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Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories
July 25, 2016

Q & A Following “Hamakor” television show

+ How many testimonies have you published? Why are there fewer testimonies from more recent years compared to earlier years?

● Since the organization was founded in 2004, over 1,000 male and female soldiers have chosen to break their silence and testify to the organization. The soldiers who broke their silence chose to assume responsibility for their actions and share with the public at large what they did during their service in the West Bank and Gaza – whether during routine periods or during operations and combat – in order to encourage public discourse on the moral price of a system of military control over another people, which has lasted for nearly 50 years.

● For most testifiers, breaking their silence is a complex process that includes an element of assuming responsibility for the actions they (and we) have carried out and for the reality in which they and we took an active part. From our personal experience, we know that sometimes it requires a buffer period in order to process such things and be capable of talking about them openly – as well as coping with their meaning. This is the main reason why most of the soldiers who chose to break their silence only reach that decision several years after their release.

● The testimonies we collect are published only once the production process is completed. This process includes several stages: Verifying the credibility of the testifier, verifying the testimonies themselves, removing details from the testimony that could identify the testifier, passing it to the military censor for approval, passing it through legal examination – and only then, publishing it. This process usually takes anywhere from several months to a year.

● Each year we interview about 100 soldiers who served in various areas during different periods. Sometimes we make an investigative effort to interview soldiers whose service had specific characteristics, in order to draw attention to certain events or practices and to generate public discourse over questions of morality regarding events taking place in particular parts of the territories. For example, throughout 2014, the majority of our efforts were invested in the collection of testimonies by combatants who took part in Operation Protective Edge, which resulted in the subsequent publication of the book ‘This is How We Fought in Gaza 2014.’ In comparison, a year earlier, we focused on soldiers who served in various parts of the West Bank.

+ What does the verification process include before the testimonies are published?

● All the testimonies we publish undergo a verification process before publication.

● The verification process includes two stages:
1. Verifying the credibility of the testifier: The testifiers are our ‘sources.’ Unfortunately, there have been ‘imposter’ testifiers who approached us in the past and tried to undermine us by providing false testimonies about their service or about actions in which they took part. As a result, we make sure to verify the credibility of the testifiers before publishing his or her testimonies. When the testifier’s credibility is in question, we shelve the testimonies, never making use of them.
2. Verifying the events described: We crosscheck the information provided in the testimonies regarding each specific incident with other sources. We publish the parts of the testimonies whose information has been crosschecked and verified.

● The sources we use to verify the details of the testimonies include additional soldiers or entities that were in the area such as police officers, journalists, Palestinian residents, and others. In addition, we also utilize information collected by other Israeli, Palestinian and international organizations who operate in the territories. Sometimes data is crosschecked with information published by the IDF or the police.

+ If you do such thorough work, how could some of the testimonies be found to be false?

● Firstly, to this day we do not know of a single testimony that has been found to be false.

● The incidents addressed in the investigation carried out by the ‘Hamakor’ investigative television show relate to testimonies that were retroactively found to have details that were unknown to the soldier who provided the testimony (and by the way, the soldiers and other entities with whom we verified the details weren’t aware of them either). For example, certain details emerged as a result of a police investigation into a specific incident regarding a testimony that was provided to Breaking the Silence.

● It is important to keep in mind: We publish the information as the soldier provided it, in accordance with what he knew and was aware of. We are committed to verifying the facts described in the testimony itself, but we have no pretension to act as an investigative authority that attempts to collect evidence for judicial proceedings – and accordingly, we do not conduct an exhaustive, comprehensive investigation into the entirety of the events surrounding the incident described in a testimony, which were not known to the testifier. It is also important to remember the objective and end product of our work: The publication of the testimony, after the verification of the facts mentioned in it, in adherence to the words used by the testifier.

● Despite all this, we are receptive to criticism. As always, and also in light of the conclusions made by ‘Hamakor,’ we are examining how we can improve the ways in which we operate to make our work as professional as possible.

+ Specifically, how do you explain the testimonies that ‘Hamakor’ found to be false?

● The cases referred to by ‘Hamakor’ as those with parts which turned out to be “untrue” were incidents in which the findings of investigations (conducted either by police or intra-military) produced additional information, that was sometimes conflicting from the information known to the soldier who testified.
In order to provide the public with as complete a picture of the incident described in the testimony as possible, we added a note below these testimonies on our website describing the details that were discovered after the fact.

