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Dont Be Afraid to Shoot: A Former Israeli Soldier's Account of Gaza

Society & Culture  (tags: IDF-IOF violence, protests in the Gaza Strip, occupied Palestine, siege of Gaza, Breaking the Silence, Human rights violations, ICC, media, news, usa, world, crime )

- 135 days ago -
The killing of more than 100 Palestinians by the Israeli Defence Force during recent protests in the Gaza Strip is the latest example of routine violence


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fly b (26)
Tuesday June 5, 2018, 4:13 am
The killing of more than 100 Palestinians by the Israeli Defence Force during recent protests in the Gaza Strip is the latest example of routine violence and abuse by the military and part of an aggressive strategy to control the occupied territories.

That is the view of a former Israeli sergeant and paratrooper who now serves as the executive director of Breaking the Silence, a not-for-profit organisation founded by former soldiers known for documenting "the reality of everyday life in the occupied territories".

The bloodshed earlier this month saw demonstrators shot dead by Israel Defence Force (IDF) snipers and, according to Avner Gvaryahu, is emblematic of IDF abuse against Palestinians.

Avner Gvaryahu, executive director of Breaking the Silence, an Israeli not-for-profit organisation founded by former soldiers.

"It makes no sense to bring a sniper rifle to an unarmed protest," Gvaryahu said from Tel Aviv.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 104 Palestinians, including 12 children, were killed by the Israeli military during the recent demonstrations.

A Palestinian woman hangs clothes in a damaged apartment block, which was partially destroyed during the 2014 war ...

A Palestinian woman hangs clothes in a damaged apartment block, which was partially destroyed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas, in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip.

Another 12 Palestinians - including two children - were killed in what were classified as "other circumstances". The OCHA said 12,600 Palestinians were injured during the demonstrations along with one Israeli soldier.

"I am not a pacifist," Gvaryahu says. "I believe in a right to self-determination for Israel and I believe in Israel's right to self-defence but I don't think what is happening in Gaza is self-defence. I think it is occupation defence."

"This is basically a prolonged military occupation," he says.

"Yes, there are borders to defend but the vast majority of the friction and the combat is in the West Bank. The military does semi-police work there but with limitless power. We are controlling people who do not want to be controlled by us."

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Since it was founded in 2004 by soldiers who served in Hebron, Breaking the Silence has received thousands of testimonies from IDF veterans documenting Israeli military interactions with Palestinians in the occupied territories.

In one account, an infantry soldier participating in 2014's Operation Protective Edge in Gaza recalled that commanders told them 'Don't be afraid to shoot'," and "There were no uninvolved civilians."

A female officer detailed an incident near the Gaza Strip where an "old Palestinian farmer who got too close to the fence by mistake" was killed. "You simply see the tank shell coming and blowing him up," she recalled. Other female officers recalled how they felt they needed to go beyond what was expected of male soldiers to prove themselves. Being a "ball-breaker", capable of "humiliating Arabs" earned them immediate kudos.

A sergeant who served in Ramallah in 2007 said: "Soldiers got out with army clubs and beat people to a pulp. We were told not to use it on people's heads. I don't remember where we were told to hit but as soon as a person on the ground is beaten with such a club, it's difficult to be particular."

An air force captain recalled: "We see a tsunami in Thailand and we're all very saddened by what happens to all the civilians the day after. You know, they don't have a home. But we're carrying out a tsunami 70 kilometres from Tel Aviv and we aren't even aware of it."

Gvaryahu says that commanding officers tell soldiers who are new to an area "to show there is a new sheriff in town".

"A soldier is given orders to instil in the Palestinians a sense that they are being chased," he adds.

Gvaryahu says he underwent his own awakening during a night mission where his unit took over a Palestinian house.

"You pick a house, you kick in the windows, you barge in the house, you wake up the family. You usually handcuff the head of the family and you throw the family in a room and say if they want to use their own house they need permission from you.

"There are good soldiers, bad soldiers, moral soldiers, and immoral soldiers but the problem is not the soldier," Gvaryahu says. "The problem is what the soldiers are ordered to uphold."

Breaking the Silence's research is funded by individual donors and international organisations and governments including Switzerland's Department of Foreign Affairs, Norway's embassy in Tel Aviv, Christian Aid, and the European Union. Unsurprisingly, its published testimonies divide opinion across Israel and Jewish communities around the world.

"Our view is far from being a majority view in Israel but it is also a view that cannot be totally dismissed," Gvaryahu says.

Efforts to discredit Breaking the Silence have gone beyond the expected media counterpoints and online videos. Right-wing activist group Ad Kan unsuccessfully attempted to infiltrate the group and plant false testimonies. Other groups have taken to social media to counter Gvaryahu's accounts, including an open letter claiming to be by soldiers of his same army unit.

Veteran accounts published by BTS are vetted and approved by the IDF censor but that didn't stop Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming the testimonies crossed "a red line". In 2016 the Israeli government made unsuccessful attempts through the courts to force BTS to reveal the identity of one of its sources.

