Ex Israeli soldiers break their silence

The Independent

JERUSALEM

Memories of his service along the Gaza border two years ago have been streaming through the mind of Shai Davidovich this week as he hears news from the crowded coastal enclave of heavy Palestinian civilian casualties from the devastating Israeli military campaign there.

Mr Davidovich, 27, the educational director for an ex-soldiers’ group Breaking the Silence, served in field intelligence during Operation Pillar of Cloud, a previous Israeli war against Hamas in Gaza in 2012. He says he was repeatedly ordered to help prepare for the firing of artillery during the hostilities but that he thought it was “crazy’’ to use artillery in a crowded area, in this case the town of Beit Hanoun.

“The news is bringing me back to when we were there and we got orders every day that at 5pm we will shoot artillery. We prepared all day for this, but in the end it didn’t happen. It was surrealistic to see kids playing in Beit Hanoun. With the binoculars we saw a lot of civilians, but I don’t remember that anyone ever spoke about the civilian population. I thought to myself, ‘how can you fire without harming civilians?’

“Artillery is an imprecise weapon. Artillery fire to an area inhabited by civilians cannot be moral, we trained on open areas.’’

Mr Davidovich’s memories fuse with the images of large-scale carnage in the current conflict, which he unequivocally opposes, unlike the near consensus of Israelis who view this as a just war of self-defence against rocket fire and tunnel infiltrations, and blame Hamas for all the civilian casualties. “Any campaign in which the civilian population is harmed on a large scale cannot be moral,’’ he says. “Israel has a right to defend itself, but not like this.’’

Mr Davidovich’s colleagues in Breaking the Silence, which collects soldiers’ secret testimonies to try to enlighten the Israeli public as to the true nature of the army’s activities in the West Bank and Gaza. This week, alarmed at the civilian deaths in Gaza, it took testimonies from soldiers who served in previous Israeli operations in the region, including Mr Davidovich.

They made the testimonies available to The Independent to make a statement against the current fighting. Operation Rainbow in 2004 is the earliest of the campaigns covered while Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09 and Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012 also feature. They do not include anything from the current conflict.

“If you look at all the recent operations continuing into the current operation you see a moral descent that doesn’t stop and a military aggressiveness that only increases,’’ says Yehuda Shaul, the founder of Breaking the Silence.

“The level of destruction, the death toll of civilians and the practices teach us that it gets worse and worse.’’ He takes issue with the use of artillery and the bombing of family homes of Hamas personalities, which the army says are used for command and are, therefore, legitimate targets.

Mr Shaul says that even if Israel warns civilians to vacate areas to be targeted, that does not absolve it of moral responsibility for their fate. “If they don’t leave do they deserve to die?’’, he asked.

“One of the biggest lies of this operation and Cast Lead is that we’re doing everything to avoid civilian casualties. When you use artillery in a place like Gaza you can’t say you are taking every precaution. It’s not the case that generals are looking to kill more civilians, far from that. But we are far away from the official line that everything is being done to avoid civilian casualties.’’

While Breaking the Silence views the testimonies from the past as a way to understand the present, the army believes the group is rehashing old claims to embarrass it at a sensitive time. Asked about the allegations, Col (res.) Shaul Shay, former deputy head of Israel’s National Security Council and a scholar at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, told The Independent that the army “kept, is keeping and will keep high moral standards in all its Gaza operations.

“To our sorrow, the approach of Hamas is to use civilians as a human shield and to war against our civilian population. The army adheres in an exceptional manner almost to the point of endangering our soldiers in order to try to have war with minimum civilian casualties. The more Hamas shelling builds shooting positions, tunnels and attack positions in built-up areas, the more the army is forced to fight there and from this there are [civilian] casualties”.

He says steps to warn civilians to leave their homes go beyond anything the US or UK militaries have done. “Breaking the Silence has no case. It saddens me that Israelis make such claims at such a time, claims that serve the propaganda and psychological warfare of the enemy,’’ Mr Shay said.

