A Tale of Two Whistleblowers

Whistleblowers are hard to come by. They’re basically every journalist’s dream. Some of the biggest scoops in history have come from whistleblowers. But they’re rare, mainly because they have a lot to risk. Their job, their status, even their own well being. Which is also why some choose to stay anonymous.
Two stories that have popped up over the last couple of weeks involving the military are being widely discussed in Israel. They were both published due to whistleblowers, albeit very different kinds (which we’ll get to later). But the way Israeli society and media has reacted to these stories, I think, really says a lot.
The first story is about a report published by Breaking the Silence. BTS is an organization with a clear agenda. It was founded in 2004 by IDF veterans who wish to expose “the corruption which permeates the military system”, as their website points out. So, they’re far from being neutral, and I don’t agree they should be coined a “human rights group”. In its reports, BTS usually “hunts out” soldiers for testimonies,  whereas soldiers rarely approach the organization by themselves. In this specific report, the organization published testimonies of soldiers who fought in the recent Cast Lead Operation in Gaza, who claimed that the IDF used the “neighbour policy“, where soldiers force Palestinians by gunpoint to walk into a house in order to make sure it has not been booby trapped or that militants aren’t hiding in it.
shachenThe procedure was outlawed by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2005, but there have been reports that the IDF has since used the procedure on various occasions.
The soldiers who testified remain anonymous. BTS gave the report exclusively to Amos Harel, the Haaretz military correspondent, and also to the foreign media. And that’s when hell broke loose.
The Israeli media, lead by IDF spokesperson Avi Benayahu, began an organized effort to deligitmize BTS and the report, claiming that there is no way the IDF can investigate anything if they stay anonymous. Also, the attacks centered on the BTS as an organization, its funding and its agenda – not on the testimonies. It got even uglier on one of the Army Radio morning shows, hosted by Kobi Arieli and Irit Linor. Arieli is a Haredi journalist, Linor a former author who has too much to say about nothing, supposed to be the opposing secular liberal. Arieli began the segment by telling listeners about how, when he was a lad, guys who tattled on their friends always got beaten up. (listen here in Hebrew):
Arieli: “In the case of these left-wing traitors, with all their identity problems and that have no idea who they are and tattle on us to the other side … the question is, why aren’t they being beaten up and sent home with scars?”
Linor: “This is an organization that just made up a report. I mean, base it on something, you piece of trash.” She added later: “These are a bunch of weaklings, I think that even I could beat them up”.
First of all, I’d like to ask Arieli: If you don’t have a problem with the illegal neighbour policy, than you shouldn’t mind people ratting you out, right? And to Linor: … Oh boy, I don’t know what to say to a person who calls IDF veterans who were sent by her government to the territories to defend her “a piece of trash”.
Let’s be clear about one thing: the way BTS handled this story is problematic. In his blog, Jerusalem Post News Director Amir Mizroch shows us how fishy the whole story is:
Several days before all this, Breaking The Silence gave out their report to a wide array of foreign media, and not to the IDF to probe into itself, with the caveat that they observe the embargo until after Haaretz published the report first. All of which shows their original intent was to get as much uncritical worldwide publicity for their report. Legitimate, sure. Fair? Not so sure.
But I think many people have lost sight of the fact that this isn’t a story about the way it was published, but about WHAT was published – damning testimonies, in a leading newspaper, by one of the most respected journalists in the business – Amos Harel (full disclosure: I am a former employee of Haaretz).
Harel wrote in his analysis piece:
The nay-sayers should simmer down. The men behind the testimonies are soldiers, that is certain. Three of them met with Haaretz, at the paper’s request. While there is no definite way of vouching for the credibility of their reports, it is safe to say that they did fight in Gaza and that they provided enough authentic detail to prove that they are not imposters.
I can understand their desire to stay anonymous. These guys are basically kids, 18-21 year olds and are still serving. Coming out and testifying against their commanders about abusing the rights of Palestinians? “Gutsy” would be an understatement.
So when CAN you tell on your commanders? Ah, that brings us to our next story. YNET last week published an exclusive about severe abuse in the armored corps. Turns out there’s a brigade that has quite the hazing ceremony for new inductees, and YNET even had some gruesome photos that showed the outcome. Apparently, several soldiers and their parents decided to “break the silence” about the hazing, later some girlfriends joined the noise, and some of the commanders were eventually arrested.
And how did the media react to this one? Everyone was outraged, of course. Those poor soldiers, those wicked commanders.
You’re probably saying “Hey, at least these guys weren’t scared, they didn’t stay anonymous”. Sure, it must have been scary to rat out their commanders, but there’s a difference. First, that dispicable enemy on the other side isn’t involved, and second – there’s a chance for revenge against those commanders. They’re going to jail.
The bottom line is this: Haaretz published a story about whistleblowers. Shoud they have? Yes. Will it be difficult to investigate? Also yes. YNET also published a story about whistleblowers. Goes without saying that they should have, and it’s already being investigated.
This leads us to a sad conclusion: In Israel, because the IDF is still seen as the “most moral army in the world”, we all react with shock and horror to stories about “our sons” being abused. But when it comes to shocking disclosures about these same sons’ behavior toward the Palestinians, the shock and horror  is reserved for those turn-coats who dare attack the army and sully the IDF’s name. How dare they?
They must be a “piece of trash”.