"I am proud they see a group of young former soldiers working out of a small office with less than 20 workers as a critical voice that they have to respond to," Gvaryahu says.

In an email an IDF spokesperson said its rules of engagement vary "in accordance with the circumstances on the ground, the nature of the threat, lessons learnt, and intelligence gathered in contending with the violent riots and attacks from Gaza."

The spokesperson said Hamas, the de facto governing party in Gaza designated as a terrorist organisation by Israel, Australia and the United States, incited violence and used "riots" as cover for carrying out attacks on Israel.

"When dealing with violent riots, the IDF uses live fire as a last resort, when all other means have not been successful in contending with the threat. The use of live fireā€¦ is approved by a commander in the field who assesses the threat in each individual case. Only in the case of an immediate threat, may the soldiers use live fire."

The IDF did not respond to requests to comment on testimonies published by BTS.

Gvaryahu says killing Palestinians had far-reaching consequences for those on both sides of the fence.

"Taking someone's life is a big responsibility. We know from our experience that [killing someone] is not something that leaves you.

"It is immoral and irresponsible to put snipers with live ammunition in front of unarmed protesters. There have to be other tools as well. If you walk around with a hammer in your hand everything begins to look like a nail.

"I care deeply about Israel," Gvaryahu says. "I love my country. I wake up, go to sleep, eat and drink thinking about how to make this place better."

- Sydney Morning Herald

fly b (26)
Tuesday June 5, 2018, 4:15 am
GMO: 125 Violations against Palestinian Journalists in May.

Israeli occupation forces committed 125 violations against Palestinian journalists during the past month of May, a Palestinian government office said, in its monthly report.

The report revealed the number and the conditions of wounded Palestinian journalists who sustained injuries while covering the Great March of Return, in eastern Gaza, with note to the large variety of injuries as a result of the use of explosive weapons by Israeli occupation forces. These weapons caused long-term disabilities for some journalists, while preventing them from carrying out their duties.

According to Al Ray Palestinian Media Agency, the report recorded 55 injuries in the Gaza Strip and 10 in other occupied Palestinian lands, by Israeli forces, during May.

Nine Palestinian journalists were shot with explosive bullets; they are identified as Yasser Qadih, with a bullet in the abdomen, Mutassem Dallul, with two bullets in the abdomen and back, Sami Mutran, with a live bullet in his arm, Amran Hamdan, with a bullet in the leg, Farhan Abu Hadayed, with a bullet in the leg, and Yahya Tamraz, with a bullet in the thigh.

Eight other journalists sustained injuries by shrapnel from explosive bullets.

17 Palestinian journalists sustained burns, wounds and fractures from poison gas bombs that made direct contact with their bodies, while more than 22 journalists suffocated from exposure to the gas. Additionally, occupation soldiers attacked more than four broadcast cars with poison gas, directly causing damages.

The report also recorded 10 injuries among Palestinian journalists in the occupied West Bank, two of them shot with rubber bullets. Adding to this, a number of journalists were beaten by Israeli forces while covering peaceful marches in the occupied West Bank.

The report also recorded the detention of seven journalists, two of whom are administratively detained without charge or trial, one under home arrest, while the detention of two journalists was extended.

Israeli forces also stormed the houses of three journalists, and barred 11 journalists from media coverage.

The report also documented one case of threats and incitement against the poet Darin Tator. Facebook administration, apparently incited by the Israeli occupation, closed the pages and accounts of more than 27 journalists and a media site that included the page of Palestinian Rai News, Palestine Today and Arresalah.

Evelyn B (61)
Tuesday June 5, 2018, 6:43 am
There are good soldiers, bad soldiers, moral soldiers, and immoral soldiers but the problem is not the soldier," Gvaryahu says. "The problem is what the soldiers are ordered to uphold."

And too many of the soldiers receiving 'immoral' orders are newcomers who trust and obey those giving such orders.

Furthermore, it rapidly seems to become like a video game or a safari hunt - as one could hear in some soldiers' recordings shared on social media ... cheers, praise & laughter when a Palestinian is 'dropped' by a 'good shot' (irrespective of whether they were near the border, facing it or moving away). Some of the young IDF snipers may well find their consciences in conflict with their memories of their actions ... but the dead won't be brought back when those IDF with a core value of integrity reflect on their actions once they're away from the peer-group encouragement of their killing sprees. The "threat" is a psychological tool of those extremist political Zionists, for whom the only 'good' Palestinian is a dead Palestinian, and for whom the entire region should be recognised as Israel.

And the political Zionist lobby (including Christian Zionists) have (for now) cowes most voices of those who would like to reject Israel's systematic abuse of Palestinian human rights ... but who fear more the political & social damage of that phoney but powerful label: "anti-Semitic"

Colleen L (3)
Tuesday June 5, 2018, 8:55 pm
Sorry to think that what Evelyn's comment about solders is so true. Thanks Fly
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