● One of the testimonies referred to as incorrect by ‘Hamakor’ describes a ‘price-tag’ attack in which some 60 olive trees belonging to Palestinians were uprooted allegedly by settlers in the South Hebron Hills. In it, the testifier said that the IDF tracker dispatched to the area claimed it was impossible to know where the perpetrators came from. A police report written that day confirmed that the tracks spotted in the area led nowhere. We verified and published these details.

Only in the complete investigation file – which was written after the testimony was already verified and published – it turned out that the trackers later succeeded in detecting the tracks of the party that uprooted the trees, moreover, using them to lead the forces to a specific structure in the Havat Maon settlement outpost. Again – these details were only revealed at a later time, and were not known to the testifier.
It should be noted that this case too – like the vast majority of investigation files opened over cases of alleged settler violence – was ultimately closed on grounds of insufficient evidence. No arrests were made; no one was put on trial.
In effect, the description of the events told by the soldier (in accordance to what he experienced, and which we verified and published), is not nearly as bleak as the reality in which a serious crime is left unsolved or unpunished simply due to the ineffectiveness of the police in the handling of such cases.

● The second example brought forth by ‘Hamakor’ regarded an incident from the Second Intifada in which a Palestinian child was killed in Nablus as a result of gunfire directed by an IDF officer at stone throwers. The soldier testifies as to the lenient rules of engagement dictated to the forces and the fact that the punishment for the officer for killing a child was a monetary fine of 100 Shekels. These details were known to the soldier who gave the testimony, as well as to other soldiers in the unit, as told by the officer himself who fired the shots and was punished, and who served at that time as a deputy company commander.
In this case as well, reality was later found to be even worse than what was described in the testimony we published. There is no dispute over the fact that a Palestinian child was killed by imprecise gunfire and that the officer was fined as a result of his conduct during the operation. But in retrospect, it turns out that the soldiers were unaware at the time that the officer was not punished for killing the child – but rather for “negligence in carrying out the mission.” In response to the killing of the child, the officer was only told that he ought to have pointed his fire at the child’s legs, and avoided killing him.

+ How is it possible for different soldiers to tell different stories about things that happened?

● If we were to take ten soldiers who were present at a specific incident (certainly one that transpired during combat) and ask them what happened, we would get ten slightly different accounts. So how does one know what is accurate? One verifies the facts, allowing room for the analysis, instincts and thoughts of the soldier who provided the testimony.

● It is important to remember that we at Breaking the Silence publish testimonies of soldiers about missions they carried out during their military service. As such, it is clear that the testimonies are told from each soldier’s unique perspective (both physical and ethical). We of course verify the factual details described by the testifiers, but anyone who has read our testimonies knows that they also encompass the testifiers’ impressions and feelings – which cannot be verified, and do not need to be.

● It has happened in the past that we have published several testimonies regarding the same incident – each of the testimonies shedding additional light on various aspects relating to it. We are pleased each time in which the publication of testimonies leads to additional examinations – whether by journalists or other entities – that can serve to help illuminate the events. Sadly, we are also aware that if every incident described in our testimonies were to be investigated, then a much harsher reality would surface. To reiterate something said by Military Criminal Investigation Division officials as part of the ‘Hamakor’ piece – that dozens of investigations opened as a result of testimonies published by Breaking the Silence were closed only due to the fact that the damage that could be done to the State, through finding out the truth, would be too much. The Military Criminal Investigation Division simply does not want to open the Pandora’s box of what is going on in the Occupied Territories.

+ ‘Hamakor’ presented four testimonies that the show’s investigators were unable to verify. Why?

Quite simple – this is because in many of the cases, in order to verify a testimony, one must know several identifying details about the testifier (the specific position he/she filled at the time of the incident, the unit he/she served in, etc.). As always, our first and primary commitment is to the soldier who chose to break their silence – and to the guarantee we made to them that their identity would be kept confidential for as long as they wish. Therefore, in some cases we refrained to provide ‘Hamakor’ with details that could have corroborated the veracity of the testimony, but in doing so, would have also exposed the identity of the testifier. Furnishing such information could have made us look more credible on TV, but would have violated our commitment to those who come to us to break their silence – something which we would not allow.

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