The testimonies

‘We open fire and don’t ask questions’

Sgt Major Amir Marmor

Unit Armoured Corps

Time 2008-2009

Operation Cast Lead

Area Gaza StripSgt Major Amir Marmor

Sgt Major Amir Marmor

We began a week of practice on the ground, during which we talked with the officers commanding the operation. Pretty soon we realised that the idea was not just a campaign, but an actual war in which gloves were to be taken off.

Considerations we were accustomed to hearing in briefings, like rules of engagement and attempts not to hurt innocents and the like, were not made this time. On the contrary, the attitude was, war is war.

To paraphrase the brigade commander who spoke to us one day in the field… we were sitting around the campfire one evening, and he came and spoke with us about events in Gaza.

Among other things, he told us what we should expect and how we were supposed to behave – he even brought up people who asked him about morality and innocents.

His reply to them, and to us, in this regard was that this time it was war and we should have no second thoughts about damaging anything – including mosques, including any threat we feel, real or imagined. The approach is to open fire and to try not to consider the repercussions. At any obstacle – any problem – we open fire and don’t ask questions. Even if it’s firing in the dark, aiming at an unknown target – firing when we can’t see, deterrent fire – no problem with that.

A vehicle that’s in the way – crush it. A building in the way – shell it. This was the spirit of things that was repeated throughout the training.

‘I don’t remember being told about civilians’

Staff Sgt Shai Davidovich

Unit Field intelligence

Time 2012

Operation Pillar of Defence

Area Northern Gaza StripStaff Sgt Shai DavidovichStaff Sgt Shai Davidovich

We were positioned east of Beit Hanoun [north Gaza]. People are walking around in the streets with lots of children hanging about. I see kids on bicycles in a street where shells are falling and the children run around free.

Not far from the houses was a major hit. And I see this kid riding his bike as if nothing happened, two meters away from him now. I don’t remember having been told about civilians there.

Our mission was to shoot at sources of fire. It was very intense in both directions: the IDF strikes, I recall the shots. Crazy blasts. You keep seeing all of Gaza up in the air. The light it created, it was insane. There were combat helicopters up in the air constantly.

There were drones with which we worked. There was gunfire from Gaza at all times – there was so much gunfire. We were working with X, giving the open-fire orders. We told him “we detect” – no one was actually firing.

I don’t remember seeing a group of combatants, just flashes of rockets fired all the time. You see houses but it’s very difficult to detect a target. You can’t be precise – you can’t really aim.

‘I’m asked why I’m not killing anyone’

Captain Oded Kimron

Unit Shaldag airforce commandos

Time 2004

Operation Rainbow

Area Rafah

During Rainbow Operation, we sent two squads. The mission was to take over a house for stake outs. I commanded one of the squads; a friend of mine commanded the second squad. At the beginning of the briefing we are told that we have to divide Rafah from Tel-Sultan.

A few days before the operation a Golani [infantry] force entered Tel-Sultan, did some job there and went out. The idea, as I understood, was that since Giv’ati [infantry] had to enter Rafah, and since they didn’t want the (Golani) operation in Tel-Sultan to have been for nothing, we had to enter and create a buffer zone.

At the end of the briefing, the brigade commander gets up; he bangs on the podium, and says: ‘Guys, the bottom line is that the mission is to kill as many armed men as possible.’ This had its effect on the mission. On the first day we shot no one; we actually did nothing, while from time to time – every one or two hours – a message from the commander and his commanding crew arrived: ‘What’s going on guys? Why have you not started killing yet? What’s going on there?’

All around us there was destruction on a scale I had not seen before – of houses, greenhouses, and roads. Everything there just became a bunch of sand dunes. All the while, I am repeatedly asked by the force commander: ‘Why aren’t you shooting? What is going on? Why aren’t you killing anybody?’ Non-stop pressure.

‘Don’t check the weight and you hit a school’

Anonymous

Unit Artillery

Time 2008-2009

Operation Cast Lead

Area Gaza Strip

The problem with artillery fighting in an urban area is that one tries to be as precise as possible, but there are a million parameters at play: weather, the weight of the shell. I might have a high-explosive squash head that blows up and destroys a lot with that kind of weight, and then another shell of a different weight.

