Why All the Hate Toward Breaking the Silence?

by Kevin Jon Heller

Although anything I post about Israel invariably elicits angry comments, nothing makes Israel’s supposed “defenders” more angry than my posts — see here and here — about Breaking the Silence, the Israeli organisation that collects testimonies by IDF soldiers about their experiences in combat. I’m obviously not the only one who has noticed the anger toward the organisation; Haggai Mattar recently published a superb article at +972 entitled simply, “Why Do So Many Israeli’s Hate Breaking the Silence?” Here are a couple of key paragraphs:

The first claim, which in my mind is the most important and critical accusation to refute, is that Breaking the Silence is not credible. The organization’s critics come up with all sorts of reasons why the organization isn’t credible, but there is one rebuttal that is awfully difficult to refute: In the 11 years that Breaking the Silence has collected and published testimonies, there has not been one instance in which a serious error — not to mention a fabrication — has been found in their published testimonies.

This is no insignificant point — it needs to be the heart of the debate. An organization that publishes hundreds of testimonies, which works with more than 1,000 soldiers, which has dealt with very complicated subject matter for 11 years — and not a single fabricated published testimony has ever been found. No court of law in any land can boast of such a record. And that is despite a number of attempts to fool the organization by giving them false testimonies. Their researchers and fact-checkers seem to have a perfect record of catching fabrications before publication.

That astounding success is the result of the massive investment Breaking the Silence makes in every single testimony. As the organization’s director of research has written here in the past, every testimony given by a soldier or former soldier is fact-checked, and the background of the incident or testimony is verified along with the identity of the testifier him or herself (and that they are not an aspiring politician looking to make a name for himself). The entire testimony is then corroborated with any available information — both from other soldiers’ testimonies and open source information. Some of the most hair-raising testimonies collected by Breaking the Silence were never published because the organization could not independently corroborate them. Just imagine if journalists who published attack pieces on the organization applied their strict verification standards to their own work and the malicious things that are said about it.

The article goes on to explain why Breaking the Silence does not give its testimonies to the IDF (they used to — and were investigated by the IDF for their trouble); why the testimonies are anonymous (similar reasons); why the organisation’s foreign funding is a non-issue (duh); and why it engages in events overseas (double duh).

The article ultimately concludes by answering the question asked by its title: because Breaking the Silence involves Israeli soldiers laying bare the ugly reality of how the IDF actually conducts its biennial destruction of Gaza — a necessary counterpoint to the endless Israeli propaganda about how the IDF is the “most moral army” in the world. The IDF regularly violates IHL and commits war crimes, and no number of self-interested secret briefings by the IDF about its targeting procedures can change that basic fact.


26 Responses

  1. Kevin ,

    Well , the issue is pretty complicated . But , one should remember :
    Verifying, corroborating, checking and so forth…. doesn’t yet pass the ultimate exam:

    Cross examination, by the other opponent and party. Means :
    when allegations , made by them , would : coherently , systematically , directly , refuted or counter attacked , then and only then , one can truly exhaust the truth and real justice . Full hearing , full examination by other sides and parties , accused .

    Right after the the Gaza report ( protective edge ) you have posted your saying on the report . stating clearly there :

    The practices of the IDF like ” knocking on roof ” sending SMS texts , and just concerning those methods, do you know another army who would warn residents, by sending an F16 or a chopper , knocking so on their roofs ?? sending an SMS ??

    War is ugly , yet , No army has ever used such amazing methods for avoiding civilian casualties , as much as it could almost ( let alone , while facing the Hamas and its ugly use of human shields ) .

    Some honest words , at least some ,which really reflect the reliable truth , let’s be honest with it !!


  2. No, the honest words come from the courageous Breaking the Silence soldiers who are willing to tell the truth about the IDF.

  3. How would any external agent, or natural person, be able to test the veracity of the testimonies they publish if they don’t publish names? That doesn’t seem to be all too transparent to me and more cynical people might believe they do not act in good faith (though much to their credit, their founder defended Naftali Bennet when some people started to blame him for the shelling in Qana in Grapes of Wrath. He was Bennet’s direct subordinate in the commando unit involved IIRC).

    That said, the criticism, if not incitement, against them by the likes of Im Tirzu is ridiculous, and I think they have the right to keep publishing those testimonies – and those who aren’t fans also have the right to complain that the lack of names makes independent verification close to impossible.

  4. Kevin: I see the critiques continue to follow the standard approach that I’ve seen before:

    Step 1: claim that the situation is always more complicated and nuanced than the commenter thinks and that he therefore “doesn’t really understand what is going on on the ground”

    Step 2: if step 1 doesn’t work, accuse the commenter of anti-semitism

  5. @ Anon:

    We won’t comment on the irony of either of us posting anonymously and our credibility as a result.

    It is absolutely standard in human rights reporting to conceal names of respondents. Journalists grant anonymity to sources. We make law enforcement decisions on the basis of confidential informants.

    Typically the question is whether the organization’s methodology is credible and can be trusted, and what steps they take if any to verify the account. The account itself might have self-verifying detail if one examines it closely.

