Israel’s army chief said on Tuesday that he has instructed his charges to meet with members of the controversial veterans group Breaking the Silence and examine its claims that soldiers committed war crimes during their service in the Palestinian territories.
Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, the IDF chief of staff, told an academic conference in Herzliya on Tuesday that the military’s legal department should follow up on testimonies by discharged soldiers who claim to have either committed acts or witnessed actions by their comrades that would constitute a violation of the laws of war.
The NGO has come under attack from Israel's right wing over its activities. Critics accuse the organization of publicizing unsubstantiated charges that cannot be independently verified with the intent of sullying Israel's image abroad.
Last year, Eisenkot’s boss, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, banned Breaking the Silence from taking part in any IDF activities, describing the organization as having malicious motives.
Ya’alon said he was aware of the “foolish attempts by various organizations to slander us and slander IDF soldier around the world. This is a struggle that obligates us to expose the true face of those people,” adding that, “I myself have experienced personal persecution of this type in various countries in the world."
“This is hypocrisy and false propaganda against IDF soldiers and the state of Israel, and it is a part of the delegitimization against us. Hence, I have banned the involvement of Breaking the Silence members in any IDF activities,” Ya’alon stated.
Eisenkot, however, surprised his audience at the Interdisciplinary Center when he struck a conciliatory tone toward the group.
“Any soldier who enlists in the military is given a lesson about unlawful orders,” the army chief said. “It’s not a right, but an obligation not to carry out illegal orders. We explain to soldiers that we demand that they not carry out illegal orders.”
“I’m not talking about the hundreds of soldiers who later make statements to the press,” Eisenkot said. “But it’s important to understand that it’s a duty [to disobey illegal orders].”
“Immediately after I took up the post [of chief of staff], after Operation Protective Edge, I received complaints [from soldiers about possible war crimes],” he said. “I told the army’s legal adviser to meet with Breaking the Silence and to examine these testimonies.”
“This will make the IDF stronger and better,” Eisenkot said.