DSA votes for BDS. NYT’s Jerusalem bureau chief says they self-censor and Israel practices apartheid.

90% of the delegates to the Democratic Socialists of America 2017 convention voted to adopt Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The text of the resolution read:

1. Democratic Socialists of America declares itself in solidarity with Palestinian civil society’s nonviolent struggle against apartheid, colonialism, military occupation and for equality, human rights, and self-determination.

2. Democratic Socialists of America responds to Palestinian Civil Society’s call by fully supporting BDS.

3. Democratic Socialists of America affirms that any political solution to the ongoing crisis must be premised on the realization of basic human rights, including all rights outlined in the BDS call.

4. Democratic Socialists of America condemns all efforts to deny the right of Palestinian in the United States and their allies to free speech, assembly and academic freedom.

— Twitter

Following the vote, DSA has come in for criticism from various angles. The Jerusalem Post criticized DSA for holding the vote on Saturday. The pro-Likud ‘zine Tablet said the DSA was a “disgrace” that had “descended into anti-Zionism”. The JTA suggested the DSA were allied with the Palestinian-American activist (and co-organizer of the Women’s March) Linda Sarsour and this was a bad thing.

Yet, as this thread expertly demonstrates, much of the criticism of BDS is exactly what was leveled against proponents of boycotting South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Meanwhile, Jodi Rudoren, formerly the New York Time’s editor in Jerusalem admits they censor opinions and reporting due to attacks and pressure from pro-Israel organizations.

The former New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem Jodi ­Rudoren has admitted to “defensive writing” after several “Twitter campaigns” against her. Rudoren says this was “to protect ­myself and keep me focused on the essence of what I’m trying to do instead of these distractions but you could totally get out of hand with this”. She says there is not a healthy debate in the US about Israel because of the power of pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC.

The interviews are contained in Balcony Over Jerusalem, in which journalists tell how they come under attack from pro-Israel groups if they ­report what they see in Israel and the West Bank.

The New York Times’ Rudoren says that because the occupation of the Palestinians has gone on for so long — 50 years — it has started to look “a lot like apartheid”. While Rudoren was talking about the situation for Palestinians in the West Bank, she also addressed the plight of Palestinians in Israel — the so-called Arab Israelis. She says: “I actually think the issue of apartheid is more relevant to how Arab Israelis are treated within the framework of the country (Israel).” — www.theaustralian.com.au/…

Jonathan Cook writing in Alternet covers the relentless campaign to influence coverage of Israel by pressuring journalists, editors and publishers. His analysis is very thorough, discussing the ways in which individual journalists end up self-censoring, and how editors cave in by developing “guidelines” .  He also examines more subtle influences, for example the NYT’s tacit policy to only appoint Jewish reporters as heads of the Jerusalem division. Rudoren’s predecessor actually had children serving in the IDF. One of the most powerful testimonials is from Clyde Haberman, whose byline should be familiar to all:

Here is another veteran NYT correspondent, Clyde Haberman, telling Lyons that the lobby’s “non-stop assault” on the paper’s Jerusalem correspondents has made the posting a poisoned chalice. Few want it, says Haberman.

We’ve had decades of correspondents that, no matter how talented they are or how many Pulitzer Prizes they have to their name, always end up being accused of being either anti-Semites or self-hating Jews; at some point, this seeps into the DNA of the newspaper. This is what you can expect if you go there—to have your integrity hurled back in your face every single day,” he says.

Pause for a second. Unless I have wildly misunderstood the implication of “seeping into the newspaper’s DNA”, a leading journalist at the U.S. paper of record has just suggested that for decades its reporters and editors have toned down their coverage to avoid run-ins with the Israel lobby. As near as he dare, Haberman has conceded that you won’t learn the full truth about Israel and Palestine from the NYT. 

— www.alternet.org/…

Senate/House bill would make it a felony to support a boycott of Israel.

Senate bill 720 seeks to criminalize speech supporting a boycott of Israel. The bill is meant to target the growing BDS movement. Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.

This anti-boycott bill is part of a long tradition that seeks to undermine labor, civil rights and liberation movements employing non-violent protest. I’ll explore the history of anti-boycott laws later in the diary.

If the bill is enacted, violators would be subject to criminal penalties including imprisonment for up to 20 years. Here’s the letter the ACLU sent to the Senate yesterday:

The bill seeks to expand the Export Administration Act of 1979 and the Export-Import Bank Act of 1945 which, among other things, prohibit U.S. persons from complying with a foreign government’s request to boycott a country friendly to the U.S. The bill would amend those laws to bar U.S. persons from supporting boycotts against Israel, including its settlements in the Palestinian Occupied Territories, conducted by international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations and the European Union.  It would also broaden the law to include penalties for simply requesting information about such boycotts. Violations would be subject to a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.  We take no position for or against  the effort  to boycott Israel or any foreign country, for that matter. However, we do assert that the government cannot, consistent with the First Amendment, punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.

There is a House version as well. What’s deeply troubling is that many of the Senators and Representatives co-sponsoring this bill do not seem to understand its implications. The Intercept called the offices of several Democratic co-sponsors who were unaware that the bill criminalizes support for a boycott.

THE CRIMINALIZATION OF political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the west. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing t-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as “the Palestine Exception” to free speech.

But now, a group of 43 Senators – 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats – want to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country’s decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: anyone guilty of violating its prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000, and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

— The Intercept

The 14 Democrats who want to make it a felony for Americans to support a boycott of Israel are:

  • Ben Cardin (MD)
  • Bill Nelson (FL)
  • Robert Menendez (NJ)
  • Richard Blumenthal (CT)
  • Gary Peters (MI)
  • Maria Cantwell (WA)
  • Chuck Schumer (NY)
  • Maria Cantwell (NH)
  • Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
  • Joe Donnelly (IN)
  • Joe Manchin (WV)
  • Ron Wyden (OR)
  • Chris Coons (DE)
  • Michael Bennett (CO)

The bill is part of a concerted campaign by anti-Palestinian groups to criminalize non-violent protest of Israel’s oppressive policies and violation of Palestinian’s human rights. Concerted pressure by left-wing activists is a concern for the Israeli government which has been accustomed to unquestioned support from most European and US administrations. In 2015, the EU instituted labelling requirements which direct Israeli companies to clearly label agricultural products made in the Occupied Territories. It is illegal for occupying powers to exploit the natural resources (including land) in any way. The US went almost as far, by issuing a statement that effectively warned Israeli companies from labelling goods made in the West Bank or East Jerusalem as “Made in Israel”.

The push-back from anti-Palestinian groups has been severe. Those who support, or even fail to oppose, a boycott of Israel modeled on the South African example, have been viciously attacked. Pamela Geller’s outfit called various left-wing Jewish organizations “judenrat” and “kapos” last year when they opposed anti-BDS laws at the state level.

