Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Year Later, Remembering Israel's Operation Protective Edge

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

A Year Later, Remembering Israel's Operation Protective Edge

Article excerpt

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans founded Breaking the Silence in 2004 to inform the public about what really goes on during military service. Their latest publication, This is How We Fought in Gaza, is a collection of testimonies and photographs from more than 60 Israeli soldiers, one-third of them officers, who participated in Israel's 51-day assault on Gaza last summer. Avner Gvaryahu, the organization's director of outreach, joined Eman Mohammed, a Palestinian photojournalist from Gaza, to discuss "Operation Protective Edge" at an event hosted by New America NYC, a non-partisan think tank that focuses on a wide range of public issues. Haaretz columnist Peter Beinart, senior fellow for NA/NYC's International Security Program and author of The Crisis of Zionism, moderated the conversation.

Mohammed, who had covered Israel's earlier Operations Cast Lead (2008-09) and Pillar of Defense (2012), described how in the beginning, on July 7, people in Gaza assumed it was a normal Israeli military incursion, and then were shocked at how quickly and broadly the attack intensified. What was unusual, she continued, was not that Israel destroyed so many houses, but that the homes belonged mostly to families unaffiliated with either Hamas or Fatah. She showed photos she had taken of people searching through rubble for missing family members.

Mohammed told how she returned home late one night and went to kiss her daughter good night. The electricity was off, which was normal. As she felt in the dark for her daughter, she found the pillow and blanket covered in blood. Her daughter was bleeding from the mouth. Doctors in Gaza could not determine the cause of the bleeding. Mohammed had to put down her camera and take her baby out of Gaza, which she was able to do because she has American citizenship, a choice others do not have. Her daughter is fine now, but they have not been able to return to Gaza "because of border issues."

In response to Beinart's question, "What was it about?" Gvaryahu replied that Breaking the Silence detects a massive change in Israel since the second intifada and the 2006 invasion of Lebanon. Because the fight is asymmetric, Israel will never have a clear victory and will therefore need to "mow the lawn" using disproportionate force (the Dahiya doctrine) in order to maintain control of Gaza. "We know there will be another operation," he asserted. In addition, Gvaryahu continued, Israelis lack any empathy for the people in Gaza. While it is only a half-hour from Tel Aviv, the Israeli public could not find out what was happening. The Office of the Prime Minister asked Israel's Channel 2 why there were not more pictures of the destruction in Gaza to prove how successful the IDF was. The media responded, "The public couldn't handle it."

Mohammed said she has given up on the media. She assumed that because foreign journalists and photographers were in Gaza during Protective Edge, as they were not during Cast Lead, the world would see what was happening and respond. But it didn't. The media departed and the people of Gaza were leftto struggle on their own. Gazans feel the media was there to record their pain, make money from it, and move on.

Beinart noted that even a "dove" like the novelist Amos Oz asked, "What do people expect Israel to do?" Gvaryahu responded by pointing out that Israel has choices; therefore the question is not why Israel fought in Gaza, but how. For example, Israel chose to use artillery, which has a kill radius of 50 meters and an injury radius of 150 meters. In Cast Lead, Israel used 3,000 artillery shells, in Protective Edge 20,000-in one of the most densely populated areas of the world. The best way for Israel to protect itself, Gvaryahu insisted, is to choose to end the occupation.

Asked about envisioning the future, Gvaryahu said that although there is a range of views within Breaking the Silence, they all hope for the day when the Israeli military does not control Palestinian civilians. …

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