fields. The settlers are warning the authorities against an attempt to evacuate them, and the IDF is warning soldiers who have not yet defied the order to remain silent. It is doing this to make it harder for Breaking the Silence to continue carrying out its moral obligation to talk with soldiers and paint a complete picture of the attack - the picture Israel is trying to blur at any price.

Truths ultimately come out in a society like ours, but time is a critical factor. Testimony published five years from now is not the same as testimony published today, when Palestinian and foreign human rights activists are preparing lawsuits abroad against top government and military officials for violating international law and worse.

The current booklet documents the "lighter" things - relatively. The testimonies taken down and published by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the international commission of inquiry, the foreign press and Haaretz include far graver cases.

The testimonies in the booklet prove again and again the reliability of the testimony by Palestinians. And vice versa: The Palestinian affidavits prove the authenticity of the soldiers' statements.

The accumulating testimonies prove that it wasn't a matter of rotten apples but rather a conscious policy. Therefore the IDF and the government that sent it into action must prevent further such confirmations of the truth.

It suits the IDF that after their release, soldiers travel to Peru and Colombia to bury their agonized memories or belated insights - as adults. The IDF prefers that its demobilized soldiers travel to Goa to get stoned out of their minds before Breaking the Silence activists reach them.