AIPAC has been pushing several versions of anti-BDS legislation through state legislatures for years. They’ve been successful to varying degrees, in Indiana, Tennessee, South Carolina and Illinois. The bill seeks to criminalize speech supporting BDS in the US, in the same way it is in Israel. The Israeli Supreme Court has called the BDS movement “political terrorism” and allowed publishers to be sued for printing statements supporting BDS. The Senate and House bills seek to do something similar here, by criminalizing non-violent protest and political speech. Similar attempts have had some success in Europe. A French court fined activists protesting at a grocery store $14,500 for wearing t-shirts that supported BDS. That is the sort of reality American protestors might face as well.

A note on the history of anti-boycott laws and how they have been used to suppress dissent, unions and liberation movements is below.


The Forward discussed the origins of this bill in their brief note:

The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced in March by Sens. Ben Cardin, D-Md., and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, would expand 1970s-era laws that bar complying with boycotts of Israel sponsored by governments — laws inspired at the time by the Arab League boycott of Israel — to include boycotts backed by international organizations. Those adhering to boycotts would be the subject of fines.

While the measure is aimed at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, it also targets efforts by the United Nations and the European Union to distinguish products manufactured in Israel from those manufactured in West Bank settlements.

forward.com/…

It’s worth noting at this point, the long history on anti-boycott laws, which were first employed at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th as a tool against organized labor. In 1901, Deitrich Loewe opened a non-union factory in Danbury, CT. The United Hatters of America (UHU) led a strike and worked with the American Federation of Labor (AFL) to promote a national boycott by consumers, wholesalers and retailers. Loewe filed suit contending the boycott was a violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The case was Loewe v Lawlor, and Loewe won in the Supreme Court. For years, the courts continued to issue injunctions against boycotts and strikes, and supporting employers who forced employees to sign non-unionization contracts (yellow dog contracts).

These practices continued till the 1932 Norris-LaGuardia Act, which, among other things exempted labor unions from antitrust laws. The US Supreme Court applied Norris-LaGuardia in the New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Co. case in 1938, supporting the right of workers to organize a boycott. In this case it was black workers protesting discriminatory hiring practices. Since then, there’s been a long history of labor organized boycotts in the US, including the salad bowl strike organized by Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

Boycotts have a long history in liberation struggles and anti-colonial movements. In particular, Gandhi (building on the thoughts of an earlier generation of leaders including Naoroji) led a successful boycott of British goods during the Indian independence struggle. The Indian Swadeshi movement lasted for almost half a century, and intentionally targeted the economic underpinnings of colonial exploitation.

A more recent example is the South African boycott movement, which applied sustained pressure on the apartheid-era government to end the practice of apartheid. Israel was a close ally of the South-African government. The Israeli government has such a concerted focus on BDS because it’s aware of how the South African apartheid regime was forced to end its discriminatory practices under pressure from an international boycott.

Anti-boycott laws were employed in the US against Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and other leaders of the Montgomery Improvement Association in 1955 in response to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

White officials in Alabama conducted two concerted efforts to defeat Martin Luther King, Jr., and the civil rights movement legally, by indicting King for violating an anti-boycotting law during the Montgomery bus boycott and for income tax fraud, in 1956 and 1960, respectively.

On 21 February 1956 King was indicted by the Montgomery County Grand Jury for his boycott of the Montgomery City Lines, Inc. According to the State of Alabama, King and 89 others violated a 1921 statute that outlawed boycotts against businesses. — kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/…

Taylor Branch’s “Parting the Waters” discussed in extensive detail how Alabama attempted to use this law to shut down the activities of the MIA and the SCLC.

Attempts by states to criminalize civil rights related boycotts continued up until the 1980s:

The case, N.A.A.C.P. v. Claiborne Hardware, arose out of a 16-year effort by black civil rights leaders to achieve some modicum of racial equality in Claiborne County in Mississippi. In 1966, black citizens of the county, under the leadership of Charles Evers, field secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, presented white elected officials with a petition for constitutional equality. Included were such fundamental demands as desegregation of public schools, selection of blacks for jury duty, integration of the public toilets in the county courthouse, and insistence that ”Negroes are not to be addressed by terms as ‘boy,’ ‘girl,’ ‘shine,’ ‘uncle,’ or any other offensive term, but as ‘Mr.,’ ‘Mrs.,’ or ‘Miss,’ as is the case with other citizens.”

These demands were ignored, and, in response the local N.A.A.C.P. chapter organized a boycott of white merchants in the area. The boycott proved singularly effective, so effective that Mississippi officials reacted with a legal attack.

After years of litigation, a Mississippi trial court found that the boycotters had unlawfully and maliciously interfered with the white merchants’ businesses, engaged in a secondary boycott in violation of state law and violated the Mississippi antitrust statute. Damages, penalties and attorney’s fees of $1.25 million plus interest were assessed against the N.A.A.C.P. and 130 individuals. The Mississippi Supreme Court reduced the damages and rejected some of the trial court’s legal theories – including a ruling that retroactively applied a state statute enacted two years after the boycott had begun – but it nonetheless found the boycott to be a violation of state law.

— www.nytimes.com/…

In July 1982, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously for the NAACP, and said that calls for violence by some could not be used to criminalize non-violent protest by others. In Justice Stevens’ decision he wrote:

”One of the foundations of our society is the right of individuals to combine with other persons in pursuit of a common goal by lawful means.”

“[Legal] liability may not be imposed merely because an individual belonged to a group, some members of which committed acts of violence.”

‘A massive and prolonged effort to change the social and political and economic structure of a local environment cannot be characterized as a violent conspiracy simply by reference to the ephemeral consequences of relatively few violent acts.’

PS. I am deeply indebted to a fellow Kossack who, years ago, shared their substantive knowledge of the history of anti-boycott laws with me.

An Israeli tourist attraction: shooting at targets dressed as Palestinians, in a “mock” boot-camp.

Taking in the scene of a simulated fruit market in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, a group of tourists ponders whether a poster-size figure of an Arab man holding a cellphone is a threat and should be shot.

The aim of the mock scenario is to teach rapt foreign visitors how to deal with an attack on a market. It is part of a counter-terrorism “boot camp” organized by Caliber 3, a company set up by a colonel in the Israeli army reserves.

Entrance to the gated compound in the Gush Etzion settlement bloc – built on land the Palestinians want for their own state – costs $115 for adults and $85 for children.

— www.reuters.com/…

Companies specializing in this sort of military tourism, she notes, have experienced a boom in business over the past year. “For a long time, it was popular for Jewish tourists, and especially organized missions, to visit Israeli army bases and meet with the soldiers and watch them during their military exercises,” says Sand, the founder of Travel Composer, a boutique Israeli agency that specializes in luxury tours.

