Breaking the Silence – new testimony from women soldiers

What has been revealed is not new, and it is not a surprise.  It is no longer a shock, but it is still sickening.

There are many who will, nonetheless, argue that this is distorted and not true — who will hurl accusations and denunciations, and try to damage those who collect this testimony as well as those who report it.

But, these are stories that have been told, and must be faced: the Israeli group of veteran members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), Breaking the Silence has just published a new collection of testimony from women — soldiers, military policewomen, and female members of the Border Police — recounting what these women say is routine, habitual, “normal” and expected mistreatment of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank and at the Erez crossing into the Gaza Strip.

According to an article published on the Israeli YNet website, the testimony shows that female soldiers are not more “sensitive” than their male counterparts.

To the contrary, and by their own testimony, the women have sometimes been quite remarkably cruel.

Breaking the Silence says, in an introduction to this new collection of testimonies, that its goal is “to stimulate public debate about the moral price that Israeli society as a whole has been paying in which young soldiers face a civilian population on an everyday basis and control its live” — in other words, about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

Breaking the Silence states that “In contrast to widely-held beliefs, the mosaic of testimonies that only continues to expand proves that we are not dealing with a fringe phenomenon that touches only the bad apples of the military, but a gradual erosion of ethics in the society as a whole … This is an urgent call to Israeli society and its leaders to wake up and evaluate anew the results of our actions“.

This 136-page report comes just as the Israeli Government reported to UNSG BAN Ki-Moon on the results of the Israeli military internal investigations (some of which are still continuing) into the conduct of its forces during a massive Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip just over a year ago.

Some testimony collected by Breaking the Silence about what happened during the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza was included in the Goldstone report, commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, which presented nearly 600 pages of collected evidence, and called on both Israel and the Palestinians to conduct their own impartial and independent investigations into what happened.

Haaretz reported today that “In the report that Israel handed to the UN on Friday, it emphasized that its system of investigating alleged war crimes is comparable to the systems adopted by other democratic nations. ‘To date’, the Israeli report states, ‘the IDF has launched investigations into 150 separate incidents arising from the Gaza Operation. Of the 150 incidents, so far 36 have been referred for criminal investigation. Criminal investigators have taken statements from almost 100 Palestinian complainants and witnesses, along with approximately 500 IDF soldiers and commanders’.” This Haaretz report is published here.

[A few days ago, Haaretz reported that “Israel’s response to the UN is expected to include a progress report on the IDF’s
investigations into 140 incidents that occurred during Operation Cast Lead. Of these, 35 were investigated or are being investigated by the IDF’s Criminal Investigations Division. About 8 Gazans testified at the Erez checkpoint in connection to the incidents, with the
mediation of international humanitarian organizations. In the wake of the Goldstone report, which dealt with more than 30 incidents, the IDF initiated 11 CID investigations. Two of them turned out to be different reports of the same incident and were closed when the Military Advocate General’s Corp concluded that no crime was committed. The other nine cases are still being investigated”. That Haaretz report was published here.

Since publishing testimonies from soldiers who participated in the unprecedented Gaza military operation that lasted from 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009, Breaking the Silence has been subjected to criticism because it operates, in part, on funding from foreign donors — the innuendo is that the funding comes from outsiders who have an anti-Israel agenda.

The Goldstone report itself has collected a significant number of reactions of outrage from writers and commentators around the world eager to defend Israel, and in support of statements from Israeli military commanders defending the IDF as the “most moral army in the world”.

Breaking the Silence states right up front that, indeed, the European Union and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation have sponsored this new collection of testimonies.

These testimonies are the first with a specific gender perspective, gathered from direct interviews with female soldiers.

Continue reading Breaking the Silence – new testimony from women soldiers

No tear gas fired at Qalandia checkpoint on the second Friday in Ramadan

There were eight Israeli snipers aiming the barrels of their weapons at the crowd trying to enter the major Qalandia “border crossing” between Ramallah and Jerusalem on the second Friday in Ramadan in order to perform Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. And there were more Palestinians hoping to get through than on the previous Friday.

A small group of those denied passage simply put their prayer rugs down, or pieces of cardboard, or newspaper, and prayed on the spot — men ahead, women behind.

But — for the first time in years — no stone was thrown by the frustrated crowd, and no tear gas or rubber bullets or stun grenades were fired by the Israeli forces.

One suggestion made by observers last week — that signs be posted at the entrance to explain procedures to the crowd — was actually implemented. Signs saying “Men only” and “Women only”, and explaining this years rules about age and permits, were posted at the concrete barrier where Israeli forces were doing a first screening of the anxious faithful who wanted badly to be allowed to go to pray.

Still, it was dramatic and difficult.

Palestinians yearning to get through Qalandia checkpoint to pray at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem

People had gone through a lot to get to Qalandia then crumpled when they thought they were being denied entrance.

Abandoned shoes — even an intact pair of children’s shoes — littered the “sterile zone” where the Palestinans had to pass to get to the full Qalandia inspection zone, as if a human or natural catastrophe had just happened.

A crowd of Palestinians trying to get into Qalandia checkpoint for admission to Jerusalem for Friday prayers.

The sun was hot, and there were no comforts for those passing to pray.

A Palestinian crosses the sterile zone to get to Qalandia checkpoint prior to passage to Jerusalem for Friday prayers.

The checkpoint controls can be called chilling, claustrophobic — and everything about them is humiliating.

A Palestinian woman passing through Qalandia checkpoint controls

A man led the prayer who was denied passage at the other end of the “sterile zone”. I saw him turned away, roughly, at the other end of the “sterile zone” when I arrived at Qalandia. “Yellah! Yellah!”, the Israeli soldiers shouted, waving their hands and dismissing like children, or even like stray dogs, a small group of men in robes who wanted to go to pray in Jerusalem.

After the prayer, the man said he had come from Nablus, in the northern West Bank. He spoke English, and said his name was Nadir. He said he didn’t have a permit, and was just a few months younger than 50 years old, the age at which men could pass without a permit. He said he believed the Israelis wanted to cut the Palestinians’ ties to Al-Aqsa. “They say they are the ones killed”, he concluded, “but they turn the truth [around]”.

A child waits while Palestinians pray at Qalandia because they were not allowed to get to Jerusalem.

An Israeli soldier said that it was hard for him, too, to see women and children standing at the police barriers in such conditions. “I’d rather be at home”, he said wearily.

Israeli forces deployed outside of Qalandia checkpoint sterile zone

With special thanks to Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch — who was also pushed around by an Israeli soldier at Qalandia today — for these photos.