IDF spokesman posts Facebook tirade against critical NGO

Officer slams Israeli watchdog group ‘Breaking the Silence’, claims it acts in bad faith; don’t blame us for army failings, retorts NGO

Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Barak Raz, spokesman for the IDF’s Judea and Samaria Division — the unit responsible for most military activities in the West Bank — used Facebook and Twitter to launch a bitter and emotional attack on Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence for what he said was deliberately seeking to smear the IDF rather than genuinely trying to prevent abuses by the army.

Prefaced by the admission that he had debated with himself over whether to publish the tirade, Raz opted to go public, declaring in the lengthy, English-language post that “While I can stand a lot, ‘I can’t stands (sic) it no more’.”

In the post Friday on his official Facebook page, Raz wrote: “‘Breaking the Silence’ is an organization that engages in nothing, but NOTHING, other than a smear campaign targeting the IDF. This smear campaign has NOTHING to do with rooting out their observed problem. Furthermore, none of their work helps the IDF (or Israel, for that matter) provide a solution.”

Raz blasted the group, which compiles and publishes testimonies by former IDF soldiers about what it claims are abuses of Palestinian civilians, for not bothering to consult with the IDF or ask for its response before publishing its reports, and for not revealing the identities of its sources.

Barak Raz (photo credit: Facebook)
Barak Raz (photo credit: Facebook)

Raz went on: “We at the IDF (commanders, military advocates, military police investigators, and even spokespeople) have called on the organization several times to provide us with the means to respond to their claims – be it by providing us with drafts of their reports prior to publications, or by providing us with more, accountable details. Either of these steps would allow for thorough investigations, possibly leading to the opening of criminal investigations and legal proceedings. “Breaking the Silence” has not answered our (sometimes even public) calls.”

He claimed that “The information used by ‘Breaking the Silence’ by and large seems to derive from two sources – unverifiable hearsay or accounts from anonymous former soldiers who, sometimes, they themselves deserve to be behind bars in military prison for what they did! (That’s right… I said it! And that’s right, if I had the authority to, I would jail them myself!!),” Raz wrote, apparently alluding to his desire to arrest soldiers who commit human right abuses.

Why, Raz asked in the post, don’t the soldiers who tell their stories to the NGO instead “‘break their silence’ to the right authorities?” The soldiers involved should have reported any wrongdoing they witnessed to their commanders, so that the IDF could investigate and publish any illegal behavior, instead of turning to a NGO that he said was determined to tarnish their fellow soldiers and officers.

In the lengthy post, which read like a mix of official positions and personal rage, the captain asserted that in circumventing the formal channels for highlighting alleged abuses, the group and its activists are driven by a pernicious agenda.

He described the IDF as “a military that holds itself to the highest of standards and prides itself on its ability to self-investigate through processes that are NOT subordinate to any military commander. Even the IDF Chief of the General Staff can’t prevent or stop an investigation!”

He acknowledged that “we don’t necessarily see eye to eye on all issues with some of the organizations we are in contact with,” but said the crucial element was that direct contact. “There is a certain level of integrity and accountability on the part of both, the IDF and the organizations who meet with us, that helps each of us do what we feel is right to help solve complex, and sometimes problematic, issues…

“So while I can honor organizations that speak with us, meet with us, share information with us – I cannot say the same for ‘Breaking the Silence,’ which, as I said earlier, is not seeking to be a part of the answer. I can only be left with the understanding that they are, in fact, a part of the problem.

Asked to comment on Raz’s post, the IDF Spokesman’s Office said that while what he wrote on his Facebook page is his own opinion, the IDF agrees with the points that he makes and has issued similar responses to the group’s publications in the past.

“Breaking the Silence’s refusal to bring their complaints to the authorities’ attention, or enable them to respond before they go public, indicates its unfortunate agenda. Clearly, it does not truly wish to bring the matters to light in order to enable a thorough discussion, but rather to generate negative publicity of the IDF and its soldiers,” the Spokesman’s Office said.

Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak said she did not know what in particular sparked the outraged post. The NGO’s latest campaign came out nearly two weeks ago and received modest media attention. It featured video testimonies by four female soldiers describing their daily interactions with Palestinians at West Bank checkpoints and villages and their motivations to come forward and report on them.

The testimonies range from stories of soldiers harassing and humiliating Palestinians to pass the time, to wrongful arrests, collective punishment of villages, thefts from Palestinian homes and the practice of receiving “gifts” from local shopkeepers.

An Opinion piece by one of the women was published in the British Independent.

“Instead of taking responsibility for the situation, this IDF spokesman chooses to place the responsibility of rectifying 46 years of occupation at the feet of the soldiers,” said Novak.

Responding to Raz’s critique about the failure to report abuses through formal channels, Novak said that the soldiers know better than to complain to their superiors, many of whom either turn a blind eye or even take part in the alleged harassment and humiliation. “The general atmosphere doesn’t promote coming forward. Many of those who try to [do so] are often shunned and ridiculed by their fellow soldiers.”

“Nine-hundred soldiers who have submitted testimonies to Breaking the Silence consistently tell a story of routine, violence, harassment and intimidation of the Palestinian population. Dozens of soldiers have recorded video testimonies, exposing their names and faces, reporting on their daily actions in the West Bank. Both the IDF and the government know of these videos, which appear open to all on our website, but chose not to deal with the harsh descriptions,” Novak charged. “The military should just tell the truth — there is no pleasant way to control the lives of millions of men women and children. We are tired of them diverting the real discussion on the moral price of the occupation by pointing their finger at us, the soldiers who gave everything and continue to give everything for the country we love.”

Breaking the Silence is a registered non-profit organization. Its donors include the New Israel Fund, the Moriah Fund and various European foundations and governments. Some politicians have attempted to curtail foreign funding of the group.

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