20 Responses to “A Tale of Two Whistleblowers”

  1. 1 Sara
    July 26, 2009 at 13:05

    Excellent piece Ami. I’ll refrain from commenting further because, you know.

    P.S. You were missed last night 😦

  2. 3 adi
    July 26, 2009 at 14:45

    just a few things, Ami. the question of BTS’ funding is of extreme importance. doesn’t it bother you to know that these guys are being paid, literally, by other governments? don’t you think that those governments have an interest in this conflict, which is surely and never will be the same as Israel’s? have you ever heard of Dutch or British official funding for NGOs in the US who oppose for example the war in Iraq? probably not, because israel i think is the only democracy (yes, ami, yes, i know you hate this…) where foreign governments put money in such a way. and now for the substance: i admit i didn’t read the whole thing (that’s what you get when you do such lousy reports, you loose people’s attention…). just one thing that appeared in Maariv, about the old gentleman, apparently with diabetes. did you see that? now that’s ridiculous. the problem with BTS and their alike is that they downgrade the notion of war crimes and the whole concept of human rights. if what israel is doing is a war crime, i wonder how you should call other things in the world (done by horrible stated such as the UK and the US). war is not nice, and i think we all agree we all would be much better off without it, right? but trying to conduct a war without shooting, which i guess is what everybody else is doing, is not an option. don’t you think?

    • 4 shmookty
      July 26, 2009 at 15:51

      Hi Adi,
      As i said in my post, BTS is not neutral, I have a problem with the way it handled the report. Also, its sources of income are important, as you say. But whether you aprrove of who pays for it or not, these are damning testimonies and that’s the bottom line.
      As I said in the post, they are not a human rights group. And Amos also writes the same in his analysis. But please Adi, don’t use the old “if this is wrong, what about what those guys are doing in other conflicts”. Let’s judge ourselves by our own standards. The neighbour policy was ruled illegal by yours and my Supreme Court. If your soldiers are doing it on your behalf – don’t you have a problem with that?

    • 5 Karen
      July 26, 2009 at 18:54

      Why does it matter so much where they got their funding? What if these soldiers had gone directly to Amos Harel, or Alon Ben David or Ronny Daniel etc? Would that make their claims any more believable? Or would the debate then be focused on the left-wing, traitorous media (remember how they helped Hezbollah during the Second Lebanon War by giving away the location of missile hits?).

      And why is it OK for foreign governments, or rich Jews to donate money to NGOs and organizations the government of Israel does agree with. Why isn’t it considered interfering in internal affairs when evangelical Christians donate large amounts of money to “birthright” or Nefesh B’Nefesh to encourage Jews to immigrate to Israel in order to speed up the Second Coming (when we all convert to Christianity)?