    You are right to be skeptical of confidential sourcing, but that does not mean confidential sources are never credible.

  6. @Non liquet:

    Indeed, it is ironic that someone whose username is “Anon” complains about anonymity, though I am not making factual claims that are not necessarily true.

    Your point regarding the possible need for anonymity of sources for human rights organizations is well taken, though I do recall that (for instance) the letter written by former Unit 802 members regarding their experience in military intel was not anonymously signed (though with codenames in some cases) with no legal consequences for signatories that I know of.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that BS is necessarily wrong on its claims and they are worth investigating, but I would not take their word as gospel either. Indeed, it would not be unprecedented for human rights organizations to have been wrong about some of them, I have the Kuwait incubators fiasco for Amnesty International (which backed those claims up as true) in mind.

    As I pointed out, they have every right to engage in their usual activities and the incitement against them should stop.

  7. Kevin ,

    Just to directly answering your question or wonder , why are they so hated , so here some few :

    1) First , when you see or read or know ,of the methods used by the IDF for avoiding as much as possible , civilians casualties ,on one hand , while on the other , in the eyes or perception of an average Israeli , whatever , the world would be against him , then , you can clearly understand , the huge despise to such organization like ” breaking the silence ” .

    2) Imagine what is it, how is it, to be a parent, sending his kids to dangerous military service, the fear, the anxiety, the huge concerns, and on the other side: sort of traitors, informants, rates , deep throats , are hectically, abroad, prosecuting or taking care of it or alike , by your own people, in a survival war going on , all around constantly. you can only imagine the contempt and hatred .

    3) Every state , must grant support for its soldiers sent to battle field ( or at least sentiment of such ) .The idea of sending to war a soldier , and prosecuting him at the same time ( or not backing him ) is in human terms , very hard to perceive . So , just imagine , that organization is a voluntary one , people in their let’s say : leisure are acting for such cause for prosecuting or alike soldiers of their own people ….just imagine the contempt They feel !!

    4) All that Kevin , if you are capable of course , of a certain relative perception …….but I have described the average Israeli layman , I know so well , and objectively , So , how would you perceive it , well : let’s wait and see ……

  8. Just correcting :

    Should be rats , not : rates of course ….


  9. Yes, I understand completely: Israelis would much prefer not to have the myth that the IDF is the world’s most moral army destroyed by the testimony of soldiers who actually fight for the IDF.

  10. Well Kevin , They don’t need to fight for the IDF , The IDF , fights for the people and the homeland , not for itself , and if for itself , it knows how to do it. In the eyes of an Israeli , who asked them ?? who wants it ?? who needs it ?? The consensus , is almost absolute !!

    However , you wouldn’t find too many Israelis , who would believe of course , that they ( BS ) fight so for any cause , beyond or other than : self hatred , and : to flatter or give up cowardly to antisemitic movements .

    Anyway , just to add another kind of reasons for such hatred , from soldiery perspective :

    The brotherhood and dedication in battle field , is overwhelming one . The idea , of being betrayed by your brother , who needs actually to risk his life for you and vice versa , is in human terms , unthinkable .

    The presented here and above , is far from exhaustion in this regard , but some few important of course …..


  11. I see. The literally dozens of IDF soldiers who contradict Israeli propaganda by telling BtS about what they have seen and done during combat are engaged in “self-hatred,” are trying to “flatter… anti-semitic movements,” and are “betraying” their fellow soldiers. What an utterly disgusting comment.

    You are free to post on OJ as long as you stay within community guidelines. But I have taken you seriously for the last time. I shall not respond to your comments again.

  12. Truth be told, the testimonies, unsettling as they are, are pretty mild when it comes to war crimes.

  13. Kudos to Breaking the Silence, B’Tselem, etc.
    Their very existence proves that Israel is a healthy, pluralistic society.

  14. Jackdaw,

    Fair enough — but it’s important not to forget that organisations like BtS and B’Tselem have come under increasing attack over the past few years as Israel drifts ever rightward. (See here for one of literally dozens of examples.) Whether such organisations will exist within Israel five years from now is anything but clear.

  15. Kevin ,

    Are you serious ?? You were asking objective question , demanding objective description , and now , after being given to you :

    You make it personal ? I don’t understand , are you in high ?? All this has got nothing to do with me, it is an objective description of public opinion ) in Israel (generally speaking , although I have clear opinion on it ) that no one, knows better than me.

    If your mind is , and ,had been determined anyway , not to comment on me , then : don’t !!

    Now, you would either apologize, or face the consequences, because, I shall comment on you , even if you wouldn’t, and it shall be in an understatement, very very embarrassing for you, trust me on that Kevin. You have been testing it , not once , and not twice . I was very delicate , very polite , but you have upset me , just like that ( like here ) with no reason .

    I expect you to apologize , with no reservation , on spot !

    P.S 1. : what is so ugly in that objective description ?? war is ugly !! killing is ugly !! wounding is ugly !! abusing helpless people is ugly !! not words ( surly that much ) !!It does testify on you , but I won’t get into it right now !!

