Israeli group fuels BDS and undermines Israel’s security with misleading supposed “testimonies”
Breaking the Silence (BtS)—Shovrim Shtika in Hebrew—is a group of Israeli veterans who collect and disseminate ‘testimonies’ of alleged breaches of military ethics which they claim were witnessed and perpetrated by soldiers while they were serving in the West Bank and Gaza.
BtS activists present themselves as patriotic Zionists who love their country. They also defend their organization as a whistleblower that works to keep the state moral by speaking out against IDF atrocities committed against Palestinians.
The group once garnered a fair share of admirers during its formative years. Today it’s rejected by most of the Israeli mainstream public.
That’s because BtS chooses to ignore the official systems in place for lodging complaints, preferring instead to make its case directly to foreigners.
Basically, the group’s spokespeople and activists spend much of their time slandering Israeli soldiers abroad, falsely painting Israel as an “inept and cruel occupier” to foreign audiences eager to hear about the Jewish state’s malevolence.
So for some years BtS has been at the forefront of giving the global BDS movement arrayed against Israel exactly what it wants—examples of Israel and its people allegedly behaving badly.
Now the group has released a new report.
Like prior BtS publications, it’s based on ‘testimonies’ that are almost all made anonymously. The report’s already been translated into English and posted on the internet. Notification of its release and a downloadable version of the report has also been sent to a pro-Palestinian information clearinghouse.Below I summarize this newly published BtS report and its flaws.
It’s important to make note of them because the group is already planning to roll-out the report’s findings in an upcoming speaking tour for college campuses and Jewish organizations and community centers (like J-Street and Hillel, both of whom have hosted the group in the past).
BtS activists will be doing that too throughout the spring and summer during its West Bank “Hebron tours” that have become an avenue for the group to further disseminate its message to gullible foreigners.
— Breaking the Silence (@BtSIsrael) October 14, 2016
— Breaking the Silence (@BtSIsrael) September 12, 2016
I know this is all in the works because a leading BtS spokesperson told me so. He came last week to give a talk at my local synagogue in Dewitt, NY.
Mostly he was peddling a pack of lies. And soon he and other spokespeople will be fanning out across the country, doing much the same—probably at an event near you.
The remainder of this post is organized as follows:
- Overview of BtS, for readers less familiar with the organization;
- Key critiques of BtS;
- Brief account of the recent opposition to BtS by Israeli politicians and the public;
- Review of the new BtS report and its shortcomings;
- Highlights of the BtS event last week in Dewitt, NY; and
- Fact-checking the BtS NY event with the help of Amit Deri, founder and director of Reservists on Duty, a new NGO that works to combat BtS—and the larger BDS movement—both in Israel and abroad.
Breaking the Silence (BtS): Overview
BtS (Shovrim Shtika) was founded in 2004 by a group of soldiers who had served during Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield (a military operation launched during the second intifada).
In its early years, the group was viewed as serving a useful purpose—providing a forum for young soldiers (many of them only 18-21 years old, the age when Israelis are drafted)—to speak openly and honestly about their service.
Although it began publishing soldiers’ testimonies of alleged abuses early on, BtS is best known for its 240 page report, This is How We Fought in Gaza: Soldiers Testimonies and Photographs from Operation ‘Protective Edge’, released after Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas. It contains short vignettes told by roughly 60 soldiers who had served in the operation.
In the volume, BtS claims that the IDF’s guiding military principle during the operation was to minimize risk to Israel’s military forces “even at the cost of harming innocent civilians.”
Taken together, the testimonies suggest that the IDF acting recklessly and in violation of the laws of armed conflict, causing massive harm to civilian Palestinian life and infrastructure.
Since then the organization has continued to:
- publish dozens of testimonies (available on You Tube as well as on the BtS website, with some having been viewed tens of thousands of times);
- conduct scores of “alternative tours” in the West Bank for American and European visitors (primarily tourists, but often journalists, high-profile human rights activists, and even diplomats and dignitaries); and
- field exhibitions and speaking tours in Europe and the U.S.
In the short term, the organization claims that its goal is to expose the “dark underbelly” of the Palestinian occupation. In the long term, it seeks to end the ‘occupation’ completely.
Here’s a typical BtS promotional video:
Within Israel, all this makes BtS the darling of the Israeli far-left.
It’s heavily promoted by organizations and activists affiliated with BDS and praised and featured on vehemently anti-Israel and pro-BDS websites such as Mondoweiss and Electronic Intifada (see here and here).
