56 Israeli soldiers who died in conflict with Gaza
A montage of the 56 Israeli soldiers who died in the 2014 conflict in GazaIDF

Israel is at war against an NGO of ex-soldiers which publicises less-than-flattering accounts of military actions towards the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.

The NGO, Breaking the Silence (BtS), has infuriated officials in Jerusalem for what they perceive as demonising the state at a time when there are growing calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions.

Hotovely
Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely launched an attacked on Breaking the Silence

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely sent the country's ambassador to Switzerland to demand of the Swiss government that it prevent BtS from taking part in a Zurich exhibition. The Swiss government ignored the request.

Emmanuel Nachshon, the ministry spokesman, told AFP: "Deputy Minister Tzipi Hotovely ordered her office and the embassy in Bern to immediately explore ways to oppose the opening of the upcoming exhibition of the organisation Breaking the Silence.

"We cannot accept the actions of an organisation whose purpose is to smear the soldiers of the Israeli army on the international scene and to seriously damage Israel's image."

However, BtS maintains that it is upholding Israel's democratic and moral traditions by bring soldiers' testimonies to light.

According to a report in the Jewish Forward of New York, the BtS report quoted a tank commander in the 2014 attack on Gaza – what the Israelis called Operation Protective Edge – as saying: "Anything you see in the neighbourhoods you're in, anything within a reasonable distance, say between zero and 200 metres — is dead on the spot. No authorisation needed. Because he isn't supposed to be there. Nobody, no sane civilian who isn't a terrorist, has any business being within 200 metres of a tank."

In its own report, This Is How We Fought in Gaza, BtS reported another commander as saying: "People who look at you from the window of a house that is in your designated area – they, to put it mildly, won't look anymore."

Breaking the Silence exhibition in Tel Aviv
An Israeli soldier views the photo exhibition "Breaking the Silence: Soldiers Tell About Hebron" in Tel AvivReuters

Elsewhere, there appears to be a grudging respect of the Hamas fighters the Israelis faced.

In an interview in the Jerusalem Post, Lt.-Col Sharon Asman, the Nachal infantry battalion commander, said: "There are many things we did less well, and that we improved upon while in motion in combat. Like fighting in built up areas. When you're in the West Bank, you can go from house to house as fast as possible... in Gaza, Hamas studied us fairly well, and prepared many booby trapped homes. We can't run from house to house.
"We have adapted accordingly," Asman, who commanded a battalion of about 120 soldiers.

He recalled the deeds of one of his soldiers, Avi Grintzvaig, who was one of four battalion soldiers who died in the fighting.

"Avi Grintzvaig evacuated the wounded during one of the battles, under heavy fire. He went in to evacuate another wounded soldier and was killed. There is no better example of comradeship," said Asman.

Another of the fatally wounded, Oded Ben Sira, "was supposed to complete his military service before the operation. He could have been a civilian, but we said we expected him to come and fight. He and his platoon came and fought," the battalion commander said.

Asman finds that life as a foot soldier is motivating his love of the country.

Marches and treks "strengthen the bond between the soldiers and among us, the commanders. It also strengthens our love of the land," Asman told the Jerusalem Post.

"Only if I march on foot do I learn about the land and its history. It amazes me every time that there are soldiers doing this for the first time in their lives," he said.