      • 6 adi
        July 26, 2009 at 19:30

        hi karen. the arab-israeli conflict is a highly contentious subject, whereas immigration of jews to israel is not (at least for now… (:
        so when a foreign government decides to enter a contentious issue, it should be much more careful. but really check it – do brits put money in the US campaign against the war in iraq? and if not, why not?

  3. 7 adi
    July 26, 2009 at 16:47

    re: “let’s judge ourselves by our standards” – let me answer you with a story. let’s say your adolescent son goes to a gym class. and let’s say he’s together with 10 more guys his age. and let’s say the gym teacher asks everyone to jump as high as they can. everybody reached 1.80 meters. and then the teacher says “now let’s see who can do 2 meters?”. but nobody can, it’s just too high. so the teacher starts yelling at your son, and only at your son, even though all the other kids couldn’t jump so high too. so, ami, when your son comes back home and tells you all this, what would be your answer – the teacher is a prick? or – my son, you should judge yourself regardless of the other kids?

    • 8 shmookty
      July 26, 2009 at 17:05

      Adi – that’s a good one 🙂
      But it’s a bit problematic. First, you should have the teacher yelling at kids for doing something bad, or illegal. Nonetheless, i do agree with you that there is a bit too much Israel bashing in the world, and at times we are ganged up on. It’s true. But that doesn’t mean we can’t take a good look at ourselves, and makes sure we’re behaving by our own morals, and also more importantly, legally.
      Let me use your story – let’s say all the kid beat up another little kid, but the teacher only yelled at your son. Would you be angry for the teacher only yelling at your kid? Or maybe you should be angry that your kid (as the others) did domething wrong, and you want to teach him not to behave like that?
      And if I may, let me ask something else: Let’s have a theorteical situation, with the same BTS and it’s problematic handling of the report, and its funding which is an issue (from our arch-rivals: the brits, the dutch and the spaniards). But let’s say that this time, instead of anonymous soldiers, they gave us video footage, verifiable, with a date and everything, that shows IDF soldiers using the neighbour policy. Totally undisputed. Would you then still be bothered about the funding of the organization? Wouldn’t you be bothered about how your army is acting?

      P.S. Your new site looks great! 🙂

  4. 9 adi
    July 26, 2009 at 19:22

    glad you like my site. do make an effort, read my blog too and comment… (:
    about the gym: the point was to show that all judgments are relative. judgments are human evaluations made according to knowledge that we already have in our brains. am i fat? am i smart? am i good-looking? how am i deciding all these if not by checking around and seeing where i stand relative to others. your whole notion of “we do bad things” is based upon what other people told you, let them be “human rights” organizations, journalists or judges. i’ve never read the verdicts about the neighbor policy so i don’t have my own judgment. but i do remember from the lebanon war, when soldiers were extremely careful and tried to “go by the law”, and they ended up in coffins. so i think the word “moral” should be used in a little bit more humble way. not only BTS are moral, and actually i think that their motives are completely different…
    and i am trying to take a good look of myself and of my country’s acts. but i think these guys are just hindering any real debate. it is crucial to discuss for example how much law should be interfered in warfare. what i think is that if we decide that yes, it would imply to everybody. when i see it is implied only towards israel (or at least in a very biased way towards israel), i understand that the guy is not concerned about morality or human beings, but mainly about saying that israel is “bad”…

    • 10 Karen
      July 26, 2009 at 20:01

      I’d really like to avoid having to put on my “official” hat here (it IS a Sunday after all), but I feel that I should clarify that the UK did not give money to BTS for the Gaza report; we fund them for the work they do in Hebron. Since the UK is also involved in Iraq, it’s pretty safe to say that we don’t fund projects aimed at getting the US out of Iraq. We fund various projects around the world – you can find out lots more info here http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/about-the-fco/what-we-do/funding-programmes/strat-progr-fund/ For example, we’ve funded a number of projects in India aimed at improving human rights and democracy and India is a pretty big democracy, right?

