Breaking the Silence fights for survival to keep sources secret

For around 11 years, the NGO has delivered anonymous testimonies from soldiers on alleged IDF abuses during conflict with the Palestinians.

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May 22, 2016 18:15
3 minute read.
An IDF soldier from the Golani Brigade trains in northern Israel

An IDF soldier from the Golani Brigade trains in northern Israel. (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

 
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The future of Breaking the Silence was in the balance on Sunday before the Petah Tikva Magistrate’s Court, as the state attorney tried to compel it to reveal the name of a former soldier who gave the organization his testimony concerning his military service.

The soldier was a source in the organization’s critical report on IDF conduct during the 2014 Gaza war.

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For 11 years, the NGO has delivered anonymous testimonies from soldiers on alleged IDF abuses.

The state attorney demanded Breaking the Silence reveal one of its anonymous sources, saying that solving the crime the anonymous soldier is accused of takes precedence over letting the group maintain his anonymity as their source.

The group has made big headlines over the years dating back to the 2008-9 Gaza war, and was thrust back into the media spotlight when its tactics were attacked in detail in a Channel 2 report in March.

At Sunday’s hearing, the NGO’s lawyer Michael Sfard pleaded with the court to “defend Breaking the Silence, and in doing so, to defend civil society which is very broken and anxious about its future.”

He said ruling against the NGO would be a major blow to Israeli democracy and freedom of speech.



Sfard said the soldier whose identity the state wants revealed is only suspected of a property-related offense, not killing or physically harming someone.

Sfard also said the NGO should be given the same privilege to protect its sources that the media enjoys, since it fulfills the same critical function of keeping the public informed.

The State Attorney’s Office said it would respond in detail at the next hearing, set for July 18.

The State Attorney’s Office released a statement saying that since the identity of the source being sought is essentially already known to it, asserting a media privilege should not prevent the NGO from confirming that identity.

According to the statement, the state regards the revealing of the truth as the highest value that overcomes the suspect or witness’s wish to remain anonymous.

Following the hearing, Breaking the Silence’s executive director Yuli Novak said that at a time “when we all hear people warning Israel that we have ‘Nazis or signs of fascism,’ we would expect the state attorney to stand by us in particular.”

She added that the state attorney should be defending the NGO from political attacks and not assisting their assistants.

Novak vowed not to reveal the NGO’s sources or to abandon the sources’ trust in the organization’s promise to keep their identities confidential.

In March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the NGO had “crossed a red line” after the investigation on Channel 2 revealed the organization may have been collecting classified information on the IDF.

Shortly thereafter, then-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon requested an investigation to ascertain whether Breaking the Silence had indeed received classified military information, and whether it made use of such data in its activities overseas. “When they insert [in their reports] all sorts of components that are actually operational secrets... If they make use of that abroad, that is very severe,” Ya’alon said.

“If they spread that abroad, that is treason. If they only keep it to themselves, then who safeguards this material? Why do they need to know which vehicles we use, in the air or on the ground, and why do they need to receive operational techniques?” Breaking the Silence has vehemently rejected these allegations and called for an investigation into the group that has assisted in providing essential material for the Channel 2 investigation, describing them as part of a right-wing smear campaign.

To date, there is no formal investigation concerning the organization’s alleged use of classified information. The present motion focuses on the group as a side player that could help get information for an IDF probe.

The NGO has questioned the timing of the motion, as it did not kick into high gear until around a year and- a-half after the 2014 Gaza war.

This could give the appearance it is tied to political attacks against the organization and not to the single criminal investigation it claims to try resolve.

The state rejects these allegations, saying the motion was filed based on professional considerations alone.

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