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Middle East Issues





Washington Post Falls for Breaking the Silence 'Report'


If the source is tainted, can the news be reliable? Not in the case of a foreign funded Israeli group called “Breaking the Silence,” as reported by The Washington Post in “Israeli soldiers allege ‘ethical failure' in Gaza” (May 5, 2015).

The Post treats this “organization of active and reserve duty soldiers” as a legitimate news source. This is a mistake, since “Breaking the Silence's” sloppy methods, unfounded allegations and anti-Israel foreign funding have been exposed repeatedly, including on the day what The Post called “Breaking the Silence's” “sobering testimony” was released.

Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth acknowledges that “the testimonies in the report are anonymous and impossible to independently verify.” He writes that the Israel Defense Forces “said that Breaking the Silence ‘does not provide IDF with any proof of their claims.'” And he concedes that “members of Breaking the Silence are viewed by many Israelis as ‘anti-military.'”
 
Nevertheless, he and The Post present the group's allegations as credible and newsworthy. Booth and Jerusalem bureau correspondent Ruth Eglash do so while failing to report Breaking the Silence's anti-Israel, overseas support. And the newspaper uses the group's latest “report” as an excuse to repeat false Palestinian propaganda claims from last summer's Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, notably that Israel inflicted “mass destruction” on the region and “high numbers of civilian casualties.”

The article's lead paragraph is erroneous to the point of being corrupt. The Post asserts “the war last summer between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip left more than 2,100 Palestinians dead and reduced vast areas to rubble. On Monday [May 4], a group of Israeli veterans released sobering testimony from fellow soldiers that suggests permissive rules of engagement couple with indiscriminate artillery fire contributed to the mass destruction and high numbers of civilian causalities in the costal enclave.”

Except the number of civilian casualties was comparatively low, not high, and neighborhoods destroyed in the fighting—usually areas used by Hamas and other terrorist groups as bases, shelters, arsenals, rocket launch pads and entry points for infiltration tunnels—often were within a few kilometers of Israel and constituted approximately five percent of the Strip.

Lessons learned, but not by The Post

U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted that the IDF went out of its way to minimize civilian casualties  during the 2014 fighting (“Where's the Coverage? Joint Chiefs Chairman Declares Israel Went to Extraordinary Lengths to Protect Gaza Civilians,” Nov. 13, 2014 CAMERA). The Pentagon sent a “lessons-learned” mission to Israel to study such urban warfare operations, including attempts to minimize non-combatant casualties.

U.N. figures have estimated the ratio of non-combatant to combatant casualties inflicted by U.S. and other coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq at from 3:1 to 4:1 while Israeli analyses of Palestinian figures put the proportion in Gaza last summer at approximately 1:1, with the number of fatalities among males of fighting age “disproportionately high” (“The Mulish Media and Civilian Casualties,” May 1, 2015 CAMERA). So why does The Post recycle, in its own words, without attribution, the “mass destruction” and “high civilian casualties” canards?

The day The Post put “Israeli soldiers allege ‘ethical failure' in Gaza” online (May 4), NGO-Monitor posted an analysis of “Breaking the Silence's” latest smear, headlined “Europe to Breaking the Silence: Bring Us as Many Incriminating Testimonies as Possible.” According to NGO-Monitor, “As with many other BtS [Breaking the Silence] publications, this report lacks all credibility and objectivity. Likewise, the extensive foreign funding that Breaking the Silence receives, as well as its international political activities, highlight the problems with this publication.” NGO-Monitor charges that some grants, from Danish, British, Irish, Swedish and Swiss sources to Breaking the Silence have been contingent on the group gathering negative “testimonies.”

“Despite the NGO's claim that its mission is to address Israeli society, BtS lobbying, media campaigns, and frequent appearances in Europe and the United States target international audiences. Next month (June 4-14), BtS activists will appear in Switzerland to present their political agenda at an event organized by supporters of pro-BDS [boycott, divestment, sanction] groups.”

So it's not just that “many Israelis” view Breaking the Silence as anti-military,” they have good reason to view the group as anti-Israel.

IDF video versus Breaking the Silence's allegations

The Post says Breaking the Silence's “This is How We Fought in Gaza 2014” is a 240-page report accompanied by videotaped testimony. Maybe so, but what the paper reports are vague generalities that conflict with IDF combat video released during and shortly after the 2014 fighting.

The paper quotes an infantry sergeant as saying “If we don't see someone waving a white flag, screaming, ‘I give up' or something—then he's a threat and there's authorization to open fire.” Perhaps. But an anecdote short on specifics, even if eventually verified, does not make a pattern.

Meanwhile, has The Post seen IDF video of terrorist gunmen dragging Palestinian children alongside them as shields against Israeli snipers? Has it watched gun sight images of rocket attacks being aborted as a suspected terrorist truck ducks into an apartment building garage for shelter? (See, for example, “The price of Israeli restraint,” by this writer, Times of Israel blog, Dec. 22, 2014).

Which is representative of how Israel fought in the Gaza Strip last year—restraint as policy, or Breaking the Silence's unsubstantiated claims of “needless death and destruction”? Does The Post conduct journalist due diligence, or allow itself to be used as a platform for “he said, she said” allegations?

“Israel charges that Palestinian militants brought most of the damage and casualties on themselves and other Gazans by firing thousands of unguided rockets at Israeli cities, employing human shields and hiding weapons in schools, hospitals, mosques and other public buildings.” Exactly. But The Post adds that the Breaking the Silence report “alleges that the IDF reduced whole neighborhoods of densely populated Gaza to ruins without any clear operational justification but instead to ‘demonstrate presence in the area.'”

Given that more than 4,500 mortars and rockets were fired from the Strip at Israel during the 50-day war and several dozen terrorist infiltration tunnels meant to facilitate mass kidnappings and murder were discovered, “demonstrating presence” was not likely to have been an objective, however it might have seemed to an individual soldier narrowly focused on one sector of the fighting. Does Breaking the Silence verify “the reduction of whole neighborhoods to ruins without any clear justification?” No? Then why report its insinuations?

Other outlets, including Defense News, gave Breaking the Silence's “report” unwarranted, uncritical coverage. And The Washington Post's Arab-Israeli reporting is far from the consistently abysmal coverage turned in by The New York Times. But articles like “Israeli soldiers allege ‘ethical failure' in Gaza” begin to blur the difference.

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