4 questions for ‘Breaking the Silence’ that the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont won’t ask

If the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont had looked at financial reports from Breaking the Silence (BtS) he would have realized that the NGO is generously funded by foreign governments and foundations like the New Israel Fund and George Soros’s Open Society Institute, and, with a yearly income of roughly 3.7 million shekels, isn’t in need of the free PR he provided the group in a Guardian/Observer feature on June 8th.


Observer print edition of Beaumont’s story

Additionally, if you think our claim that the story represents ‘PR’ is over the top, keep in mind that Beaumont’s piece – largely consisting of ‘testimony’ from former Israeli soldiers alleging that “war crimes” and “violations of international law” are routinely committed by the IDF – runs at over 2800 words, and yet is almost entirely devoid of anything critical of the Israeli activists, or the organization which they represent.

Beaumont sets up his feature by informing us that “350 soldiers, politicians, journalists and activists” organized an event at Habima Square in Tel Aviv on June 6 – the anniversary, we are told, “of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land in 1967” – to recite soldiers’ accounts “collected by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence“.

However, Naftali Balanson of NGO Monitor has persuasively argued that BtS tailors its “anecdotal and unverifiable accounts” of soldiers to fit their predetermined conclusion that it is Israeli policy to intimidate and instill “fear, and indiscriminate punishment [on] the Palestinian population.”  Balanson also noted that “many testimonies contradict this harsh claim, explicitly noting that incidents of individual misconduct were opposed and punished by officers”.

The group’s broader political message given to foreign audiences is, in the words of one BtS member,  ‘Israeli self-defense measures are pretexts for “terrorizing” Palestinians’. As another BtS member said: “We are the oppressors … We are creating the terror against us, basically.”

Though it’s next to impossible to fisk the soldier accounts published in the Guardian report, because they lack details necessary to research the specific incident they’re allegedly recounting, one account included by Beaumont (by an anonymous Sergeant from the Nablus Regional Brigade) is quite telling:


The logic is stunning.  According to the account, the IDF moved into Area B of the West Bank, an area in which they are permitted to operate per the Oslo Accords (as even the Guardian’s editor note in the [brackets] makes clear), likely to conduct a security or anti-terror operation, and the anonymous sergeant strangely accuses the army of “provoking [Palestinian] stone throwings”.

Beyond the specifics of the soldiers’ testimonies, however, and since Beaumont shows no interest in employing his professional skills (and honed journalistic skepticism) to critically scrutinize the group or its members in a manner he would do with almost any other story, here are a few questions for the NGO: 

1.  How can BtS claim they’re a human rights organization when, by any measure, they have a clearly radical political agenda? For instance, BtS members Yonatan and Itamar Shapira were on the Jews for Justice for Palestinians boat “Irene” which sought to violate Israel’s legal (arms) blockade of Gaza.  Yonatan Shapira also once sprayed “Liberate all the ghettos” on to a wall nearby the actual Warsaw Ghetto where so many Jews lost their lives at the hands of the Nazis. As NGO Monitor’s president Gerald Steinberg argued: “BtS’s campaigns to discredit the IDF have turned the organization into an invaluable ally of those NGOs behind the “Durban Strategy” – with the explicit goal of “the complete international isolation” of Israel, using repeated accusations of “war crimes,” “genocide” and “apartheid.”

2.  Why does BtS court the international media rather than presenting its allegations through the normal military chain of command?

3.  Relatedly, why won’t BtS give any identifying details in their accounts – such as the sector, date or unit – so that the incident can be properly investigated by the military, the media or other interested parties?

4. Finally, in light of the fact that Israel is such a strong democracy, with a robust grassroots civil society, and a free, feisty and adversarial media, what “silence” is this foreign-funded group attempting to break?


Beaumont’s celebration of Breaking the Silence received the coveted ‘Editors Pick’, and was featured on the Guardian’s home page.

Of course, Peter Beaumont wouldn’t dare ask such probing and critical questions, as he (as with so many of his Guardian colleagues) clearly sees his role as an advocate for the Palestinians – and their radical NGO allies – and not a journalist in the traditional sense of the word – one who’s committed to fair, balanced and accurate reporting.