Over the years, BtS activists have also collaborated with pro-BDS groups and shared materials by virulently anti-Israel organizations.
For example, BtS co-founder Yehuda Shaul has reportedly participated in events with BDS-supporting groups like Open Shuhada Street and Paix Juste. And the Colorado branch of Sabeel, a virulently BDS-supporting and antisemitic nonprofit, is reportedly meeting with BtS during its upcoming “Fact-Finding Trip” to Israel and the West Bank.
Last year, BtS shared a propaganda video which was recorded by the International Solidarity Movement, an anti-Israel group whose members have been convicted for providing financial aid to Hamas and whose foreign volunteers routinely obstruct the IDF and provoke violent altercations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
There have also been a few other scandalous incidents: several years ago Shaul reportedly slandered Jewish settlers in the West Bank, claiming that they had poisoned the drinking water supply system of a Palestinian village.
Shaul made the remark while addressing a group of foreign visitors on a tour of the southern Hebron Hills. It was captured on a video which ricocheted across the internet and social media and was picked up by media sites in the Arab world and beyond.BtS activists were also recently investigated for espionage and trying to obtain sensitive military information from former soldiers.
The Case Against BtS
There are two central criticisms of BtS.
First, its detractors condemn the fact that BtS rejects communication with the army, choosing to avoid official channels for registering complaints about allegations of immoral or illegal incidents in the IDF.
BtS simply won’t allow its accumulated soldier testimonies of alleged abuses to undergo any serious scrutiny—it doesn’t refer the testimony of questionable incidents and the relevant individuals to the Military Advocate Generals Corps, for example, which can order investigations to be opened.
Nearly all of its testimonies—the vast majority of them from low-ranking soldiers and junior officers who lack information about overall operational policies and strategies—are published anonymously, so they remain anecdotal and unverified.
Here’s a typical “testimony” noted on the BtS website as “popular” (it has over 19,000 views):
Second, critics note that instead of keeping the conversation about the moral values of the IDF inside Israel, BtS does much of its publicity and fundraising abroad. According to the watchdog group NGO Monitor, between 2012-2015 BtS participated in more than 60 events outside of Israel—often speaking to anti-Israel audiences, thus “reinforcing already radical positions.”
Each year, a large percentage of its annual donations reportedly come from foreign sources, either from European charities but also directly from foreign European governments and the EU.
BtS has also listed George Soros’s Open Society Foundations as a “generous supporter” of some of its publications.
BtS receives sizable donations from groups that in turn fund pro-BDS and radically anti-Israel organizations. One leaked document reportedly showed that some of these foreign funders conditioned their financial support on BtS obtaining a minimum number of incriminating testimonies.
Award-winning Israeli author and journalist Matti Friedman puts the problem well:
Breaking the Silence’s money is foreign, not Israeli, and the primary customers for its product are foreign, not Israeli. At its extensive English website, Jewish soldiers are presented for international consumption as a spectacle of moral failure, a spectacle paid for by Norwegians, French Catholics, and Germans. This being so, it is completely reasonable for Israelis to wonder what exactly this group is and which side it is on.”
Bottom line: BtS presents itself as a human-rights organization committed to social justice, but its programming aims at presenting Israel in the worst possible light. While professing not to support BDS or to partner with such groups, BtS in fact often works in conjunction with BDS activists, helping them to brand Israel as a pariah state and its armed forces as malevolent. Like other BDS organizations, BtS spokespeople develop a narrative in which Israel is solely responsible for the absence of peace.
Pushback to BtS: Telling the Truth about the IDF
This month BtS made national and international headlines when Netanyahu asked both British Prime Minister Theresa May and Belgium’s PM Charles Michel to defund “anti-Israel” groups, including ones “harmful to Israeli soldiers”, specifically naming BtS.
But the group isn’t only being challenged by the Prime Minister or other ministers in the governing coalition. Israeli politicians across the political spectrum are rejecting it.
The chairman of the centrist Yesh Atid party (Yair Lapid) has called BtS “anti-Zionist” and “radical.” The left-of-center Isaac Herzog also condemned the group in a 2015 Knesset plenum, where he said that he was “disgusted by the opinions” of the group.
Even Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin—known for championing liberal causes—has castigated the group for spending so much of its time abroad and failing to work through established channels to prosecute alleged IDF infractions.
The sheer number of official denunciations is important.