If you don’t check the weight, you can have a 200-300m difference in range that may end up hitting a school instead of the target.

 

 

Letter to an Israeli soldier

Israeli-soldiers-cross-ba-001RT

Three weeks into your military assault how does it feel? How does it feel to watch your missiles and shells – delivered from air, land and sea – reduce the Gaza Strip to rubble?

Starved, besieged, yet unbowed, the 1.8 million people you have imprisoned there can do nothing except endure as your bombs and your missiles rain down, targeting hospitals, schools, civic buildings, homes, police stations, and even UN compounds where people had sought sanctuary; still believing, despite decades of disappointment and betrayal, in the sanctity and protection of international law.

Your bombs have sought and found their victims, incinerating and blowing to smithereens young and old alike, at the same time as your government attempts to convince the world that every effort is being made to avoid civilian casualties in what they describe as a military operation to root out terrorism and provide security for its citizens.  It is a lie. Slaughtering children is never done in the name of security. It is done in the name of barbarity.

After the air assault you began your ground invasion – and who could ever forget the pictures of you and your comrades, fully armed and equipped for combat, marching into a part of the world you have ensured remains cut off from the rest of humanity, a punishment you have inflicted on the people living there for daring to resist by electing a government you do not approve of. “But this government refuses to recognise us,” you have asserted time and again, revealing a grotesque expectation to be recognised by a people who’ve been systematically expropriated, brutalised, and dehumanised since 1948, when your state was formed.

Make no mistake, the whole world is watching you and your comrades – soldiers of the ‘most moral army in the world’ – with mounting anger and incredulity that such barbarism can be inflicted by a military superpower on a defenceless civilian population in the 21st century. Even your apologists in the West are finding it difficult to provide you with the political support you have always counted on while violating international law as if not worth the paper it is written on. This collusion by Western governments in your crimes is a crime in itself, one that history will not forgive.

So tell us: when will your thirst for Palestinian blood be satiated? How many dead women and children will be enough before you decide to end this massacre? Gaza is already in ruins, so whatever happens now you can be satisfied that when you return to your family like the brave warrior they think you are you will do so having done your duty.

Meanwhile, the suffering, despair and carnage you leave behind will entitle the rest of us to ask, yet again, if to be born Palestinian is to be born less than human, condemned by the great powers to be considered children of a lesser god – their history, culture and rights denied?

No matter the calumny and lies employed by your government, by their spokesmen and women, who appear on our TV screens with the confidence of those who claim to act in the name of democracy and civilisation, who claim to speak and act in the name of past victims of genocide and mass murder, the Palestinians continue to refuse to play the role chosen for them by you and by your apologists. No, the Palestinians refuse to acquiesce in their own destruction, drawing hope from the truth that no missile or bomb, no tank or military aircraft, could ever come close to matching the power of the human spirit.

For in these three weeks something has changed. The world has seen with its own eyes that Israel is not the victim it claims. The continued dispossession and immiseration of the Palestinian people can no longer be tolerated. In their millions around the world, and increasingly within Israel itself, people are declaring that no longer will they stand by and bear witness to occupation, oppression, and barbarism carried out in the name of progress. Too many times in the past the world has stood by, with the names and dates of past atrocities a warning of the abyss into which humanity has sunk before and could sink again unless the world remains vigilant.

Guernica 1937: the Warsaw Ghetto 1942: My Lai 1968: Fallujah 2003: Gaza 2008/09, 2012, and 2014

It is not vengeance the world seeks, but justice – and justice for the Palestinians can only begin when the injustice that has placed a wall around your own humanity is ended. End the siege, tear down the apartheid wall, remove the checkpoints and settlements, and free not only those you have imprisoned all these years but just as important, free yourself.

You affirm time and again that Israel has the right to exist. Yes, but not as an apartheid state, not as a state which exists at the negation of a people whose only crime is that they continue to exist on land you have long since decided belongs to you. No matter how many tanks, fighter jets, and missiles you may possess in your vast arsenal of weapons, the refusal of this tortured, wretched people to disappear into the night of history weakens you. For it acts as an uncomfortable reminder that when you return to your family each night after doing your duty, you do so with your humanity diminished.