“Often, donations would be handed over in exchange. But last year the army began cracking down after it emerged that these visits were becoming a major disruption. So for those who still want to experience the Israeli army, these for-profit facilities provide a great alternative.” […]

As his [Caliber 3’s owner] instructors like to point out, it’s not only Israeli soldiers who operate according to the army’s “purity of arms” doctrine, which stipulates that soldiers will maintain their humanity even in combat. So do their attack dogs. At a live demonstration, the visitors watch as Zeus lunges at a “terrorist” wielding a knife, forcing him to the ground while tearing into his padded coverall. But once that knife is dropped and the threat is eliminated, Zeus backs off. “Even the dogs in the IDF value human life,” the instructor says.

— www.haaretz.com/…

This statement that the IDF “value human life” is questionable. The IDF has had radical, insurgent elements within it for decades and depending on the government in charge, hard-line factions have been ascendant within the command structure. Lately the religious-nationalist settler movement has gained power within the army. These trends accelerated after Likud first won election and Rafael Eitan was appointed Chief of Staff of the IDF (prior the 1982 Lebanon war).

As an example, a soldier who summarily executed a Palestinian man last year, has been released under house arrest. At the same time, Israel imprisons hundreds of Palestinians as political prisoners.

Caliber 3, which is based in the West Bank and run by a former member of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), calls itself “the premier academy for counter terror and security”. It offers six programs for tourists, including desert “Survival Training”, krav magna martial arts, and “Combat Rappelling” using paintball guns.

Its “Ultimate Shooting Adventure” has raised eyebrows for its use of real guns and simulated terror attacks – with targets dressed up in Palestinian keffiyehs. […]

He [the owner Gat] said that the thought came to him after thinking about the horrors of the Holocaust. “I said to myself that I am going to open this place to the public to show what a long way the Jewish people have come in 75 years,” he said.

— www.independent.co.uk/…

The company has a Facebook page to promote itself and has been around since 2003. Reuters reported on it in 2009:

“The most shocking part was when they had us shout ‘terrorist’ before getting into shooting position,” he said.

He enjoyed the course and felt it was safe but morally questionable. “It could indoctrinate children with racist beliefs. It was sad to hear young kids express such racism. It makes the likelihood or reaching a peaceful settlement to the (Middle East) crisis seem more difficult.” In the group before his, James said, excited children shouted to their parents about being able to “shoot the Arabs.”  […]

But Gat [the instructor] says his course is not just about shooting guns; it also teaches “Zionist values.”

— www.reuters.com/…

— Cross-posted at NotmeUs.org | @subirgrewal

As military occupation enters 51st year, Trump administration wants UN to stop “bullying” Israel

What’s the difference between a Bantustan and Area A?

Palestinians have lived for 50 years under a military occupation by a foreign government and there are no signs this will end anytime soon. The Israeli government has been busily dispossessing Palestinians as individuals and as a nation of land and resources. Three generations of Palestinians have lived the bulk of their lives (five decades) with their human and civil rights curtailed by the Israeli government.

The Trump administration believes the UN is “bullying” Israel by condemning these policies:

[US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki] Haley arrived in Israel to a hero’s welcome one day after warning that the United States might pull out of the U.N. Human Rights Council unless it changes its ways in general and its negative stance on Israel in particular.

Haley, a former governor of South Carolina who often is touted as a future Republican presidential candidate, has focused heavily on what she calls the mistreatment of Israel during her six months at the United Nations. Her efforts have made her a darling of Israeli leaders, and have endeared her to conservative pro-Israel organizations in the United States. […]

“You know, all I’ve done is to tell the truth, and it’s kind of overwhelming at the reaction,” she said. “It was a habit. And if there’s anything I have no patience for it’s bullies, and the U.N. was being such a bully to Israel, because they could.” — WaPo

Israeli policies towards Palestinians have many parallels with our own treatment of Native Americans. There are other parallels to our history too. For much of the 20th century, towns across the US systematically excluded African-Americans from living there.

What Palestinians are allowed to do in the settlements is work, assuming they can pass a rigorous security screening and a get a permit. But the workers — mostly in construction and service jobs — are not allowed to drive in, and they can’t spend the night. During my two weeks in the West Bank, I learned that the best way to estimate the number of Palestinians working in a given settlement at any moment is by counting the cars parked just outside the gate. This underscored one of the ironies of the settlements, which is that Palestinian hands built most of them: their houses and synagogues, their community centers and shopping malls. — Washington Post

Palestinians are often building these houses for settlers on public Palestinian lands which the Israeli government or settlers have encroached on. In other cases, Israeli officials will condemn private Palestinian lands, establishing “nature preserves” which then turn into gardens or farms for Israeli settlers.

Across Israel proper, housing discrimination is pervasive and various types of discrimination are codified into law. Most housing is largely segregated, with Jewish Israelis living in separate towns and communities, from their Arab Muslim or Christian fellow-citizens. Of course, in the occupied territories, the Israeli army enforces such segregation, just as law enforcement and vigilante groups did in the US.

Such discrimination and oppression is only possible if you successfully propagate a supporting narrative through schools and media. Gil Gertel writing in +972mag discusses how the Israeli education system has helped sanitize Palestinian suffering:

In the wake of the 1948 War, the list of people we forgot only got longer — refugees whom we continued not to see. This is what students read about that period from the “Artzi” textbook, published in 1950: “It is very good that we found a desolate and abandoned land. It is good that every piece of land we obtained is for us […] none of those who hate us (and their numbers are great) can complain that we took someone else’s land.

This book was published two years after the Nakba, when 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes. The Israeli government subsequently razed to the ground hundreds of villages to prevent the inhabitants from ever returning. The JNF began a campaign to plant “forests” to erase evidence of Palestinian villages. Palestinian houses in urban areas were reassigned to Jewish persons.

Students, however, were told it was a “desolate and abandoned land”. In a way, this is analogous to the stories we still tell our students about early European colonization of this country and the impact on Native American peoples.

This is what we teach our children, from a fifth-grade textbook: “In 1967, following the Six-Day War, the territories of Judea and Samaria, which were not yet in Israeli hands, came under its control. Today it is populated by both Arabs and Jews. The Arab population, according to estimates, is comprised of 1.5-2.5 million people, who live mostly in urban areas […] the Jewish population is closer to 400,000, who live in approximately 125 settlements.” (pg. 156). How idyllic: those territories “came under our control,” a real miracle. Jews and and Arabs living side by side — the Switzerland of the Middle East.

— @subirgrewal

29 shots, 2 dead, No Charges: The West Bank, Ferguson and Obama’s call for Community Policing.

A blogger who goes by the name “John Brown” writes at +972mag, often with righteous fury. Over the past few months, he’s teamed up with Noam Rotem to research incidents where Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of IDF soldiers. They have traced the resulting IDF investigations and highlight a consistent failure to  complete investigations and bring charges. That is a familiar story when it comes to cases of police brutality in the US (and the world over). I’ll provide an excerpt from the +972mag article and then discuss the various levels of training that US police forces have been receiving from Israeli forces. The killings in question happened in 2010. As of today, over 5 years later, no one has been charged.

License to Kill: Why did the IDF shoot the Qawarik cousins 29 times?