But even more consequential, to my mind, is how many Israelis are standing up to speak against BtS and share positive accounts of their IDF service.
Back in 2015 hundreds of reservists signed an open letter calling for BtS to stop its overseas activities, demonizing the IDF abroad, and taking funds from BDS-promoting groups.
Several anti-BtS grassroots civil society organizations have also sprung up.
One of these is My Truth—a group of former IDF soldiers that have taken to social media to fight BtS allegations. Via its Facebook page and using the Twitter hashtag #my_truth the group has posted hundreds of stories showing how the IDF goes to “great lengths” to avoid harming Palestinians—and in so doing often increases the dangers to its own troops.
— Dror For The Wounded (@dror4thewounded) February 2, 2016
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) June 25, 2015
One particular story stood out for me: a post about a risky 2004 mission to kill the head of Hamas’s military operations in Bethlehem, who was responsible for deadly suicide attacks.
— Israel in Ireland (@IsraelinIreland) May 14, 2015
During the maneuver, the assigned unit broke into the Hamas operative’s house and began to sweep the rooms. A woman found in one fainted, prompting the team’s medic to immediately begin treatment. But it turned out to be a trap—a stalling tactic that bought the terrorist some time to get his weapons and hide. He ended up shooting at the soldiers from inside a hollow wall, wounding some of them along with the medic, who is now paralyzed from the chest down
because he was educated on IDF ethical procedure of treating any wounded casualty, even if the casualty is the wife of a senior terrorist who faints during an arrest.”
You can call it setting the record straight about how the IDF fights. According to its website, My Truth will soon release its own report of testimonies from soldiers.
Another new Israeli nonprofit organization working to combat BtS—Reservists on Duty—was founded in December 2015.
Made up solely of Israelis in the reserves, the group established a hotline to support IDF soldiers who are being harassed and deceived by BtS into providing testimonies (see here for a video clip of three soldiers who served in elite combat units discussing how they were contacted multiple times by BtS activists following their discharges in order to “tell their stories”).
Reservists on Duty has also launched a social media and video campaign. There are many You Tube videos of the organization’s co-founder and chairman Amit Deri speaking with Israeli media; clips of its recent national conference; and meetings with PM Netanyahu and other officials. Most of them are in Hebrew. But here’s one in English in which Deri exposes the distorted picture that BtS provides about the IDF’s 2014 military operation in Gaza:
What Deri does in this clip is provide the missing context in the BtS ‘testimonies.’ He explains that because of the heavy fighting that took place between Israel and terror groups in Gaza, IDF soldiers always faced grave danger throughout the operation—from rockets, mortars, and terrorists emerging out from tunnels (including ones dug under private homes).
The soldiers interviewed by BtS rarely mention that Hamas placed its ordinance and fighters in civilian areas—including mosques, schools and hospitals. It’s something Deri also underscores in the video.
It should be noted too that Deri’s description of how the IDF acted admirably to avoid harming civilians has now been corroborated by multiple studies of the 2014 Israel-Hamas war. According to these reports (see our prior post), Israel did an exemplary job of adhering to the LOAC (laws of armed conflict) during its military operation in Gaza, including those related to the protection of non-combatants.
Several hundred combat reservists affiliated with Reservists on Duty have now filed a slander lawsuit against BtS. But in recent months, Deri’s organization has also begun to branch out to target the larger BDS movement.It has a number of new initiatives in the works and will be active on U.S. campuses in the coming year.
We’ll cover this programming in a future post.
New BtS Report: “The High Command—Settler Influence on IDF Conduct in the West Bank”
According to BtS, the trial of Elor Azaria, a soldier convicted last month of manslaughter in the death of a disarmed and wounded Palestinian terrorist in Hebron, galvanized the group to further research the influence settlers had on the conduct of IDF soldiers and commanders.
In this case, BtS wasn’t off-base to raise a red flag.
Footage at the scene showed that area residents were not cleared from the place, resulting in a “breakdown of the military-civilian divide” during operational activities. Last week, the judges considered this failure of Azaria’s commanders to maintain order at the scene as a mitigating factor in determining his prison term.So BtS shouldn’t be faulted for considering how the Azaria case—which has riveted and divided the country for months—reinforces the need for IDF commanders in the field to manage scenes professionally.
But as is typical of BtS, the group took the circumstances of this incident as a license to cast all settlers in Hebron (and the settler community in general) as having a “violent and destructive” influence on IDF soldiers’ conduct.