      • 11 shmookty
        July 26, 2009 at 21:10

        Adi, I’m trying to understand your point. Some of it I do, some of it I don’t. What you’re saying is that if Israel is judged (and judged too often, let me add), then the other side’s actions should also be judged. In your words, “it should imply to everybody”. But if it doesn’t imply to everybody, does that mean whe shoudln’t be introspective? On that rationale, if I was for example an American activist protesting against procedures being done in Guantanamo, it seems like you would come and tell me something like: “why should we worry about human rights when they don’t care for human rights in China?”. It’s almost like saying “two wrongs don’t make a right”.

  5. July 26, 2009 at 22:25

    no, amy. you didn’t understand me. i compared myself to decent civilized countries such as the UK and the US. not to china, or the hamas for that matter. i am not living in a dictatorship, thanks god, and i don’t want to live in one. what i am saying is that we should ask ourselves, using examples from recent and not so recent history, what is possible and what’s not possible to do in a war. nobody is suggesting to nuke Gaza, right? what i’m saying is that the BTS and all other self proclaimed “human rights” organizations don’t really care about human rights. they care about being the “good guys” while blaming their compatriots as the “good guys”. it’s very obviuos to me. ask yourself – do they really help in any way to solve the conflict?

    • 13 shmookty
      July 26, 2009 at 22:47

      I don’t need to ask myself if BTS solves the conflict or not. Of course they don’t. What I need to ask, is if BTS has shown or has not shown immoral or illegal (or both) procedures executed by my army. That is the question. It has nothing to do with solving the conflict, that part is too difficult for BTS (which I agree with you, as i mentioned already a few times, is NOT a human rights organization). But if the IDF is executing illegal procedures, I would want to know about it – and I hope you would, too! Whether there are different rules of engagement in wartime, that’s another discussion (for example, are you completely sure that the neighbour policy is the ONLY way to keep troops safe? There is absolutely no other way? I don’t know myself…). But using human shields in wartime has been deemed illegal not only by Israel, but by many other countries. If BTS is the only group willing to bring these incidents to light, so be it.
      P.S. What’s “very obvious” to you, isn’t always so obvious to others, right? 😉

  6. July 26, 2009 at 23:00

    i didn’t say that BTS should solve the conflict. i asked if they help in solving. that’s a difference. from all the information that i have, i feel quite comfortable with what my (our?) army does. that is not because i enjoy killing arabs, it’s because i think my (our?) country and my (our?) livelihood is truly being threatened. and i’d really like to keep on living, if that’s ok…

    • 15 shmookty
      July 27, 2009 at 06:34

      See, that’s where we agree. We are being threatened. And Adi, of course i would like to keep living (yes, “it’s OK” – you can too), and keep my family safe. We need a strong army to defend us. And for the most part, the IDF does an exceptional job. I honestly believe that. But are there cases where lines are crossed? Yes. Should they be reported? Yes. Nothing should be sacred under the name of “defense”. Lines were crossed in the hazing ceremony in the armored corps – I want that stuff published in newspapers. And lines were crossed when neighbor policies were used against Israeli law and the Geneva Convention – I want that published in newspapers too. “If that’s OK”… 🙂

  7. July 27, 2009 at 10:22

    i tend to agree with what you said. but what’s been happening lately is that israel is depicted as the worst place on earth. don’t you see it? all these Hague, Geneva, bla-bla, spanish prosecuters, british boycotters, arab human rights guys? it’s part of an orchestrated campaign. i’m sorry to tell you that thanks to all these “human rights” groups, it’s now become too late. i cannot stand with these guys in the same spot. they undermine my stance because maybe not for you, but for all those HRW guys, you and i should have never been here…

    • 17 shmookty
      July 27, 2009 at 10:32

      I totally agree with you on that. 🙂 Israel-bashing has gone too far, for decades, at home and abroad. It makes me sick to my stomach, especially when I see other conflicts that are much more brutal, bloody, and deserve just as much inspection – if not more. And let me add one more thing: If, theoretically, a BTS activist would knock on my door and aske me for a donation, I would not give them a cent. I don’t approve of the way they handled this report. But at the same time, I can’t ignore their findings. And I’m glad Haaretz and Amos didn’t either.

  8. July 27, 2009 at 16:33

    re: “IDF does an exceptional job” – so how come its image resembles that of the gestapo?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: