Israel Advocacy: Fighting for the truth

Former IDF combat soldiers fly to the United Nations and the European Parliament to share their testimonies from the front lines.

By
March 22, 2019 13:25
Israel Advocacy: Fighting for the truth

My Truth's Eli Bogdan and Lital Shemesh . (photo credit: NGO MONITOR)

 
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GENEVA/BRUSSELS – In a room below the United Nation Human Rights Council which once again condemned Israel and the IDF one day after a deadly terror attack in the West Bank, sat a number of IDF reservists who wanted one thing: To tell their side of the story which has been ignored by the world body.

“We are here not for the State of Israel, but for us,” said Eli Bogdan, a former squad commander in the IDF. “In many combat operations civilians are being used by militants in order for them to carry out attacks and escape. How come the IDF is being condemned and not Hamas which uses their own women and children as human shields?”

Bogdan is part of My Truth, an organization established following Operation Protective Edge in 2014 by Avihai Shorshan, which collects signed testimonies and photographs from combat operations between 2004-2018 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that attest to the use of human shields and other human rights violations by Hamas and other terror groups.

The organization has documented testimonies from dozens of former combat soldiers, including several who just recently finished their military service and were posted along the Gaza border fence during the “March of Return” protests.

For these soldiers, who still serve in their reserve duty, the front lines are not only in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. It’s everywhere they go, and against everything they hear.



Several volunteers of the organization – who continue to do their reserve service in the IDF – flew into Geneva on Sunday with the goal of sharing their stories from the front lines.

“The war we are fighting where Hamas takes the fight towards civilians is a very hard war to fight,” Bogdan said at a panel alongside NGO Monitor and UN Watch. “They hide not because they have nowhere to hide, but because they know how the IDF acts. This is the worst violation of human rights in the world, they are using their own women and children.”

Shorshan, originally from Gush Katif which was dismantled following the Israeli unilateral disengagement from Gaza in 2005, sat down with The Jerusalem Post on Monday in Geneva.

“Our mission is to put readers in our shoes, and how IDF soldiers stand against Palestinian attackers,” he said. “When you see someone’s face, everything can change. IDF soldiers are regular people, and this is the best way to fight, to meet face to face with no filters.”

But, he said, “this war cannot be won without the cooperation with NGO Monitor and UN Watch. We have to work together because the work these groups do in regards to the United Nations and non-governmental organizations along with the testimonies we collect, that’s the way to win.”



SHORSHAN SERVED as a volunteer with Magen David Adom rescue services in Jerusalem at the height of the Second Intifada and told the Post that he “can’t count the number of terror attacks I encountered.”

One attack that stays with him to this day was the 2004 suicide bombing on a bus on Emek Refaim in Jerusalem in which eight people were killed.

“I was the first person at the scene,” he said. “It was when I understood what ‘dead silence’ meant. It made it clear to me that I had to fight against hate and lies.”

Shorshan served in the Golani Brigade’s Orev special forces between 2005-2008, “a very, very intensive period” which saw the Second Lebanon War and the kidnapping of IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

“Hamas fired rockets almost every day at Israeli cities, but we didn’t have the Iron Dome at the time, so the IDF sent us soldiers inside the Strip to capture or kill those who fired the rockets,” he said. “People need to understand that rockets are like a suicide bomber in the middle of a city.”

While there were several wars between his time as a volunteer in MDA and his army service, it was the response by the international community to Operation Protective Edge in 2014 which pushed Shorshan to establish My Truth.

“It wasn’t what happened in the operation, but the reports which came out after. I can’t forget how they called us war criminals,” he said. “Two of my friends died in the war. Both of them died because they tried to do their mission without harming civilians.”
And in a world where social media is key, he then took to Facebook to refute the stories shared in the media and by other Israeli groups such as Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem.

“It’s my turn to break the silence,” Shorshan wrote. “Here’s my own modest report, just the tip of the iceberg really.”

He then continued on to tell of several instances where IDF troops put themselves at risk during their operations to reduce the risk of Palestinian civilian casualties, in the Kasbah in Nablus, in Jenin, in the central Gaza Strip city of Jabalya, and on the outskirts of Shejaia, where a 10-year-old child suicide bomber was sent by Hamas.