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69 replies »

  1. “2. Why does BtS court the international media rather than presenting its allegations through the normal military chain of command?”

    Beaumont’s report is based on a publicity event in Tel Aviv. Clearly BtS is as much concerned to raise awareness in Israel as in the “international media”. As other NGOs that DO “[present] allegations through the normal military chain of command” have discovered this is a recipe for years of delay and the dismissal of well over 90% of reported cases.

    “3. Relatedly, why won’t BtS give any identifying details in their accounts – such as the sector, date or unit – so that the incident can be properly investigated by the military, the media or other interested parties?”

    Many of the soldiers prefer to remain anonymous (5 out of the 10 quoted by Beaumont). Others refer to incidents years earlier when the soldier concerned was on active service; precise identifying details would be difficult to recall in such cases. There are 950 testimonies in all. Are you seriously suggesting that they are all made up?

    • “As other NGOs that DO “[present] allegations through the normal military chain of command” have discovered this is a recipe for years of delay…”
      Which NGO’s are those, sencar? Are their allegations worthy of investigation, or are these politically motivated assertions from hostile organizations of a certain ideological bent. I’ve noticed that anti-Israel campaigners can’t seem to level enough allegations of bad behavior to charge the Jewish State with. In fact, I’ve never seen as much shit thrown against any country in the world, large or small, as I’ve seen thrown at this one tiny democracy which is surrounded by countries who engage in serial human rights abuses and want it destroyed. So, excuse me if I’m a bit skeptical, but I’ve been around for while, you know?
      “…and the dismissal of well over 90% of reported cases.”
      That could mean any number of things, and therefore means nothing. Who are we damning here, professor? All things considered 90% sounds close to the mark to me.

      • Breaking the Silence is a highly respected Israeli human rights association, which has become quite influential and is well-known in Europe and the US. They enjoy the kind of respect and influence that CIF Watch can only dream of. I guess it makes Adam very, very jealous…

        • Members of Breaking the Silence all served in the IDF.

          Did Levick serve in the IDF? Did he risk his life in the IDF? Did he donate three years of his life to the IDF?

            • The same way those who “respect” this NGO didn;t serve in the IDF and they have no respect for Israeli soldiers.

          • “Did Levick serve in the IDF?”
            I can’t answer for Adam, I have not. What about you ‘Benett’?

            “Did he risk his life in the IDF?”
            Have you ever risked your life ‘Benett’?

            ” Did he donate three years of his life to the IDF?”
            Have you donated three years of your life ‘Benett’?

            If, and it is a big ‘IF’, the answer is Yes to any of the above questions then provide details.

        • Highly respected Israeli human rights association? according to who?according to many Israeli haters groups in Europe ;and the US . yes we know. How come they don;t operate in Israel ? maybe because they know we all served in the army and expose their lies. They don;t enjoy any repsect and influence in Israel.

    • 90% of reported cases turn out to not actually be what was reported. We saw this the “testimony” that was given to the Goldstone investigation. We see this regularly with other reports. A damning bit of news turns out not to have been as damning.

      Just because it is in Tel Aviv doesnt mean it is pandering to Israelis. I will happily bet that the majority of people at this event were not Israelis. If Israelis really believed what these people said then they would not be 100% reliant on foreign support.

  2. There are no 950 testimonies at all, only an alleged sum of alleged testimonies which might be true or might be fabricated by these radicals.
    Testimonies are usually given at court and are not anonymous. So called testimonies as mentioned here have no other value besides the political end they serve.

    • Jeff do you know of any other tiny democracy in the world where a group of European Colonisers walked in and demanded a right of self determination and than proceeded to throw out the indegeneous people out. Let me know if you do?

      • I think you’re confused in an irrational, belligerent, traditional European way toward the Jewish People.
        If you ever heal from your sickness you won’t even need to let me know.
        But until then you might ponder the following:
        If THE Jews are all just Europeans why didn’t you tell us before? Why all the centuries of European style apartheid, while you were all out colonizing whatever parts of the world the Arabs couldn’t get there greedy little hands on first? Why all the traditional European descriptions of Jews as alien and not quite white, not alright, and “go back to Palestine?” And what about that Arch of Titus thing? What was THAT all about?
        Words you might want to look up:
        demand, indigenous (this is how it’s actually spelled), ass monkey (your picture), history. Then go f___ yourself with a chainsaw.

        • They could not possibly have told you to go back to Palestine – It did not exist remember – you really are a moron forgetting your own propaganda – By the way Europeans are just as racist now irrespective of whether as settlers or in Europe – I hear the settler Europeans refuse to play football with the locals and take part in European competitions at the same time denying Palestinian footballers to travel to play football.

          • Palestine as a state didn;t exist than but the area did.

            I hear the settler Europeans refuse to play football with the locals?
            and your source?

            • alexa, as usual, ChickenShit gets it bass-ackwards. I think s/he is referring the fact that Israel plays in the European group for the World Cup. Which was because of the other countries in the grouping that Israel SHOULD have belonged to refusing to play Israel.

              • if that was what he means than I can only lol at his ignorance. it is the arabs and muslim who are racist when they refuse to compete against Israeli in many international competition

                Dubai has caused an international furore by banning a top Israeli female tennis player from a premier tournament.

                Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem faced criticism Monday for travelling to Abu Dhabi for a training camp without defender Dan Mori, who was not allowed into the Arab emirate because he is Israeli.

                etc etc etc

          • “They could not possibly have told you to go back to Palestine – It did not exist remember”
            Only as a European term for the Holy Land, a loose regional name. Holy Land, Palestine, Judea = synonymous for ancient homeland of the Jews. Palestinian people? No one ever heard of them. To this day Arabs joke about it. The Emperor’s New Clothes of nationalities. No country of Palestine ever existed. That’s not propaganda, it’s called “history,” one of those words I told you to look up as part of your homework assignment. Your grade: ‘F’ for brainless fuckwad..

            “Europeans are just as racist now…blah..blah..blah…”
            So are Arabs.

          • Chicken shit, one of the reasons Israel exists is so that Jews can get away from arrogant, malicious Jew-baiters like yourself, who have always made it their special mission in life to goad and persecute.

            You have no shame, lording your perceived moral superiority over the Jews. You really think your idea of progressive utopia is any different from your medieval Jew-killing ancestors? Totally deluded, and nasty too.

      • I assume that you were referring to Jordan in 1948 but whilst it was a UK puppet, it is not a democracy and the ruling party is from Saudi Arabia not Europe. There were other cases of course, such as when Muhammad Ali from the Balkans took over Egypt and part of what is now Israel from the Ottoman empire but he didnt really kick out the indigeneous people.

        • I agree completely. Too many of these type of people who seem will not be satisfied until Jews willingly agree to being oppressed or even eradicated. When will they apologise or be accountable for their bigotry?

      • Say, KKKraptastic ChicKKKen, do you know any other peace initiative that is based squarely on the racist ignorance of simple minded, pointy headed hate mongers? And how many other peace deals have been rejected for sake of blowing up a pizzeria by folks who are really so interested in peace that they consider their enemies inhuman and, y’know, colonizers from the Wild, Wild West?

        This bears repeating: You are a fucking idiot, and anybody you support loses because your support is only for more war, carnage, and bloodshed.

        I suggest you KKKeep hiding from the truth as only a true coward would.

    • You are right. I served in the IDF Paratroops, albeit back in the early/mid 1970s but I don’t recall anything like these people claim. I read the “testimonials” on their site and so many of them are “I wasn’t really there, I heard about it” “It’s common knowledge” etc. Are there abuses? Yes, like in any army or society and in Israel, these are investigated and actions taken. These people from BTS have a CLEAR political agenda funded by our enemies.

      • So what happened when it was alleged that two teenage Palestinians were killed by the IDF soldiers on Nakba day?

        • A investigation is under way, on the military side, on the media side there are some allegations of Pallywood, your only source hitherto.

        • To date every single claim by the Palestinians on that day has been show to be a lie and they are still changing their story.

          • ChickenShit doesn’t care about veracity. ChickenShit only cares about another talking point giving him oxygen till the next 16-hour news cycle.

            Not only is ChickenShit a shitty coward, but ChickenShit is a shitty person.

  3. Why BtS is Bogus. Every single one of their 900+ accounts is about something that these “soldiers” claim to have seen other do, or something that they heard about.
    If any of these soldiers were half as brave as they claim, they could simply admit that they have committed crimes and present themselves for prosecution at a world court, or better yet to the Palestinian judiciary system.
    Until they are willing to face Justice for their crimes, these soldiers are just telling stories

  4. Certainly some of the so-called incidents they complain of could have a basis in fact. But, what they’re doing, and what the Guardian is helping to promote here, is rumor mongering.

  5. ‘Finally, in light of the fact that Israel is such a strong democracy, with a robust grassroots civil society, and a free, feisty and adversarial media, what “silence” is this foreign-funded group attempting to break?’

    Perhaps the silence that people like you are trying to impose on them by insisting that they must be liars, loonies or fantasists.

    • Nobody imposes anything on them, only their false allegations are refuted.
      Obfuscating the silence which is more or less imposed on antisemites after the Holocaust, in a very limited way in the public, with the examination of unsubstantiated claims points towards your mentality.
      Nowadays the antisemites keep creeping out of their brown swamps, long time limited to this surrounding by the political consensus, in masses.
      Another D-Day looms.

      • I don’t follow your point. Your fourth question, which was admittedly sarcastic and not a true attempt to obtain information, asked what silence they were trying to break.

        Yet the entire object of your article, and your general campaign against BtS, is to discourage the global media from giving them column space / airtime, and you are doing all you can to discredit them.

        That is the silence they are trying to break. Really obvious.

        • You mistake me for Adam Levick.
          I propose that you found a campaign to break the silence in the British media on the daily assaults on Jews in Israel by Arabs, rock–throwing, sniping, firing rockest and mortars. Or maybe you just found an awareness group at Sussex university, of the daily threat under which Jews live in Israel.

        • Gabriel, just curious. Do you think that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict doesnt get enough coverage?

          • I think the conflict in general gets more than enough coverage, but the human aspect of it (the way the conflict affects ordinary people on both sides – Israelis living in fear of shelling and Palestinians living in fear of settler violence) doesn’t get nearly enough.

            That’s why I admire BtS so much, for focussing on why the conflict is harmful and not just reporting broad political developments.

  6. Another question:

    Does BtS think that lecturing abroad to rural communities (see Bts tour of South Africa) is going to improve the moral, or immoral (as claimed) behavior of 19 year old conscripts in the Israeli army, or, are activities of this nature only fanning the flames of Antisemtism?

  7. The article and the replies are pathetic. 950 made up testimonials ? All you have to do is travel around Israel and speak to people and you will quickly realize that there is a tremendous potential for atrocities of this type. These 950 soldiers should be commended for representing the sane, moral Israel, hopefully the majority. The sickening behaviour of the settlers in Hebron is continuously in the Israeli media so why should the testimonies of these soldiers surprise anyone ? The same goes for the laxness of the IDF and the civil courts in dealing with the soldiers/settlers that are apprehended. Israel’s international image would be enhanced much more if it would take this behaviour seriously and deal with it, rather than pretending that it doesn’t exist.

  8. Here is an interview with the co-founder of BtS, Yehuda Shaul:

    He is a product of the a religious-Zionist Bnei-Akiva education.

    • Nope, He is the product of a closed orthodox non-zionist (har Nof) religious home where one of his parents had sever medical and psychological challenges.

