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“The only sure-fire way not to be accused of war crimes is simply not to commit them”

With every settlement and military operation, ‘Israel’ has been paving its own road to The Hague, Avner Gvaryahu, the executive director of Breaking the Silence wrote.

Avner Gvaryahu was born and raised in a religious-Zionist family. He joined the IOF as a paratrooper in 2004, and served as a sniper team sergeant in a special operations unit, mostly around Nablus and Jenin.

After his military service, Avner became involved with Breaking the Silence where he has served as Jewish Relations Coordinator for the past year.

Breaking the Silence, as it describes itself, is an organization of veteran soldiers who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories.

Avner said that the decision released by the International Criminal Court on Feb. 5, which confirmed that its jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by ‘Israel’ in the 1967 war, clearing the way for its chief prosecutor to open a war crimes probe into Israeli war crimes, may have been delivered by a panel of international judges, but it is very much an “Israeli production.”

“We have occupied land, built settlements, and whitewashed outposts as if there were no tomorrow, no Palestinians, and no world watching,” he said. “In short, we ended up in The Hague because it was precisely where they have been heading for a very long time.”

During the war on Gaza in the summer of 2014, the IOF killed 2,202 Palestinians, nearly two-thirds of whom had no part in the fighting and 526 of whom were children. According to B’Tselem, 18,000 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, and more than 100,000 people were made homeless.

When asked about the Israeli army’s rules of engagement in Gaza, one soldier who testified to Breaking the Silence, explained the thinking that led to these horrifying statistics, “If it looks like a man, shoot. It was simple: You’re in a motherfucking combat zone. A few hours before you went in, the whole area was bombed. If there’s anyone there who doesn’t clearly look innocent, you apparently need to shoot that person.”

“Who’s innocent?” the interviewer asked. The soldier replied, “If you see the person is less than 1.40 meters tall, or if you see it’s a lady. You can tell from far away. If it’s a man, you shoot.”

“The real problem is Israel’s wider, official approach to the use of force,” Avner said.

In the 2006 Lebanon War, for example, the Israeli forces carried out the so-called “Dahiya Doctrine” — the disproportionate use of firepower, from the air and the ground, against towns and villages. The devastating results were entirely predictable.

That same year, the IOF produced a document known as the “Military Ethics of Fighting Terror,” which lays out the “moral, ethical and legal considerations that should guide a democratic state when it faces terrorist activities committed against its citizens.”

Eight years later, as the 2014 war on Gaza was underway, retired Brigadier General Ilan Paz described the dangerous combination of these two military rules:

In the past, I was a member of the IDF committee that looked at the ethical code for fighting terrorism in civilian settings, and changed [the code]. The committee was headed by Maj. Gen. Amos Yadlin, then commander of the military colleges, with Prof. Asa Kasher and others as members. When the committee concluded its work, I refused to sign off on its recommendations. I thought they gave moral sanction to hurting civilians. The results were apparent during Operation Protective Edge [in 2014]. I am not referring to errors — these happen during warfare. I am referring to protocol, to that ethical code, its implementation and its dire results. There is no justification for harm on this scale, nor can there ever be.

“This is in large part why Breaking the Silence, like many other human rights groups, determined years ago that the Israeli military should not be given the responsibility to investigate itself, ” Avner stated.

He continued, “The introduction to our booklet of testimonies and photographs of the 2014 war, “This is How We Fought in Gaza,” concluded with the following remarks:

The findings that arise from the testimonies call for an honest and thorough investigation into how IDF forces were activated during Operation Protective Edge. Such an investigation will only be effective and meaningful if carried out by an external and independent entity, by actors that can examine conduct at the highest ranks in the security and political establishments. Anything less, as we have seen in past experience, will lead to placing the responsibility for the acts on more junior and lower ranks, thereby precluding the ability to bring about fundamental change that can prevent a recurrence of the harsh reality we witnessed in the summer of 2014.”

Avner said, “For years, we Israelis have trapped ourselves in a bubble. We have refused to heed the warnings against our actions. We have accused anyone who tries to break through the walls of our indifference of committing treason or spewing antisemitism.”

“All the while, we have convinced ourselves that the rules we invented to guide our actions would allow us to continue forcibly lording over millions of people with no rights.”

“The signal received from The Hague last week is an opportunity to reevaluate the occupation in its entirety. It is a reminder that the way to avoid an ICC investigation does not require evasive maneuvers or legal trickery; the only sure-fire way not to be accused of war crimes is simply not to commit them, ” Avner added.

“I do not know how the ICC’s legal endeavor will proceed, but I do know that it did not come out of thin air. We ended up exactly where we were headed. But it is not too late to change course.”

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