    P.S 2 . : Let alone , while written there , in my comment : objective description .
    I can’t understand , don’t you have any manners , any code , any respect , to nothing at all ??

  16. I presume KH cannot be wrong (and this is his blog after all) but he is.
    And that is because since I have debated Avner Gevaryahu I have some experience with what they are trying to do.
    That are not trying to moralize ths IDF.
    They are trying to improve Israeli society.
    Or any other relative human rights activity.

    They are exploiting the issue of whether or not IDF soldiers are fully complying with the ROE (and there is much to be said if BOS are faithfully reporting errors and/or supposed crimes or lying or in-between) simply to get Israel to withdraw from the territories.

    And they are acting as agents of foreign powers as their financial slaves, who demand reports of how many complaints tendered in order to receive monies.

    In that vein, it is not hate, but a form of despise.

  17. “And they are acting as agents of foreign powers as their financial slaves, who demand reports of how many complaints tendered in order to receive monies.”

    Good stuff!

  18. I guess this guy hates Israel, too:

    A retired IDF major general on Friday took out an advert in the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz in support of “Breaking the Silence,” a controversial organization that collects testimony from Israeli veterans of alleged human rights abuses within the army.

    Under the headline “I am also breaking my silence,” Amiram Levin used the half-page ad to both express his backing for the group and to malign those who seek to outlaw it.

    “‘Breaking the Silence’ guards IDF soldiers in the impossible place in which politicians have abandoned them,” wrote Levin in his statement, adding that “the instructions to silence ‘Breaking the Silence’ harm and weaken the IDF.”

    The retired soldier, whose posts included head of the IDF Northern Command, commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit and deputy director of Mossad, added: “The IDF must encourage ‘Breaking the Silence’ and those like them, to speak out without fear in the IDF and in Israeli society.”

  19. I suspect Kevin, with all due respect,that despite what may be good intentions on your part, you are nevertheless, and regrettably and for whatever reason, turning “Opinio Juris”, which is intended to entertain “informed discussion and lively debate about international law and international relations” into your own Israel-bashing blog,- or “Opinio-politis-contra-Israelum”.

    While this may be your prerogative as one of the leaders of, and main contributors to Opinio Juris, I respectfully suggest, with a view to maintaining the requisite legal nature and intellectual standard, that you consider this in initiating new issues for discussion.

    On this specific issue of “Breaking the silence” (despite the fact that it really isn’t a legal issue as such), the problem that I have is the fact that rather than to try to address whatever grievencies, accusations and allegations these people may have, directly with the Israeli military and legal authorities, with the available mechanisms for this,they nevertheless choose to take their complaints outside Israel, whether to the UN or other countries or bodies.

    In so doing they knowingly feed into a welcoming political environment ever-ready to criticize Israel, even where such criticism may not be justified.

    If they have substantive evidence and details to back-up their allegations, then there are bodies within Israel that monitor and supervise the actions of the army that are fully qualified and capable of investigating, and as necessary, taking appropriate measures to redress or punish offenders.

    Thus, their running to “wash dirty linen” abroad, often anonymously and without providing solid substantiating evidence,is rightly perceived by many within and outside Israel, as being generated by pure political bias rather than by genuine substantive concern.

    The fact that they are financed and supported by political organizations with an inherently open, hostile agenda vis-a-vis Israel, is also indicative of a lack of bona fides on their part.

    As has been stated above, armed conflict is indeed ugly. One only need see what’s going on in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere, in order to place the actions of Israel’s military in the correct proportion.

    As such one may appreciate that even with mistakes, misjudgments and violations that inevitably occur in armed conflict, Israel is capable of dealing with such problems, without the need for external, politically biased and factually unsubstantiated propaganda.

  20. How ironic, being exhorted to maintain “the requisite legal nature” of the blog by an author of the Levy Report, one of the most overtly political works of legal fiction of our time! Indeed, I note that Mr. Baker has simply ignored my response to his previous mistakes concerning Art. 49(6).

    As for Mr. Baker’s substantive comments, he simply rehashes all of the criticisms the +972 article thoroughly debunks, so there is no need to respond to them.

  21. That said, I do like Mr. Baker’s implied slogan for the IDF: “Not as Bad as Assad’s Forces”!

  22. Clearly, Kevin’s sad and unprofessional response proves my point regarding his obvious abuse of the Opinio Juris platform for venting his personal fixation against Israel.

  23. Unable to mount a substantive response to my criticisms of his earlier comment about Art. 49, Mr. Baker retreats — of course — to the pathetic claim that I have a “personal fixation against Israel.” In fact, my fixation is against his brand of noxious far-right politics, which serves only to make Israel less safe.

  24. @Alan Baker

    Man up and respond Kevin’s claims concerning Art. 49(6).

  25. Where in this article or the comments above is Art49(6) mentioned? Can someone please confirm/clarify?


  26. Doto , you can read the post and the debate on , of Kevin , here :


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