— Breaking the Silence (@BtSIsrael) September 21, 2016
A slick video (posted to You Tube), which aims to shock viewers about the way Israeli settlers supposedly control soldiers, accompanies the report:
The most troubling aspect of the new report is how it seeks to malign not only soldiers but Jewish civilians too, who are depicted throughout as either aggressive hooligans or conniving manipulators.
Somehow it never crosses the minds of BtS activists that their fellow Jewish citizens may be providing the IDF with food and drink (and cooking an occasional barbeque for them) not to exploit the soldiers emotions, “assimilate their messianic ideology” onto the troops, or finagle their way into operational activities, but because they are sincerely grateful and see it as a way of thanking the troops for their service.
In fact, the IDF doesn’t view it as wrong for soldiers who serve for months in the same location to develop a relationship with local Jewish residents.
In a letter than even BtS described as “thoughtful and detailed”, the IDF Chief of Staff responded to the group’s query about the connections between settlers and the army. The letter addresses all the relevant issues and seems entirely reasonable to me. But it didn’t satisfy BtS activists who decided they needed to do a “more thorough and up-to-date research” on the matter.
Here’s the IDF Chief of Staff’s 3-page letter and an excerpt:
As noted above, the claims in your letter were presented in a general format. As such, we can only respond in a general manner and say that IDF forces are responsible for the well-being, security and protection of Israeli citizens, whatever their ethnic, religious or political orientation might be. For this purpose, IDF forces often operate in areas in which these civilians reside, and it is possible that over the years various types of relationships will form between IDF forces and residents, as they do in other places in Israel, between other security entities and the population in the area in which they operate.
The IDF sees the defense of civilians living in the region of Judea and Samaria as a mission of primary importance, and ensures that the interface between Israeli civilians in Judea and Samaria and IDF forces in the region is conducted in accordance with army commands as well as in an appropriate and dignified manner.”
The take-home message of the new BtS report is that an all-too-cozy relationship between settlers and Israeli troops has empowered Jewish residents in the West Bank to become neighborhood bullies who routinely vandalize Palestinian property and harass defenseless Arabs at will.This is a baseless and malicious charge.
To be sure, altercations do happen and settlers aren’t always the innocent party. But readers of the new BtS report would never know that Jews living in the West Bank often assist their Palestinian neighbors, or that over the years cordial and amicable relations have developed between many settler communities and the surrounding Arab villages.
There are numerous examples. In recent posts we highlighted two:
- West Bank Settlers Urge Army to Return to Return Palestinian Teen’s Body
- Palestinian Authority Finally Releases Palestinians Arrested for Visiting Jewish Sukkah
None of these kinds of stories make it into the new BtS volume though.
That’s because a report that would portray Jewish settlers as compassionate, decent human beings, who often reach out to Palestinians in need, isn’t what BtS clients want. After all, it’s much easier to call for boycotts that could compromise someone’s livelihood, or to contemplate dispossessing someone from her home, if you already think of that person as an aggressive bigot who doesn’t deserve any sympathy or respect.
Basically, the new BtS report softens up readers for a BDS pitch.
An Evening with BtS Spokesman Avner Gvaryahu
On the evening of February 21 a synagogue in my area hosted a leading BtS spokesman, Avner Gvaryahu, for a talk titled “Understanding the Israeli Occupation.”
— avner gvaryahu (@avner87) February 22, 2017
The event was open to the public but was only publicized among the synagogue membership. It wasn’t filmed.
I found out in advance from several congregation members that Gvaryahu had been invited by a synagogue sub-group interested in “expanding the conversation” about Israel (at least one member of this group is also affiliated with the newly-formed Syracuse chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace; see our post on the chapter’s first local event).
My friends were concerned by what they had read online about BtS and asked if I could provide further information for those who planned to go. I prepared a fact sheet which included some of the material above and several hyperlinks to additional sources.
The fact sheet ended up being shared with the congregation membership—something that probably raised more interest in the event than would otherwise have been the case.
Some 25 synagogue members and others from the wider community turned up (actually a decent size audience for Dewitt, NY during the wintertime). I had promised my friends that I would attend.
Having already watched a few videos of Gvaryahu speaking about BtS, I was under no illusions about the sorts of misrepresentations of Israel and its armed forces that he would be making. He’s been working at BtS for nearly seven years. There are literally dozens of You Tube clips that feature him. Here’s a couple:
It’s not difficult to see why Gvaryahu’s become such a prominent public face for the organization. His good looks and boyhood charm, coupled with an easygoing public speaking style, all make for a winning presentation—both on camera and in person.
