US group rallies Israeli soldiers to combat Gaza allegations

Combatants in the January war have quickly organized to rebut a 112-page booklet of soldier testimonies criticizing Israeli policy that was released Wednesday.

TEL AVIV – One day after an Israeli group released a 112-page booklet of soldier testimonies alleging the military had a lax open-fire policy during Israel's 22-day January offensive in Gaza, soldiers organized by an American non-profit have recorded their own testimonies insisting the IDF did the best it could to reduce collateral damage.

The organization Breaking the Silence outraged the Israeli army by presenting accounts on Wednesday of callousness toward the Palestinians from more than two dozen anonymous former soldiers. The army, which was given a copy of the booklet less than 24 hours ahead of publication, strenuously insisted that the anonymous nature of the stories made them impossible to investigate or verify and thus unreliable. Now the foot soldiers upset by the allegations have come forward to push back.

The testimonials are meant to show the humane side of the much-maligned Israeli army, and can be found at Soldiersspeakout.com – a subsidiary of Stand With Us International, an Los Angeles non-profit which seeks to boost Israeli public relations.

Yaron, a reserve paratrooper, said that before entering on the ninth day of the war, his unit got clear commands to avoid civilian casualties.

"I can say for sure that all our instructions from all commanders were to minimize hurt to the other side, keep our humanity, to make no casualties to [civilians] whatsoever. I can say for sure. We were always searching not to hurt civilians. Those were our orders.''

Noam, also a reserve infantryman, told of leaving the cover of a house in order to feed the family's animals. He said that his unit ordered extra food rations for the family. "We got everything they needed and took very good care of them during the operation.''

Soldiers Speak Out was a response to accusations of misconduct from Israelis soldiers that emerged immediately after the war. A spokesman said the group has prepared a new batch of testimonials in response to Breaking the Silence.

Michael Dixon, a spokesperson for Soldiers Speak Out called Breaking the Silence, "Anti-Army.''

"We wanted to respond to the wave of feeling to young people – people that served – that this testimony doesn't reflect their service,'' he said. "There is a general feeling that [Breaking the Silence] reaches out to people who have an ax to grind.''

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