Video still from one of the soldiers' testimonies regarding events that occured during Operation Cast Lead.In reaction to a recent report by Breaking the Silence, containing testimonies of Israeli soldiers, discussing possible Israeli military violations of international law during the Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip earlier this year, it was reported that the Israeli ambassador to the Netherlands met with the director general of the Dutch Foreign Ministry, demanding that the Dutch government reevaluate its funding of the organization. However, according to the Dutch newspaper, de Volkskrant, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs denies that Israel has complained. There is therefore no reason for public subsidy to stop. This fits into the human rights policy, a priority of Minister Verhagen.”
Founded in 2004 to expose Israeli society to the experiences of soldiers who have served in Gaza and the West Bank, and to widen the continuum of conversation among Israelis about the moral implications of military service, Breaking the Silence has faced criticism from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs since the release of the report.
Detailing the use of white phosphorous gas, the razing of innocent civilian homes, and the use of Palestinians as human shields, the report raises fundamental questions about the morality of the military offensive that left thousands dead, Israel’s adherence to international law, and the use of proportionality.
In response to the release of the fifty-four testimonies that constitute the report, the Dutch Foreign Ministry has announced that it will revisit its decision to fund the organization. This decision is the result of pressure from Israeli ambassador Harry Knei-Tal, who believes that “the Dutch taxpayer's money could be better used to promote peace and human rights" than through support for the report, Haaretz reports.
Responding to the matter, another Israeli official noted that “a friendly government can not fund opposition bodies.” In line with this line of reasoning, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs asserted their regret that “yet another human rights organization is presenting to Israel and the world a report based on anonymous and general testimonies, without investigating their details or credibility.” Defense Minister Ehud Barak likewise lamented that the report was not first brought to him for approval.
Yet in their criticisms of the report, both the Israeli military and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs ignore the importance of explicitly non-governmental organizations in unearthing all too often silenced stories that occur as a result of government and military led initiatives. When international human rights organizations first raised questions about the use of white phosphorus gas during the war on Gaza, a tactic that is illegal under international law, the Israeli military conducted a cursory investigation that revealed that there was no use of the substance. But soldiers’ testimonies and assessments by non-governmental organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch indicate otherwise, underlining the dubiousness of the official investigation.
When the investigations of “opposition bodies” reveal the same evidence of war crimes, and the revelations stand in sharp contrast to those of the official government investigations, it is crucial that further investigations from sources outside the government body take place, and that the work of groups like Breaking the Silence continues.
In their criticisms of Breaking the Silence, both ambassador Knei-Tal and representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs also overlook the main objective of the organization, which is first and foremost to widen the continuum of dialogue within Israeli society about the “questionable orders” Israeli soldiers are given in the West Bank and Gaza and to provide military accountability, a subject that would otherwise be difficult to broach.
The efforts of ambassador Knei-Tal to halt funding for Breaking the Silence because it is an “opposition group” comes at the same time as a recent Knesset decision to outlaw the funding of organizations that commemorate the Nakba. Both government actions work in similar ways to quell discordant voices that could ultimately build a stronger and more democratic society that does not fear engaging in the “serious self-reflection” that President Obama has recently discussed.