At first, the IDF Spokesperson published the claim that “a terrorist attack with a pitchfork had been foiled at a checkpoint,” and that two terrorists had tried to attack a soldier using pitchforks. The IDF was later forced concede that the report was inaccurate, and then claimed that the soldiers were attacked with a bottle and a syringe. With every new report, the volume knob was turned down a bit, until the last one, a day after the incident, according to which the two cousins were not terrorists at all, but two young men stopped by settlers after they had entered their own land — without coordinating with the army. But the IDF Spokesperson’s story had already gained prominence. Every Palestinian is a terrorist until proven otherwise.The chain of events, leading to the moment in which an anxious soldier fired 29 bullets into the bodies of the two cousins, Saleh and Muhammad Qawarik, farmers who woke up early that morning to work their land, shows the null cost of Palestinian lives in the occupied territories. This involves the dubious initiative of a settler with a vast criminal record, one hyperactive shooter and three soldiers who do not remember anything, having managed to miss all 29 shots.

The IDF Spokesperson declined to comment for this article.

The article describes how the incident began when a settler stopped the two cousins as they were walking to their fields that morning. This act of vigilantism started the sequence of events that led to their shooting hours later.

At some stage, Avri Ran, an extremist settler who has been convicted of a series of violent offenses, and calls himself “The Sovereign,” passed by. Ran decided that the two had no right to be there, on their land. He stopped his car, and detained the two by ordering them to sit on the ground, and standing at a distance of 10-15 meters (30-50 feet) from them.

Delegations of senior US police officers have been taken on trips to Israel to learn about the counter-terrorism methods employed by Israeli police and IDF operating among a population that opposes the occupation.The Jerusalem Post wrote about one such trip in a 2011 article and DKos diaries have asked Are U.S. Police training with the Israeli Military?. Raw Story covered the militarized police response to the Occupy protest movements in the US and its links to Israeli methods as far back as 2011: Israeli model underlies militarization of U.S. police. The ADL sponsors a week-long National Counter-Terrorism Seminar in Israel which it describes as follows:

Every year, American law enforcement executives travel to Israel with ADL to study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies to combat terrorism. The National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) is an intensive week long course led by senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces. More than 175 law enforcement executives have participated in 12 NCTS sessions since 2004, taking the lessons they learned in Israel back to the United States.

In particular, the AP reported on the NYPD’s “Demographics Unit” (since disbanded):

Ethnic bookstores, too, were on the list. If a raker noticed a customer looking at radical literature, he might chat up the store owner and see what he could learn. The bookstore, or even the customer, might get further scrutiny. If a restaurant patron applauds a news report about the death of U.S. troops, the patron or the restaurant could be labeled a hot spot.The goal was to “map the city’s human terrain,” one law enforcement official said. The program was modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank, a former police official said.

The LAPD backed off from a similar program, largely due to an uproar among residents.

In 2007, the Los Angeles Police Department was criticized for even considering a similar program. The police announced plans to map Islamic neighborhoods to look for pockets of radicalization among the region’s roughly 500,000 Muslims. Criticism was swift, and chief William Bratton scrapped the plan.”A lot of these people came from countries where the police were the terrorists,” Bratton said at a news conference, according to the Los Angeles Daily News. “We don’t do that here. We do not want to spread fear.”

The Jewish Journal reported on an LAPD delegation’s visit to Israel in Feb 2014:

The group visited private security firms and drone manufacturers, as well as the terror-prone Ashdod Port, a museum in Sderot full of old rockets shot from nearby Gaza (the same one United States President Barack Obama visited on his 2008 campaign trip to Israel), and a “safe city” underground control center in the large suburb of Rishon LeZion, which receives live streams from more than 1,000 cameras with license plate recognition installed throughout the city.

Frank said he was especially impressed by what he saw while visiting Israeli companies Nice Systems (as tweeted by Perez) and Verint, one of the companies whose services the National Security Administration (NSA) reportedly used in the infamous United States wiretapping scandal. Both companies already count the LAPD as a client. But, Frank said, “we’re looking at some of their additional solutions … They have a lot of new technologies that we are very much interested in.”

The LAPD announced in May that it had acquired drones, though as of November it had not yet deployed them due to public opposition. Israel is the world’s largest exporter of drones and has used drones for surveillance, assasinations, and bombingsin Gaza:

According to Abu Saif, drones are a fact of life in Gaza, frequently buzzing in the background. But when the buzzing of the drone (called “zanana” in colloquial Arabic) increases, daily life is disrupted; people believe this means an attack is near and they have no way of knowing if they are near the target or if they themselves are the target because of their “suspicious” behavior. Schoolchildren and students find it difficult to concentrate, especially during exam periods, many suffer post-traumatic flashbacks and family and social gatherings are quickly dispersed. “Through their usage of drones, [the Israelis] have become present in the bedrooms of the people in Gaza,” Abu Saif quotes Al-Mezan director Esam Younis as saying. Journalist Asma al-Roul is quoted in the same vein, saying, “I feel like I am naked. All what I do is seen by the drone.”

Or as New York magazine reported in The NYPD Division of Un-American Activities:

Sanchez told colleagues that he had borrowed the idea from Israeli methods of controlling the military-occupied West Bank, the swath of land captured from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. But the proposal ignored some important differences between the U.S. and Israel. Brooklyn and Queens, for instance, were not occupied territories or disputed land. There was no security wall being erected in New York City. And, where Muslims are concerned, no one would choose Israel as a model of civil liberties.Nevertheless, Cohen liked the idea. He compared it to raking an extinguished fire pit. Most coals would be harmless and gray. Rake them carefully, and you might find an ember—a hot spot waiting to catch. This was the genesis of a secret police squad, which came to be called the Demographics Unit. Documents related to this new unit were stamped NYPD SECRET. Even the City Council, Congress, and the White House—the people paying the bills—weren’t told about it.

The backlash against such such methods of surveillance and policing continues, which is why President Obama discussed community policing initiatives in a visit to Camden, NJ yesterday:

Today, we’re also releasing new policies on the military-style equipment that the federal government has in the past provided to state and local law enforcement agencies.  We’ve seen how militarized gear can sometimes give people a feeling like there’s an occupying force, as opposed to a force that’s part of the community that’s protecting them and serving them.  It can alienate and intimidate local residents, and send the wrong message.  So we’re going to prohibit some equipment made for the battlefield that is not appropriate for local police departments.

More on the IDF shooting and another that killed two children (15 and 17) below the fold (and links to earlier articles in the series):

The +972mag article evaluates the IDF investigation of the killings in depth. One policy in particular reminded me of the Maryland law giving police officers a ten day “cooling off period” before they can be questioned about an incident. That law became part of the discussion after the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. Here’s the IDF version:

Following the shooting, A., the patrol commander, ordered the other soldiers to get out of the vehicle and put on their helmets, and then he reported what he had just done on the radio. Dozens of officers quickly arrived at the scene and initiated an operational debriefing.The army regards such debriefings as a tool for analyzing operational incidents. Debriefings are held shortly after incidents, and according to army procedures, the contents are not to be passed to the investigating authority (namely the Military Police). Even if a person admits to murder in the operational debriefing, this admission cannot be used in his trial, and will not even be passed on to the investigators.

