Sunday, January 18, 2009

Gila Svirsky - co-chair of B'Tselem

Gila Svirsky, co-chair of B'Tselem, sent out this e-mail yesterday:

I was listening to the radio interview of two teens from the south of Israel, both of whom had been living under intolerable conditions for several weeks, caught in the crossfire of the adults.

“Oh my family never watches the foreign TV stations,” said one. “They’re not as accurate as the Israeli news.”

“My father forbids it,” said the other. “It could be demoralizing.”

Yes, indeed, it could be demoralizing. If you don’t watch the “foreign channels” – CNN, the BBC, or Sky News, let alone al-Jazeera – you don’t hear the (other) half of what is happening. You never heard, for example, that

al-Quds Hospital in Gaza took a direct hit yesterday; or that

UNRWA notified the IDF that a shell had struck their storage facility (food, medicine, and fuel), but that the IDF fired six more shells after that; or that

children were found cowering in their home near the dead bodies of their parents, probably for days, as ambulances could not reach them, despite strict international laws about the free movement of medical crews.

But Israelis hear only the Israeli news. So what does my neighbor say to me yesterday? “Israel has the most moral army in the world. What other army would drop leaflets warning civilians to leave so they won’t be hurt by shelling?”

Well, the answer is: many countries. It’s a common propaganda tool. Here’s an excerpt from a leaflet dropped by the US into Japan during World War II:

“The weapons used by the Japanese military authorities in order to extend this hopeless war will be completely destroyed by the US Air Force. However, bombs cannot see, so we do not know where they will land. As you know, we Americans are a humanitarian people and we do not want to injure innocent people. Therefore, please evacuate these cities."

And here’s an excerpt of one dropped by Israel into Gaza a few days ago:

"As a result of the acts undertaken by terrorists in your area against Israel, the IDF is forced to respond immediately and take action in this area. For your own safety, you are asked to leave the area immediately."

Needless to say, there is nowhere to go. Gaza is a tiny area – 10% the size of Rhode Island – densely occupied, and all the borders are sealed shut.

But Israelis are still repeating the mantra that turns my stomach: The IDF is the most moral army in the world.

Throughout these horrific weeks, the most carefully documented reports inside Israel of what is and what isn’t actually happening have been those of the human right organizations. You can see a combined blog of these organizations at You know there have been serious human rights abuses when eleven organizations come together to do something. B’Tselem even took the unprecedented step of issuing a call for a cease fire. All have done important work in getting the message out to Israelis.

Last but not least, the peace organizations continue raising their brave and lonely voices to the ongoing vilification of patriotic passersby and motorists. Here’s what I wrote on my sign yesterday: “We have become our own worst nightmare.” Most passersby didn’t get it.

Gila Svirsky

Co-chair, B’Tselem


  1. Thanks for posting this. My heart continues to break.

  2. Thank you. I just read your blog post on Gaza - you express how I feel also. During the Lebanon War in the summer of 2006 I initially felt support for what Israel was doing. It seemed as if most Israelis felt the same way. But then everything devolved into simple destruction with absolutely no point - over a thousand dead Lebanese, about 150 dead Israelis, thousands of rockets on the north that the Israeli attack did not stop. When I visited Israel in the summer of 2007, it seemed clear that most people thought the war had been a terrible mistake. This time around I have been shocked by what I have read about the lack of dissent in Israel. Very few people have gone to anti-war protests. Not very much care about the over a thousand people killed in Gaza and the utter destructions of some neighborhoods. Heart-breaking stories like the one you tell in your blog of the Gaza doctor who lost several of his daughters. I feel a sense of shame about this war. I hope that more Israelis also begin to feel the same way. I think it is time for Israel to negotiate with Hamas on a long-term ceasefire/truce/hudna, whatever you call it. I know that Hamas is dedicated to Israel's destruction, and I see no evidence that they have changed their minds - but this attack on Gaza is not the way. לא זו הדרך. That was the slogan of the ad put into the New York Times by American Jews in 1982 during the first Lebanon War.