In May, the Israeli NGO, Breaking the Silence, released a series of testimonies documenting the experiences of Israeli soldiers who served in Operation Protective Edge (OPE), Israel’s summer 2014 assault on the Gaza Strip. Comprised of Israeli veterans who have served in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem since the second intifada, Breaking the Silence publishes soldiers’ testimonies and holds public events in order to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.” For its project on OPE, the group collected written and video testimonies from over 60 soldiers—ranging up to the rank of major—who served as combatants as well as in command centers and attack rooms.
Although Israeli leaders claim to have taken all precautions to protect civilians, the interviews reveal that systematic engagement policies were articulated to soldiers that contradict such claims. Veterans described the overarching ethos of the operation as minimizing Israeli military casualties, even at the cost of harming civilians. Soldiers testified that they were instructed to treat all situations in Gaza as a “threat” and were ordered to fire on buildings without verifying whether there were civilians inside, constituting an open-fire policy.
Breaking the Silence’s testimonies were released just a month ahead of the results of the UN Human Rights Council’s independent inquiry into OPE. The testimonies were used as data in the UN investigation. Israel was staunchly opposed to the UN inquiry, and the state conducted its own investigation into the operation, made public weeks ahead of the release of the UN report in June and finding Israeli actions lawful. These reports came just before the Palestinian Authority planned to submit documents to the International Criminal Court alleging Israeli war crimes during OPE.
Presented below is a selection of testimonies from the Breaking the Silence OPE database. All testimonies, as well as videos, photographs, and the group’s 240-page compilation can be accessed at www.breakingthesilence.org.il.