Why is this important? Because immediately after the debriefing, an officer in the Central Command spoke to a Haaretz journalist, saying that, “according to a preliminary analysis, it does not seem that there was any threat to the life of the sergeant who shot the two Palestinians.”

The +972mag article describes another IDF shooting in the West Bank, which occured on the prior day:

Another double killing — one day earlierCommanders are usually not confronted with their negligence during the investigation of acts committed in their area of responsibility, even when the same military unit committed another double killing just one day earlier, and that case had already raised difficult questions. That was the killing of Muhammad Qadous, 15, and Usaid Qadous, 17, who were shot and killed in the village of Iraq Burin. the soldiers and the IDF Spokesperson claimed than that they had been shot with rubber bullets, but the injuries, the entry and exit openings, as well as an X-ray photo of the bullet stuck in Usaid Qadous’ head attests to that being a lie.

It should be no surprise that no indictment was filed as a result of that investigation either. To this day, the case files are still on the desk of the IDF Military Advocate General, even though the soldiers are no longer under the military’s jurisdiction and cannot be indicted by the IDF.

License to Kill, part 1: Shot to death while in custody

The first part in a series of articles examining case files of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers — the ensuing investigations, by other Israeli soldiers, indicate a lack of interest in discovering the truth or achieving justice. In part one, a Palestinian man is arrested for not carrying an ID card. A few hours later, while handcuffed inside a military base, he is shot to death. The investigation files reveal serious and troubling contradictions. The shooter’s commander admits numerous failures, and yet, nobody will stand trial.

License to Kill, part 2: No consequences for shooting an unarmed man in the back

An unarmed civilian is killed and no one is held accountable. Part two in a series examining Israeli military investigations into Palestinians killed by soldiers. A Palestinian taxi driver is shot in the back by an Israeli soldier. Investigators say they cannot locate the shooters, even though their identity is known. Six years later, when a civil suit is filed, the State suddenly produces them as witnesses. The judge rules their versions of events are unreliable and orders damages paid to the family. The criminal case, however, is closed.

License to Kill, part 3: Why did Colonel A. order the sniping of Ihab Islim?

Members of a family are standing on a balcony and chatting. The commander of IDF forces in the region orders snipers to open fire on them. One brother is killed, the other one loses an eye. The commander fails to account for the order in the investigation that ensues. The case is closed, and the commander is promoted. In the following months, other civilians in the region are killed in the exact same manner. No one is found guilty. The third installment of the License to Kill series.

“2,000 dead, 11,000 wounded, half a million refugees” = Mission Accomplished – Breaking the Silence

Earlier this week, Breaking the Silence (an organization of Israeli veterans) released a report: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)”. What follows are excerpts from interviews with Israeli soldiers who served in Gaza during Operation ‘Protective Edge’ last summer (I’m about half-way through the report, I will do one more diary with excerpts). My earlier diary on this report is here and the third in the series is here. Emphasis is mine.


19. If ‘roof knocking’ was conducted and no one came out after a few minutes, then the assumption was that there was no one there

Unit: Not for Publication • Rank: Not for publication

Is it a requirement to make sure no civilians are in a structure before it’s attacked by a fighter jet? It’s not obligatory. Say the target was [Hamas’] deputy battalion commander in Shuja’iyya, an attack would be launched if the number of civilians wasn’t too high. By too high, I mean a two digit number.


35. They were fired at – so of course, they must have been terrorists…

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Not for Publication • Location: Southern Gaza Strip

There was a force that identified two figures walking in an orchard, around 800 or 900 meters from the force’s zone perimeter. They were two young women walking in the orchard. The commander asked to confirm, “What do you see,” and whether they were incriminated or not. It was during daytime, around 11:00 AM, or noon. The lookouts couldn’t see well so the commander sent a drone up to look from above, and the drone implicated them. It saw them with phones, talking, walking. They directed fire there, on those girls, and they were killed. After they were implicated, I had a feeling it was bullshit. On what was the incrimination based? Scouts. “The [Palestinian girls] can surely see the tanks, and they can surely see the smoke rising from all the engineering work.” After that the commander told the tank commander to go scan that place, and three tanks went to check [the bodies]. They check the bodies, and it was two women, over age 30. The bodies of two women, and they were unarmed. He came back and we moved on, and they were listed as terrorists. They were fired at – so of course, they must have been terrorists…


37. With regard to artillery, the IDF let go of the restraints it once had

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Lieutenant The D9s (armored bulldozers) are operating during this time?

Always. Whenever tanks pass through central routes there will always be a D9 going through and clearing out the terrain before them in every direction, so that they’ll be able to pass through if there’s an explosive device or something in there. One of the high ranking commanders, he really liked the D9s. He was a real proponent of flattening things. He put them to good use. Let’s just say that after every time he was somewhere, all the infrastructure around the buildings was totally destroyed, almost every house had gotten a shell through it. He was very much in favor of that.


21. Everything exploded. Everything destroyed

Unit: Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Northern Gaza Strip

You keep shooting at the same houses, at the same windows. When you shoot at a house it doesn’t totally collapse. They stay standing. I was surprised by how long it takes until they fall. You can take down three walls and somehow they remain standing despite the fact that they’re all blown to bits, it’s all ruined. It’s like “Call of Duty” (a first-person shooter video game). Ninety-nine percent of the time I was inside a house, not moving around – but during the few times we passed from place to place I remember that the level of destruction looked insane to me. It looked like a movie set, it didn’t look real. Houses with crumbled balconies, animals everywhere, lots of dead chickens and lots of other dead animals. Every house had a hole in the wall or a balcony spilling off of it, no trace left of any streets at all. I knew there used to be a street there once, but there was no trace of it left to see. Everything was sand, sand, sand, piles of sand, piles of construction debris. You go into a house by walking up a sand dune and entering it through a hole in the second floor, and then you leave it through some hole in its basement. It’s a maze of holes and concrete. It doesn’t look like a street anymore. I really remember how every day we would get new aerial photos and every day a few more houses were missing from the map, and there would be these sandboxes instead.


