Jonathan D. is a soldier who served in the IDF. This is his story.
In 2014, after being pounded by Hamas rocket fire, and with pregnant women and senior citizens forced to run to bomb shelters ten times per day, the IDF finally invaded Gaza, both to stop the rocket fire and to destroy the tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel. We, the 101st Paratroopers Battalion, were sent with combat engineers into a neighborhood of Khan Yunis called Khirbet Ekh’zeiah, which has a gorgeous and imposing mosque at its center.
Almost every building in this civilian area had mortars or other weapons inside. While we were searching the neighborhood, one big tunnel was discovered by our combat engineers in the basement of the mosque. The tunnel led directly across the border and popped up under an Israeli kindergarten. Imagine what Hamas fighters would do to Israeli children if they had managed to use the tunnel as planned. To any reasonable person, this mosque was now a legitimate target. If you use a mosque for military purposes, do not be surprised when you get a military response. If my shul were used as a staging ground for attacks on Muslim kindergartners, I would, at minimum, find a new shul.
So the combat engineers got to work figuring out what to do, while we set a perimeter around the area. But we were above ground. During this time, three subterranean Hamas fighters emerged from the tunnel in the mosque, and shot and killed two of our combat engineers. My close friend Chayim had to run into the firefight, carrying out the engineer St. Sergeant Guy Boyland as he bled out and screamed, dying in Chayim’s arms. The three Hamas fighters were killed in the ensuing battle.
This was the last straw for the mosque. The combat engineers demolished it along with the tunnel underneath — a totally legitimate military operation. I took a picture of the mosque as the sight was truly awful. A house of worship destroyed is always a tragedy, and Jews have enough of this in our history to be sensitive. But wait until you see how this mosque was used by Western media.
Before discussing that, take a moment to consider just how evil Hamas’ tactics were here. In the service of murdering Israeli kindergartners, they tunneled beneath a mosque in their own densely-populated neighborhood, with tens of thousands of residents living in eight square blocks, perversely relying on Israel’s humanity to prevent it from striking innocent people. And despite the budget to build these expensive, reinforced concrete tunnels, they have not built any bomb shelters for their own people (except, of course, the Hamas leadership). We (the IDF) did not have to lose Guy, or any of the other 75 soldiers sacrificed during this war. We could have simply napalmed the area and been done with it. But we didn’t, to protect Gazan civilians. My fellow soldiers and I risked our lives for innocent Gazans as much as for Israelis.
I personally guided a group of 50 Gazan women and children away from the fighting, to safety, risking exposure to Hamas sniper fire. Congresswoman Tlaib now accuses me and my fellow soldiers of “targeting children and families.” This is a libel, and she should be laughed out of polite society. Unfortunately, she and her ilk have enablers.
After my release from the army, I studied at Columbia University in Manhattan. I love Columbia, and do not think it is nearly as anti-Israel as is often claimed in the media. But there are certainly many examples of a deeply sinister view of Israel widely held on campus.
For example, I attended one particular event led by Avner Gvaryahu of Breaking the Silence, a group that claims to speak the truth on behalf of combat veterans who are uncomfortable with what they did while serving. In reality, the group, with European funding, goes around the world painting a picture of half-truths about the IDF’s conduct. And, as we all know, half-truths told to ignorant masses are often more damaging than outright lies, which can be more straightforwardly debunked.
Breaking the Silence had compiled a deeply misleading report about the 2014 war against Hamas, called “This is How We Fought in Gaza.” Even a cursory reading leaves one with the impression that Israel is a brutal, trigger-happy oppressor. I read the report, curious to see if it would match my experience. And before even opening the book, I saw the gray, haunting photo on the cover: The mosque. The same mosque as the one I photographed. No context, none of the story I outlined above.
I asked Gvaryahu whether he thought the cover of the report conveyed a fair implication of what happened to this mosque. Wouldn’t knowing the context significantly change a reader’s understanding of the story here? He had no answer – clearly he was not expecting somebody who had actually fought there to confront him in New York. He mumbled something about the cover photo not being related to any of the testimonies in the report, which does not help his case. The impression the reader gets immediately is, “Wow, Israel is awful for blowing up a mosque. Why should we believe the IDF is a ‘moral army’?” Gvaryahu and his organization have concocted a work of political propaganda.
And so we see one striking example of the dishonesty in academia that filters into Western media, all of which manifests as Hamas apologetics. Roger Cohen at the NY Times routinely cites Breaking the Silence in his laments about the “corrosion of Israel’s soul,” to admiring nods of agreement from his ideological kin. And while I do wish Israeli soldiers would grapple more fully with the violence necessary to counter threats from its neighbors, that is an internal societal issue, not one to be dumbed down for Western media consumption and narrative-pushing. Breaking the Silence, and NGOs like it, should be considered just as dishonest as the Southern Poverty Law Center and other discredited hack organizations. And those who cite Breaking the Silence should do so at the cost of their credibility.
It is quite strange to experience something up close, and then to watch trusted sources twist and mangle the actual story so fully that the conclusion drawn by the reader is the opposite of what occurred. But this is, unfortunately, often the case in Western countries today when it comes to Israel and Gaza. We should not be surprised to see the same thing happening now as happened five years ago.
I hope there are enough fair and decent Americans to sympathize with the impossible situation IDF troops in which find themselves, and to vote accordingly. Israel is our ally, and must remain so.