“Breaking the Silence” is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. 

Founded in March 2004 by a group of soldiers who served in Hebron, Breaking the Silence (BTS) has since acquired a special standing in the eyes of the Israeli public and in the media, as it is unique in giving voice to the experience of soldiers. To date, the organization has collected  testimonies from over a 1,000 soldiers who represent all strata of Israeli society and cover nearly all units that operate in the Territories.

testimony catalog number: 611701
rank: First Sergeant
unit: Armored Corps
area: Deir al-Balah area
period: 2014

“We entered a neighborhood with orchards, which is the scariest. There were lots of stories going around about being surprised by tunnels or explosive devices in these orchards. When you go in you fire at lots of suspicious places. You shoot at bushes, at trees, at all sorts of houses you suddenly run into, at more trees. You fire a blast and don’t think twice about it. When we first entered [the Gaza Strip] there was this ethos about Hamas – we were certain that the moment we went in our tanks would all be up in flames. But after 48 hours during which no one shoots at you and they’re like ghosts, unseen, their presence unfelt – except once in a while the sound of one shot fired over the course of an entire day – you come to realize the situation is under control. And that’s when my difficulty there started, because the formal rules of engagement – I don’t know if for all soldiers – were, ‘Anything still there is as good as dead. Anything you see moving in the neighborhoods you’re in is not supposed to be there. The [Palestinian] civilians know they are not supposed to be there. Therefore whoever you see there, you kill.'”

Who gave that order?

“The commander. ‘Anything you see in the neighborhoods you’re in, anything within a reasonable distance, say between zero and 200 meters – is dead on the spot. No authorization needed.’ We asked him: ‘I see someone walking in the street, do I shoot him?” He said yes.

‘Why do I shoot him?’

‘Because he isn’t supposed to be there. Nobody, no sane civilian who isn’t a terrorist, has any business being within 200 meters of a tank. And, if he places himself in such a situation, he is apparently up to something.’

Every place you took over, anything you ‘sterilized,’ anything within a range of zero to 200 meters, 300 meters –that’s supposed to be a ‘sterilized’ area, from our perspective.”

Did the commander discuss what happens if you run into civilians or uninvolved people?

“There are none. The working assumption states – and I want to stress that this is a quote of sorts: that anyone located in an IDF area, in areas the IDF took over – is not [considered] a civilian. That is the working assumption. We entered Gaza with that in mind, and with an insane amount of firepower. I don’t know if it was proportionate or not. I don’t claim to be a battalion commander or a general. But it reached a point where a single tank – and remember, there were 11 of those just where I was – fires between 20 and 30 shells per day. The two-way radio was crazy when we entered. There was one reservist tank company that positioned itself up on a hill and started firing. They fired lots – that company’s formal numbers stood at something like 150 shells per day. They fired, fired, fired. They started pounding things down two hours ahead [of the entrance].”

What did they fire at?

“They were providing cover during the entrance [to the Gaza Strip]. They were shooting mostly at al-Bureij, which is a neighborhood with a dominant geographical vantage point, and is also a Hamas stronghold, according to what we were told. I don’t know exactly what they were firing at and what they were using, but I do know they were firing a lot, tearing down that neighborhood, tearing it down to a whole new level. About 150 shells per day.”

BTS endeavors to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. Their work aims to bring an end to the occupation. 

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