38. We were we just trying to hit the cars

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

After three weeks in the tank, we went up to the post and saw this route and a sort of competition got going. “You’re a gunner, let’s see if you’re a real man, let’s see if you manage to hit a moving car.” So I picked a car – a taxi – and tried to fire a shell, but didn’t manage to hit it. Two more cars came by, and I tried with another shell or two, and didn’t hit. The commander said, “OK, enough, you’re using up all my shells, cut it out.” So we moved to a heavy machine gun. We didn’t manage to hit cars after a few times with that, either, until suddenly I saw a cyclist, just happily pedaling along. I said OK, that guy I’m taking down. I calibrated the range, and didn’t hit – it hit a bit ahead of him and then suddenly he starts pedaling like crazy, because he was being shot at, and the whole tank crew is cracking up, “Wow, look how fast he is.” After that I spoke about it with some other gunners and it turns out there was a sort of competition between all sorts of guys, “Let’s see if this gunner hits a car, or if that gunner hits a car.” Did you consider what happens if there are people inside there? I mean, did that come up in the talk you held within the tank, that it’s civilians? Me personally, deep inside I mean, I was a bit bothered, but after three weeks in Gaza, during which you’re shooting at anything that moves – and also at what isn’t moving, crazy amounts – you aren’t anymore really… The good and the bad get a bit mixed up, and your morals get a bit lost and you sort of lose it, and it also becomes a bit like a computer game, totally cool and real.


11. The people at their finest hour

Unit: Combat Intelligence Collection Corps • Rank: Sergeant First Class • Location: North Gaza Strip

What was said during the debriefing afterwards? You could say they went over most of the things viewed as accomplishments. They spoke about numbers: 2,000 dead and 11,000 wounded, half a million refugees, decades’ worth of destruction. Harm to lots of senior Hamas members and to their homes, to their families. These were stated as accomplishments so that no one would doubt that what we did during this period was meaningful. They spoke of a five-year period of quiet (in which there would be no hostilities between Israel and Hamas) when in fact it was a 72-hour ceasefire, and at the end of those 72 hours they were firing again. We were also told that what had emerged was a picture of the people [of Israel] at their finest hour, the civil unity, the [national] consensus. Discounting a few weirdos who didn’t see it it to rally around this thing.


70. The discourse is racist. The discourse is nationalistic

Unit: Gaza Division • Rank: Lieutenant

As opposed to previous operations, you could feel there was a radicalization in the way the whole thing was conducted. The discourse was extremely right-wing. The military obviously has very clear enemies – the Arabs, Hamas. There is this rigid dichotomy. There are those involved [Palestinians involved in the fighting] and those uninvolved, and that’s it. But the very fact that they’re described as ‘uninvolved’, rather than as civilians, and the desensitization to the surging number of dead on the Palestinian side – and it doesn’t matter whether they’re involved or not – the unfathomable number of dead on one of the sides, the unimaginable level of destruction, the way militant cells and people were regarded as targets and not as living beings – that’s something that troubles me. The discourse is racist. The discourse is nationalistic. The discourse is anti-leftist. It was an atmosphere that really, really scared me. And it was really felt, while we were inside. During the operation it gets radicalized. I was at the base, and some clerk says to me, “Yeah, give it to them, kill them all.” And you say to yourself, ‘Whatever, they’re just kids, it’s just talk’ – but they’re talking that way because someone allowed them to talk that way. If that clerk was the only one saying it I’d write her off – but when everyone starts talking like that…


39. When you go in with a tank brigade, who cares about a mortar?

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Gaza City

The bombings in the days that followed that incident [an incident in which seven IDF soldiers were killed by a rocket] were much more significant. And we retained the same mentality of bombardment as we advanced deeper inside Gaza, into more crowded areas. At 3:00, or 3:30 AM more targets get approved, there’s more activity, you can fire artillery cannons a bit to the side because they will be overshadowed by the air force bombings. You can add more targets because now you’re part of a large-scale offensive. It’s as if because now you’re entering with a tank brigade, firing mortars is totally fine – you’re going in with a tank brigade, so who cares about a mortar? So now when you go in with the all the firepower of F-16s and F-15s, laying down one-ton bombs and blowing up that hospital and all that, well, you can also fire a few mortars on the side while you’re at it. What do you mean ‘on the side?’ There was an area out of which every two days [Palestinian militants] would shoot rockets – but it was also where their power station was, which generates electricity for an area where 200,000 people live. So take advantage and fire at the place – this one time you’ll get authorization, because there’s a surge in authorizations right now. When there’s a wave of air force strikes going on, you know that whoever is making the decisions is sitting in front of his map right now and marking ‘yes, yes, yes’ – it’s a larger offensive. When the offensive mentality goes large-scale, you can do things that it a large-scale offensive. Was any fire directed at power stations? Yes. Like the bombing of the Wafa Hospital. It grows and grows and grows and then they say, “OK, come on, let’s bomb it.” We woke up one morning and went, “Huh, they took it down.” And we marked another X on our list of optional targets. Power stations were optional targets? They were. It’s a strategic site, an important site, you mark it as a target. When do you act against it? That depends how things develop, on the circumstances.


More snippets and information on the report below…


3. People that look at you from the window of a house, to put it mildly, won’t look anymore

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: Sergeant First Class • Location: Gaza City

If you identify a person watching you from a rooftop, do you fire a shell there? It really depends on when – at the beginning [of the operation], you didn’t wait for authorization, or you waited for authorization to make sure they were not our forces. You didn’t wait to incriminate. You identify a person, and if the tank commander considers him a suspect, you open fire. You don’t ask for authorization, no one asks for explanations. It doesn’t feel strange because that’s what we did in nearly every battle we were in, from the start up until then. And what about people looking at you from the window of a house? People who look at you from the window of a house that is in your designated area – they, to put it mildly, won’t look anymore.


7. Suddenly I saw a horse collapse to the ground

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

If you see Juhar al-Dik today, you’ll see nothing but a sand dune. When we entered [the Gaza Strip] it was a full-on orchard. I pointed the cannon at an orchard, toward an area that was half built up, half open, and every few minutes we blasted a barrage of MAG (machine gun) fire into it, nonstop. Every once in a while we fired to keep people’s heads down, so that no one would come close. If you just stand there like an idiot, eventually someone will come at you. Where did you shoot? One of our guys accidentally shot a horse – by accident. I was shooting fan-shaped bursts into the orchard the whole time – right side, left side. You sort of keep playing around with it. It was night, and our night vision showed white and green – white indicates someone’s body heat. This soldier turned around and looked at the screen and suddenly saw something white, so he fired a burst at it straight away, and suddenly I saw a horse collapse to the ground.


8. No one spoke about that at all

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

Did they discuss rules of engagement with you? What’s permitted and what’s forbidden? During training, in that respect, [they told us] that we only enter houses ‘wet,’ with grenades, and the more of them the better – and [grenade] launchers if you can use them. You’re going to ‘open’ a house? Don’t take any chances, use your grenade launcher, utilize every effective tool you’ve got. Aim, fire and only then go in. You don’t know if there is or isn’t someone in there. Go in ‘wet’ with grenades, with live fire. These were the orders for entering houses. […] Did they discuss [dealing with] uninvolved civilians with you? No one spoke about that at all. From their point of view, no one should be there at all. If there is [any Palestinian] there – they shouldn’t be. I think there was something very frightening, and also a bit paralyzing in the atmosphere. And I think that the feeling among [the soldiers] too, was that we really need to give it to them.