      • הודה שאול (31) חונך “בצד הימני של המפה”, כפי שהוא מגדיר זאת. הוא גדל בירושלים בבית לאומי־דתי ולמד בישיבה במגרון, ליד רמאללה. במרץ 2001 התגייס לגדוד 50 של הנח”ל. במשך יותר משנה שירת בחברון,

        • זה נלקח מתוך הפרופיל שהוא כתב לעצמו.
          למעשה הוא גדל במשפחת “חרדלי” ב הר נוף (אם היה לך מושג היית יודע מה זה אומר). אבל הפרופיל הזה עדיין מרמז על הבעיות הרפואיות ופסיכולוגיות בתוך משפחתו, שגם לקח חלק בהחלטותיו.
          אני מדבר כלוחם בגדוד 50

    • I have no idea if Shaul went to Bnei Akiva as a teenager, and frankly I couldn’t give a damn. While I didn’t like BA as a kid, I had plenty of friends who were regulars. Now (some 30 years later) some are “religious” and living in Israel, some are completely secular and are still living in London where they grew up, and most are somewhere in between. Some hold left-wing political views, others right wing (if those old definitions have any meaning today, which I doubt).

      My point? What difference does it make what youth group he went to? What does that prove?

      • what matters is this piece of filth dares to promote himself as an observant jew….when he is anything but

  9. This story also brings to mind the case of CiF’s Seth Freedman, who made Aliya to Israel to serve in the IDF (“He served for 15 months in a combat unit of the IDF between 2004 and 2006.”), a fact omitted from his page on CifWatch. It is no secret that Seth’s “conversion” took place after he personally witnessed incidents of the type exposed by BtS.

    • Both Seth and Hoda are very different. No comparison can be made except the indoctrination that Jews can do no harm and are above this type of Goyim attitude.
      Well, Jews are no different.
      The only difference is our ability to constantly question our morals and respect all our criticism, whether agreed with or not.

    • Funny how all these people “witnessed” bad things, but never took part in them. If they are really guilty of criminal how about presenting themselves for prosecution?

      • If you read some of the testimonies you’d fine that some were following orders.
        In Israel there’s a way to refuse an order that is “Bilti Hukit Baalil” but I guess you may not be familliar with Israeli laws.

        • When illegal actions have been committed “Just following orders” is not a recognized defense in Israel nor is it recognized by most international courts that apply universal jurisdiction. I am far more familiar with the IDF and Israeli laws than you care to guess. If these “breakers” feel they have acted illegally let them present themselves for prosecution.

  10. What a discipline bearing in mind the foes who are not restrained by anything, on the contrary, as we can see from Afghanistan to Algeria, from Libya to Syria, no human rights, no civil rights, only bloody, barbarian killing and ruling on a level beyond civilizing boundaries, a medieval and reactionary backfall which threatens to go globally.

      • You mean the IDF should act more like Hamas, PLO, PFLP, Al Shabah, Boko Harum, Islamic Djihad, the Syrian or Libyan army, the Islamists, al Quaida etc, terrorising, robbing, beheading, murdering, raping, kidnapping, ransoming and bombing civilians? Never ever.
        But obviously you enjoy that kind of life, under a lot of countries, organisations and murderers you can choose your preferred monster of suicide..

  11. “The Israelis Who Broke Silence” – as if there is some cult-like silence everywhere else in Israel.

    Whereas anyone who has been to Israel knows that the biggest critics of everything Israeli are the Israelis themselves.

    Anyway, The Guardian love a fig-leaf.

  12. Analysis by Amos Harel in Ha’aretz: “Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a ‘human rights organization.’ Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the ‘corruption which permeates the military system’ is not a neutral observer. The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices.” (July 17, 2009)

  13. Since you have quoted from a Ha’aretz article, I will do the same, but I will post the entire article:

    “Which is worse, accidental pointless manslaughter or premeditated murder?

    Which is more heinous, pointless killing as a result of mistaken identity, or pointless murder without mistaken identity?

    The Israel Defense Forces has definitive answers to these questions, attesting to its order of principles.

    It is not the circumstances of the killing, but rather only the identity of the victims, that determines its character.

    If the Israeli army purports to be “principled,” and these are its principles, then it would do better not to have such pretensions in the first place.

    Capt. Tal Nahman, Yusef a-Shawamreh and Samir Awad never met, in life or in death.

    All three must have had dreams and plans for the future, loving families and supportive friends.

    Only their single, terrible fate brought them together, and only for a moment: All three were killed by the IDF, for no reason.