It is why we say to you now that you are living on the wrong side of history – in a cold, lonely place called dishonour.

The Israel boycott is working

World Observer Online

Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid has warned that the world, United States included, is losing sympathy and patience with Israel

Speaking to a group of representatives from American Jewish organizations on Monday, Yesh Atid party chairman Lapid warned that the increasing boycott campaigns against Israel will have devastating effects on the economy.

After a top US academics union ASA decided to boycott Israeli academics and educational institutions that operate in and support illegal settlements in the West Bank, Dutch pension giant PGGM and Denmark’s Danske Bank also boycotted Israeli banks for the same reason.

Meanwhile, Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank (DB), has blacklisted the Israeli Hapoalim bank as an “unethical company” due to its funding of illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israel’s Maariv newspaper reported.

Dutch firm Boskalis Westminister and Italian firm Condote de Agua also withdrew bids to build private seaports in Ashdod and Haifa, fearing political reprecussions for working with Israel.

According to the Israeli Haaretz, they join Spanish companies FCC and Cyes, as well as Germany’s Möbius Bau, who also dropped out of the bidding process months back, citing threats to their business interests in the Middle-East.

Last year, boycotts on products like dates and grapes grown in the occupied Jordan Valley caused a $29 million loss for illegal Jewish settlers in the region. As reported in the Washington Post, income from exports dropped 14%, mainly due to big supermarket chains in Europe deciding to boycott the products.

David Elhayani, head of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, told the Washington Post, “In effect, today, we are almost not selling to the (Western) European market anymore.”

Zvi Avner, head of the agriculture committee in the Jordan Valley, said that sales of peppers and grapes to Western Europe have dropped by about 50% and fresh herbs by up to 40%.

In 2009, the UK gradually started labeling or completely boycotting settler products. Together with Scandinavian countries, the UK has made the 550,000 odd illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank very nervous.

Marks & Spencer, Morrisons and Waitrose are among many British firms to stop selling settler goods in recent years. Germany’s Kaiser Supermarket has also made a moral decision against selling settler products.

Many feel that a trend is slowly starting to develop in the West against Israel, similar to that which brought down the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Wiltshire GMB members working for Babcock vote 100% for industrial action

File:Derelict tank, Imber range, Salisbury Plain - geograph.org.uk - 536861.jpg

25 GMB members employed by Babcock Land, working at the Warminster Garrison in Wiltshire for MOD, have returned a 100% vote for industrial action in a dispute over pay cuts.

Changes would have the knock- on effect of the members losing overtime which enables many of them to live on the wages they are paid by Babcock says GMB

Carolle Vallelly, GMB Regional Officer, said “These GMB members were forced into taking this action when the management insisted on pushing through annualised hours contracts for new employees. This would have the knock- on effect of the members losing the overtime which currently is the only thing that enables many of them to live on the wages they are paid by Babcock.

GMB has been resisting these changes since last year when the Company wanted to invite all employees to move on to the new contract, which was structured in such a way that they would have no home life, and would be continually at the beck and call of their employers.

All these members employed by Babcocks are drivers for the MOD. They do an incredibly difficult job, often sleeping overnight in a tent on a freezing Salisbury Plain. They frequently go above and beyond what is required of them, and deserve better from their employer.”

picture, creative commons: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Derelict_tank,_Imber_range,_Salisbury_Plain_-_geograph.org.uk_-_536861.jpg

Deserving of a special place in hell

Palestinian boyOf all the heart-rending images to emerge from Israel’s murderous assault on the people of Gaza, this one got me more than any other.

The terror and human suffering it reveals, along with the shattering of that most sacred human instinct and duty to cherish and protect the children, says more than any number of articles and polemic ever could when it comes to understanding the reality of state-sponsored racism and apartheid.

It has past the stage where anyone with any credibility can justify Israel’s violence and oppression. The political class and media, with few exceptions, are complicit in this ongoing barbarity. Never has such a yawning disconnect existed between the establishment and ordinary people than when it comes to this issue.

The cause of the Palestinian people is the cause of humanity in our time.