16. Shoot, shoot everywhere

Unit: Infantry • Rank: Not for publication • Location: Gaza City

Besides that, if there’s a building that poses a threat, if you say, “I feel threatened by that tall building, I want it either smoke-screened or taken down,” then it’s deemed a target, located on the maps, they get on the radio with the brigade and report it. The feeling was that it’s all very much up to the guys on the ground – however they describe the situation to the level of oversight – the response will be in line. If [the soldiers on the ground] say “That building needs to be taken down, it poses a severe threat to my forces,” it will be shelled. In the beginning, we weren’t granted authorization if there was any fear of [harming] civilians. In the beginning there was a lot of concern about the media and that stuff. But it’s all very subject to change because you’ve got drones, and when the artillery coordination officer raises a request [to the brigade], they sit down together and look at the visuals from the drone, and ask military intelligence, “Does anybody know anything about this?” And then say, “Yes, you can go ahead and fire.” As long as there wasn’t any concrete information that [shooting a specific target] would be harmful to us – it’s “Fire away.” But the more time that passed [since the operation started], the more immediate authorizations became. The rules of engagement for soldiers advancing on the ground were: open fire, open fire everywhere, first thing when you go in.


20. It’s simple: whoever feels like shooting more – shoots more

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

There was no specific target. Every so often, ‘boom’, a shell, or ‘boom’, suddenly a machine gun was fired. What were you shooting at? At houses. Randomly chosen houses? Yes. How much fire were you using? There was constant talk about how much we fired, how much we hit, who missed. There were people who fired 20 shells per day. It’s simple: Whoever feels like shooting more – shoots more. Most guys shot more. Dozens of shells [per day], throughout the operation. Multiply that by 11 tanks in the company.


22. Anything still there is as good as dead

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

The working assumption states – and I want to stress that this is a quote of sorts: that anyone located in an IDF area, in areas the IDF took over – is not [considered] a civilian. That is the working assumption. We entered Gaza with that in mind, and with an insane amount of firepower. I don’t know if it was proportionate or not. I don’t claim to be a battalion commander or a general. But it reached a point where a single tank – and remember, there were 11 of those just where I was – fires between 20 and 30 shells per day.


26. Person looking out from a house… Whether he was or wasn’t using any lookout aids, one shoots in that direction

Unit: Mechanized Infantry • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

Heavy machine gun fire was used to locate the house and then a shell would be fired? Yes. That’s the idea. When you identify a person looking out from a house, from a balcony or a window. Whether he was or wasn’t using any lookout aids, I wouldn’t know – but it doesn’t matter, one shoots in that direction, with intent to kill. When a shell is fired at it there is no expectation that anybody inside will stay alive. Are we talking about a moment when tanks are coming under fire? No. This is for when [the Palestinian who was spotted] doesn’t constitute a direct threat, not for when there’s an anti-tank missile being fired at us.


27. A crazy urge to run over a car

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant

During the entire operation the [tank] drivers had this thing of wanting to run over cars – because the driver, he can’t fire. He doesn’t have any weapon, he doesn’t get to experience the fun in its entirety, he just drives forward, backward, right, left. And they had this sort of crazy urge to run over a car. I mean, a car that’s in the street, a Palestinian car, obviously. And there was one time that my [tank’s] driver, a slightly hyperactive guy, managed to convince the tank’s officer to run over a car, and it was really not that exciting – you don’t even notice you’re going over a car, you don’t feel anything – we just said on the two-way radio: “We ran over the car. How was it?” And it was cool, but we really didn’t feel anything. And then our driver got out and came back a few minutes later – he wanted to see what happened – and it turned out he had run over just half the car, and the other half stayed intact. So he came back in, and right then the officer had just gone out or something, so he sort of whispered to me over the earphones: “I scored some sunglasses from the car.” And after that, he went over and told the officer about it too, that moron, and the officer scolded him: “What, how could you do such a thing? I’m considering punishing you,” but in the end nothing happened, he kept the sunglasses, and he wasn’t too harshly scolded, it was all OK, and it turned out that a few of the other company’s tanks ran over cars, too.


28. The instructions are to shoot right away… Be they armed or unarmed, no matter what

Unit: Engineering • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Gaza City

What was the commanders’ response? A typical officer’s response was, “It’s a complicated situation, I realize a situation might arise in which innocent people get killed, but you cannot take that risk or put your comrades at risk, you must shoot without hesitation.” The instructions are to shoot right away. Whoever you spot – be they armed or unarmed, no matter what. The instructions are very clear. Any person you run into, that you see with your eyes – shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.


29. Good Morning al-Bureij

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah

I remember it, all the tanks were standing in a row, and I personally asked my commander: “Where are we firing at?” He told me: “Pick wherever you feel like it.” And later, during talks with the other guys – each one basically chose his own target, and the commander called it on the two-way radio, ‘Good morning al- Bureij.’ “We are carrying out, a ‘Good morning al-Bureij,’ guys” that was the quote. Basically to wake up the neighborhood, to show those guys that ‘the IDF is here,’ and to carry out deterrence. I remember that all the tanks were standing in a row, and we were too, I was the gunner, and I looked at some building, which was very tall, at the center of that neighborhood, and I asked my commander, “OK, where do I hit that building?” And we decided between us – “OK, if you feel like aiming a bit to the right, a bit to the left, a bit toward that window, a bit toward the floor, let’s do that.” And then the commander says on the radio: “3, 2, 1, fire.” And everyone fired shells wherever they wanted to, obviously. Nobody had opened fire at us – not before, not after, not during.


34. Worst case they’ll ask what we shot at, we’ll say it was a suspicious spot

Unit: Armored Corps • Rank: First Sergeant • Location: Deir al-Balah What rules of engagement were you provided with before you entered [the Gaza Strip]?

I don’t really remember what was discussed in terms of formal instructions before we entered, and after we entered nobody really cared about the formal instructions anyway. That’s what we knew. Every tank commander knew, and even the simple soldiers knew, that if something turns out to be not OK, they can say they saw something suspicious. They’ve got backup. They won’t ever be tried.


Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. They complete report can be found on their site: “This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)” This booklet is a collection of testimonies from over 60 soldiers in mandatory and reserve service that took part in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. About a quarter of the testifiers are officers that go all the way up to the rank of major. The testimonies underwent a meticulous investigative process to ensure their veracity. The testifiers, who served in various units – from ground, to naval, to air forces, and in headquarters and command centers – expose the nature of IDF operations in various combat zones. The testimonies in this collection close the yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.


From the introduction: The operation, which was conducted under a policy determined by the most senior commanding ranks who instructed the soldiers’ conduct, casts grave doubt on the IDF’s ethics. As IDF soldiers and officers, in mandatory and reserve service, we feel it is our civil obligation to publicly expose these testimonies. The findings that arise from the testimonies call for an honest and thorough investigation into how IDF forces were activated during Operation Protective Edge. Such an investigation will only be effective and meaningful if carried out by an external and independent entity, by actors that can examine conduct at the highest ranks in the security and political establishments. Anything less, as we have seen in past experience, will lead to placing the responsibility for the acts on more junior and lower ranks, thereby precluding the ability to bring about fundamental change that can prevent a recurrence of the harsh reality we witnessed in the summer of 2014.