    Nahman, 21, from Nes Tziona; Shawamreh, 14, of Deir al-’Asal al-Foqa and Awad, 16, of Budrus, were victims of the IDF’s trigger-happy policy.

    Nahman died around two months ago, near the Gaza border fence; Shawamreh died 10 days ago near the West Bank separation fence on Mount Hebron; and Awad died some 15 months ago near the fence at Budrus.

    All three were shot in an ambush: Nahman after soldiers noticed suspicious movement and failed to identify him; Shawamreh when he crossed into Israel through a hole in the fence made at least two years before, in order to pick wild plants on his family’s field; and Awad after crossing through a similar gap, on a dare from friends. None of them deserved to die.

    The two Palestinians were unarmed and posed no danger to anyone.

    Shawamreh was shot from just dozens of meters away and, according to a report by B’Tselem – The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, he bled to death, waiting for an ambulance that took about 30 minutes to arrive.

    Awad was first shot and wounded, trapped between two fences; when he tried to flee, in the direction of his village, the soldiers shot him twice more, at close range, in his head and shoulder, killing him.

    An officer from the IDF Central Command called the event “not good.”

    Good or not, let’s look at how the IDF dealt with these three incidents, two of which are suspected war crimes.

    Last week, around two months after Nahman’s accidental killing, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz announced the dismissals of a few soldiers and officers who were involved in the incident.

    According to an IDF inquiry – which was quickly carried out, of course – there were “failures in the planning and the performance of the operation” that led to Nahman’s tragic killing.

    The deaths of the two Palestinian teens were no less tragic, but in these cases “the investigation has not yet been completed,” no “failures” have been announced, and no one has been dismissed or prosecuted. Nahman was eulogized by the chief of staff – “We lost a wonderful person” – but perhaps the Awad and Shawamreh families also lost wonderful people.

    Fifteen months after Awad’s death, late last week his father, Ahmad Award, petitioned the High Court of Justice, together with B’Tselem, demanding that Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Danny Efroni make a decision on whether to try the soldiers who shot his son or to close the case.

    The IDF claims the investigation is “complex,” the standard excuse for shelving cases. The investigation of Shawamreh’s death will surely meet a similar fate.

    What is so complex about investigating the circumstances of Awad’s death?

    I visited the scene two days after he was killed, the blood stains on the rocks still fresh. The friends with him at the time showed me his escape route, before he was killed.

    Even the officer who said the incident was “not good” must have known what he was talking about. But the case file is gathering dust.

    Shawamreh died in similar circumstances, because no one was punished for Awad’s death.

    That is the “principled” message to soldiers: It is permissible to shed the blood of Palestinian teenagers, none of you will be dismissed and you might even be promoted – because that’s how it is in the most moral army in the world.

  14. Read this:

    “The truth is that none of
    this should be surprising. As an organization receiving massive amounts
    of money from foreign, largely European, countries (1.3 million NIS in 2011),
    Breaking the Silence is committed first and foremost to the interests
    of its patrons. What better way to satisfy them than to present the IDF
    as the reincarnation of 20th century fascist thugs?

    In spite of all this, it’s
    good we have Breaking the Silence. Whoever reads their testimonies with
    a careful and critical and critical eye will actually have reason to
    take heart. If this is the best Breaking the Silence can find after ten
    years of activity and millions of dollars, making every effort to single
    out the worst possible incidents and interpreting them in the most
    malicious possible way, with no serious comparison to other armies and
    with partial information and testimonies, then the IDF comes off looking
    just like the evil hasbaraniks say it is – a profoundly moral army in
    very difficult circumstances.”

  15. I wished I could have spoken up and shared the reality I knew. Instead, the organizers and sponsors made it very clear that there would be no dialogue. They handed out a list of rules that included not telling anyone what was said in the room, how we needed to allow our beliefs to be challenged, and how we should be accepting of the speaker’s comments. The sponsors didn’t even allow us to openly ask questions. We could only write them on a piece of paper, and then they would choose which ones to ask the speaker. Clearly, they did not want the speaker to be challenged.

    It was very hard to understand how the speaker represented “Breaking the Silence” when I was being silenced.