“In one of the missions in the outskirts of Shejaia, our hiding place was exposed,” he wrote. “Hamas’s response was swift, and a 10-year-old boy in a suicide bomber’s belt was sent our way. In defiance of orders and the command to shoot to kill, the team member guarding the door at the time decided not to open fire, ducked behind some cover and instead instructed the boy to undress and remove the explosive belt.”

“We detained the child and after an investigation in Israel he was released, healthy and well. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the investigation revealed that his brother, a senior member of Hamas, bribed the kid with 10 shekels (about $2.50) to blow himself up on us.”

These cases, Shorshan contends, “are not rare or unusual” but something every combat soldier who served in the West Bank or Gaza has experienced.

“I could write an entire book of stories that happened to just my own team,” he wrote and called on other soldiers to respond to his Facebook post, which perhaps by some bad luck was removed by Facebook about a year about he wrote it.

But Shorshan’s post was up for long enough to get hundreds of soldiers to respond, to break their silence and to tell their truth.
“It snowballed from there” with My Truth being established, Shorshan told the Post.

LITAL SHEMESH, a former combat soldier who still does her reserve duty in the Home Front Command, joined the My Truth delegation to Geneva where she told the crowd at the UN panel co-hosted by NGO Monitor and UN Watch, that the March of Return protests are not civilian protests.

“The border fence protests are not people who want to have coffee with us, they want to destroy Israel,” she said. “We are still fighting our war of independence, we are fighting for our country and defending our people. Meanwhile, Hamas is shooting its own people who are rising up against them. I am not asking you to stand with Israel, but to stand with the truth.”

Following their panel at the United Nations, the delegation flew to Brussels to take part in a panel discussion at the European Union which was attended by Fulvio Martusciello, a member of the EU parliament from Italy and EU parliament member Victor Bostinaru, Romania vice president of Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament.

Bostinaru called on the EU to implement a new resolution to make sure that EU financing would never get into the hands of terror groups in the West Bank or Gaza. Martusciello called for the EU to condemn Hamas, which actively encourages harm to come to its civilians to further delegitimize Israel.

This, he said, “is why there is a rise in antisemitism. It’s a dangerous connection. Where there is antisemitism there is terrorism. It’s dangerous not only for Jews in Europe but for democracy in Europe.”

Speaking at the panel, Shemesh said that Palestinian terror groups understand the IDF’s moral code and use it not only against Israeli soldiers, but civilians as well.

“When your kids think of balloons, they think of fun,” Shemesh said. “But when our kids think of balloons they think of explosives.”
As part of the March of Return protests, Palestinians have launched hundreds if not thousands of explosive and incendiary aerial devices into Israel which have not only torched acres upon acres of farmland and forests, but have landed in communities along the Gaza border, sometimes exploding.

Touching on a subject closer to home, Shemesh reminded the crowd that the three-year anniversary to the deadly Brussels bombings carried out by the Islamic State and which claimed the lives of 32 civilians was approaching.

“We are suffering from the same Islamic terrorism,” Shemesh said. “Just a few days ago, two Israelis were murdered in the West Bank, last week rockets were fired on Tel Aviv from Gaza and communities around the Gaza border have suffered from rocket fire for the past 17 years!”

Gilad Segal, another member of My Truth who took part in the panel in Brussels, told the crowd that “a dirty war has been forced on Israel since its existence” with enemies who use human shields.

“I witnessed this first-hand,” Segal said. “Terrorists identify our weak points to carry out attacks. The IDF goes to great lengths to save civilian lives, even if it means putting our soldiers at risk.”

For Bogdan, he joined the IDF because he is protecting his home.

“If you would have told my great-grandparents who died in World War Two fighting the Nazis in the Soviet Army that their great-grandson is going to be a combat soldier and commander in the Israeli army, the army of the Jewish State, they wouldn’t have believed it,” he told the Post. “In Israel, I am very proud to have served and to continue doing my reserve duty to defend my home.”
Bogdan served in Nahal special forces, mainly in the West Bank between 2005-2008 and after was called a “murderer, child-killer and rapist” in the United States and South America during his trip following the army.

“But I know what I did in my service,” he told the panel at the European Union on Wednesday. “I always, as a commander, tried to minimize civilian harm, even if it meant putting my soldiers at risk. I am not ashamed to say my name, my unit and the locations of incidents. I won’t hide my face.”

The writer was a guest of My Truth.

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