1:28 PM PT: Changed the title, found a better quote. The title was originally:

“The discourse was extremely right-wing… The discource is racist” – Breaking the Silence on Gaza

“we do not spare ammo – we unload, we use as much as possible” – Breaking the Silence on Gaza

In the summer of 2014, 2,205 people were killed in Gaza. 547 children were among those killed and over 1,000 were permanently disabled. Entire families died in their homes as a result of IDF bombs. Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organization of former veterans. They released a report today on Operation Protective Edge: This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014) The Guardian has the best coverage I’ve found so far. They have excerpts from the report up at: In their own words: Israeli troops break ranks on Gaza campaign They also have an article written up with background: Israeli soldiers cast doubt on legality of Gaza military tactics I have two other diaries on this subject, the second one is here and third one here.

[The report] include allegations that Israeli ground troops were briefed to regard everything inside Gaza as a “threat” and they should “not spare ammo”, and that tanks fired randomly or for revenge on buildings without knowing whether they were legitimate military targets or contained civilians. In their testimonies, soldiers depict rules of engagement they characterised as permissive, “lax” or largely non-existent, including how some soldiers were instructed to treat anyone seen looking towards their positions as “scouts” to be fired on. The group also claims that the Israeli military operated with different safety margins for bombing or using artillery and mortars near civilians and its own troops, with Israeli forces at times allowed to fire significantly closer to civilians than Israeli soldiers.

“The rules of engagement for soldiers advancing on the ground were: open fire, open fire everywhere, first thing when you go in,” recalled another soldier who served during the ground operation in Gaza City. The assumption being that the moment we went in [to the Gaza Strip], anyone who dared poke his head out was a terrorist.”

In at least one instance described by soldiers, being female did not help two women who were killed because one had a mobile phone. A soldier described the incident: “After the commander told the tank commander to go scan that place, and three tanks went to check [the bodies] … it was two women, over the age of 30 … unarmed. They were listed as terrorists. They were fired at. So of course they must have been terrorists.”

“The motto guiding lots of people was: ‘Let’s show them,’ recalls a lieutenant who served in the Givati Brigade in Rafah. “It was evident that was a starting point. Lots of guys who did their reserve duty with me don’t have much pity towards [the Palestinians].” He added: “There were a lot of people there who really hate Arabs. Really, really hate Arabs. You could see the hate in their eyes.” A second lieutenant echoed his comments. “You could feel there was a radicalisation in the way the whole thing was conducted. The discourse was extremely rightwing … [And] the very fact that [Palestinians were] described as ‘uninvolved’ rather than as civilians, and the desensitisation to the surging number of dead on the Palestinian side. It doesn’t matter whether they’re involved or not … that’s something that troubles me.”

One sergeant who served in a tank in the centre of the Gaza Strip recalls: “A week or two after we entered the Gaza Strip and we were all firing a lot when there wasn’t any need for it – just for the sake of firing – a member of our company was killed. “The company commander came over to us and told us that one guy was killed due to such-and-such, and he said: ‘Guys, get ready, get in your tanks, and we’ll fire a barrage in memory of our comrade” … My tank went up to the post – a place from which I can see targets – can see buildings – [and] fired at them, and the platoon commander says: ‘OK guys, we’ll now fire in memory of our comrade’ and we said OK.”

Excerpts from other newspapers below the fold along with more about Breaking The Silence. I am making my way through the report itself and shall post excerpts I find particularly interesting in a followup diary:


Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.

The complete report: This is How We Fought in Gaza – Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from Operation Protective Edge (2014)

This booklet is a collection of testimonies from over 60 soldiers in mandatory and reserve service that took part in Operation “Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. About a quarter of the testifiers are officers that go all the way up to the rank of major. The testimonies underwent a meticulous investigative process to ensure their veracity. The testifiers, who served in various units – from ground, to naval, to air forces, and in headquarters and command centers – expose the nature of IDF operations in various combat zones. The testimonies in this collection close the yawning gaps between what the IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios, and the reality described by the soldiers that took part in the operation.

Major papers are covering the release of this report: Financial Times: Israel’s military criticised for indiscriminate firing in Gaza war

Israel’s military fired indiscriminately as a matter of policy during last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, an Israeli non-governmental group has claimed, underlining a “drastic change” in its combat norms that led to the deaths of many innocent civilians. […] Its findings will raise further questions about the conduct of the war by the IDF, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described as “the most moral army in the world“.

Washington Post: Israeli veterans say permissive rules of engagement fueled Gaza carnage

The soldiers describe reducing Gaza neighborhoods to sand, firing artillery at random houses to avenge fallen comrades, shooting at innocent civilians because they were bored and watching armed drones attack a pair of women talking on cellular phones because they were assumed to be Hamas scouts. […] The soldiers describe how they were told by commanders to view all Palestinian in the combat zones as a potential threat, whether they brandished weapons or not. Individuals spotted in windows and rooftops — especially if they were speaking on a cellular telephone — were often considered scouts and could be shot.

Haaretz: Report: Army veterans slam IDF policy in Gaza war

Breaking the Silence organization says principle adopted of minimum risk to soldiers meant more civilian casualties. […] The rules of engagement basically established that “Anyone found in an IDF area, which the IDF had occupied, was not a civilian. That was the assumption,” one of the soldiers stated. An armored infantry soldier reported that, at some point, it was understood that any home which Israeli forces entered and used would be destroyed afterward by large D9 bulldozers. “At no point until the end of the operation … did anyone tell us what the operational usefulness was in exposing [razing] the houses,” he said. “During a conversation, the unit commanders explained that it wasn’t an act of revenge. At a certain point we realized this was a trend. You leave a house and there’s no longer a house. The D9 comes and exposes [it].” […] He said he understood he was firing at civilians. Asked about it, he said, “I think, deep inside, it bothered me a little. But after three weeks in Gaza, when you’re firing at everything that moves, and even things that don’t move, at a psychotic pace, you don’t really … good and bad get a little mixed up and your morality starts to get lost and you lose your compass. And it becomes like a computer game. Really, really cool and real.”


Back to the report itself:

Many soldiers spoke of a working assumption that Palestinian residents had abandoned the neighborhoods they entered due to the IDF’s warnings, thus making anyone located in the area a legitimate target – in some cases even by direct order. This approach was evident before the ground incursion, when the neighborhoods IDF forces entered suffered heavy shelling, as part of the “softening” stage. This included, among other things, massive use of statistical weapons, like cannons and mortars, which are incapable of precise fire. They are intended for broad area offensives, through the random distribution of shells over a range that can reach up to hundreds of meters from the original target (see testimonies 1, 88, and 96). In practice, during the preliminary shelling, the army pounded populated areas throughout the Strip with artillery shells in order to scare off enemy combatants who were in the area, and at times also to urge the civilian population to flee.