IDF-critiquing NGO faces court debate on revealing its sources
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IDF-critiquing NGO faces court debate on revealing its sources

Breaking the Silence co-founder says hearings aimed at shuttering organization: ‘No soldier will speak if he knows he may go to prison’

Infantry soldiers operating on the ground during Operation Protective Edge, July 20, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)
Infantry soldiers operating on the ground during Operation Protective Edge, July 20, 2014. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/Flickr)

Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court will Sunday begin hearings to decide if an Israeli NGO that uses anonymous soldiers’ testimony to expose alleged abuses of Palestinians should reveal its sources, the group said Friday.

The State Prosecutor’s Office has demanded that Breaking the Silence name its sources, saying anonymous witnesses allow potential lies to spread and make it impossible to investigate alleged abuses.

According to Israeli media reports earlier this year, the army is demanding testimonies that primarily relate to evidence of alleged war crimes and compliance by IDF troops with illegal orders. The State Prosecutor’s Office — officially acting on behalf of the army as the matter pertains to a civilian organization — presented the petition to the court.

Breaking the Silence co-founder Yehuda Shaul said the hearings were aimed at closing down the NGO, and insisted the group is determined to protect the identities of its sources.

The NGO provides a platform for military veterans to describe what they say were disturbing aspects of their service in the 2014 war in the Gaza Strip and in operations in the West Bank.

File: Illustrative photo of a lecture by a member of Breaking the Silence. (Gili Getz)
File: Illustrative photo of a lecture by a member of Breaking the Silence. (Gili Getz)

It has faced increased political pressure in Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presides over one of the most right-wing governments in the country’s history.

In March, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who on Friday morning announced his resignation, accused the NGO of “treason” by asking discharged soldiers to reveal classified information, a charge denied by the group.

The Military Police have also demanded the names of the NGO’s sources — a request it refused.

“In January, in the midst of all the attacks against Breaking the Silence, the state prosecutor has taken a decision to pursue this case,” Shaul told AFP.

“An act like this will shut down Breaking the Silence — no soldier will speak any more if he knows that the next day he can go to prison,” he said.

Shaul said the anonymous testimonies that triggered the ire of the state attorney and others were published in a book about the 2014 Gaza war, and included allegations of abuse by soldiers.

A statement by the Justice Ministry on Friday said: “Israel believes there is a public interest of the highest degree in clarifying suspicions against the suspect and other involved parties.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has said Breaking the Silence and other NGOs provided evidence to the United Nations, testimony that formed the basis of a 2014 UN inquiry into the Gaza war, which concluded Israel and Palestinian terrorists may have been guilty of war crimes.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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