Upon the publication of soldiers' testimonials following Operation Cast Lead a year ago, IDF Spokesman Avi Benayahu launched a smear campaign against the troops and said their reports were detached from reality. The words "liars," "actors," and "libel" were only a small part of the jargon he used in order to divert the discussion away from its essence. By doing so he prevented many Israelis from hearing what was done in Gaza on their behalf.
Benayahu's vigorous campaign was joined among others by Golani Brigade Commander Avi Peled, who authoritatively declared that innocent civilians were not used as human shield during the operation – by doing so, Peled blatantly lied to the public. The soldiers who saw him in the field during the operation knew he was not telling the truth and that the angry Benayahu was merely trying to hide a reality we must be aware of.
Now, even those of us who did not don a uniform in January of last year understand it: Almost a year after the testimonials were published, the Judge Advocate General decided to take disciplinary action against the battalion commander who allowed the use of human shields. Meanwhile, and quietly for a change, we've seen reports about an indictment against another IDF soldier over the killing of an innocent woman, with a senior officer also involved in the case.
Now, all we get from Benayahu is silence. Avi Peled is also not around to explain his confidence in claiming that the IDF does not overlook Palestinian life, or to explain why lower-ranked soldiers yet again have to pay the price of this ambiguity. As it turns out, IDF officials do not think that the public needs to get answers, while beleiving that the trust accorded to the only establishment in Israel that owes answers to no one is boundless.
Yet even if they chose to speak to us today, why should we believe them? There's a good reason why the IDF's energetic spokesman is silent today. As one who is "loyal to the establishment" and speaks out in its defense in a blind and impassioned manner every time its credibility is doubted, Benayahu forgot a while ago that the establishment he represents is obligated first and foremost to the Israeli public.
What about credibility?We have a right to know whether in the name of defending our country, our sons, brothers, and friends violate our moral code and an explicit High Court ruling on the matter. Who asked Benayahu and the army's top brass to decide for us what we need to hear? Israel's citizens are not the spokesman's subordinates. If anything, he is here to serve us. The IDF spokesman cannot angrily pound the table and lie to us every time we hear soldiers' testimonials that are incommensurate with the "world's most moral army" mantra.
Benayahu also cannot send us a senior commander to tell us what's happening in the field, expecting that we accept every word and ignore the soldiers who execute the policy and describe a different reality.
Credibility is part of the fundamental values that the IDF boasts of, and for that reason Benayahu must go home. First, he must apologize to the soldiers he smeared publicly. Meanwhile, the Israeli public should demand the truth about Operation Cast Lead from an independent Israeli commission of inquiry that will remain loyal to the public and not filter information as it wishes. This is our moral obligation to the soldiers we sent to get the job done on our behalf; this is the duty of civil society in a state that characterizes itself as democratic.
Dana Golan is the director of Breaking the Silence organization