Gvaryahu began his talk by donning a yarmulke. He peppered his remarks throughout with Hebrew terms and phrases, even though I was likely the only one in the room who understands the language.
He spent a lot of time talking about himself and establishing his bona fides: thirty-two years old; his parents lived for a time in nearby Ithaca where they were professors; 9th generation Israeli; raised with a religious background; 3 years in the elite paratroopers unit as a staff sergeant from 2004-2007.
He told us that he sees himself as a “poster boy for Israel” and a champion of the Zionist, anti-occupation left. (At a number of points in his lecture he pointed to the Israeli flag displayed in the room, reminding the audience that he “loved Israel” as much as they did).The point of all this, to my mind, was to juxtapose his authentic Israeli upbringing with the ugly, inhumane actions he was supposedly forced to undertake during his army service. Ugliness like the “straw widow” operation, which he described as turning a Palestinian house into a military post, after first locking the family up in the basement.
(In another variant of this story, told by BtS co-founder Yehuda Shaul to the media on multiple occasions, IDF soldiers on patrol in 2002 lock an innocent Palestinian family in the basement of their home so that soldiers could watch a World Cup match).
In Gvaryahu’s words “the light turned on for me” after the straw widow incident (a sentiment which actually makes sense, since in fact it probably never happened, being only a figment of his imagination; see below).
Like so many of the dozens of BtS ‘testimonies’ I read while researching this post, Gvaryahu’s stories of his military service—much of it spent, to hear him tell it, terrorizing innocent Palestinians—lacked any context.
All his tales were about his service during a violent period of the second intifada, when suicide bombers and snipers were murdering Israeli men, women and children across the country. But he barely mentioned this incessant terrorism which forced the IDF to take counter-measures.
Some BtS testimonies create the impression that soldiers want to commit war crimes and hurt Palestinians. But Gvaryahu insisted at several points during his talk that we “shouldn’t blame” the individual troops because the problem is with “the system” and the larger occupation.
He brought up the Azaria case a few times (the soldier’s sentence was meted out by a military court on the same day as the talk). But other than to note the new BtS report and to mention how often Palestinians need to be protected from settlers, the new BtS study didn’t feature prominently in his lecture.
Gvaryahu ended his 40 minute spiel by inviting us all to come on a BtS Hebron tour, and to “get involved” with the organization. He didn’t ask for money, although donation cards were prominently displayed. He also offered us some free books of testimonies:To his credit, Gvaryahu sought me and some other audience detractors out after his talk. But, in some respects, what he said then was even more disturbing than his speech.
When I asked what he made of the reports (see here and here) which deemed the IDF’s efforts to spare Palestinian civilian life during the 2014 Gaza War as praiseworthy, I was surprised that he wasn’t familiar with them.He seemed more aware of Israel’s rules of engagement regarding rock-throwing (see our post here), but when I raised the issue he expressed no concern about why the rules had to be strengthened to better protect the innocent.
Gvaryahu’s view seemed to be that the job of the IDF was to safeguard Palestinian welfare and human rights irrespective of Palestinian terrorism—itself the reason that the IDF was compelled to return to the West Bank in 2002 to make preventive arrests and shut down terrorist sanctuaries that had been built up during the Oslo ‘peace process’ years.
Then, as our debate moved to the newly released BtS report, I confronted him about co-founder Yehuda Shaul’s despicable accusation that settlers poison Palestinian water-wells. But instead of denying that his colleague had said anything of the sort, Gvaryahu insisted that the charges were true.
I was appalled. We all were.
Because on top of slandering the IDF, Gvaryahu also apparently has no qualms defaming his fellow Jewish countrymen with modern day blood libels.
At that point, he wanted again to turn the argument back to how the occupation (not Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, ISIS in the Sinai, or the global campaign to delegitimize Zionism) was the greatest threat to Israelis. But hearing a classic antisemitic trope come from the mouth of a fellow Jew floored me. I had enough of Mr. Gvaryahu and made a quick exit.
Fact-checking Gvaryahu’s Talk with Amit Deri, Co-founder of Reservists on Duty
Gvaryahu told us that support for BtS is high among the Israeli public and that his group is well-liked by former Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief and former commander of the Israeli Navy Ami Ayalon.
I knew that BtS isn’t popular in Israel.
Still to have a high-ranking former IDF official speak in its favor would be impressive. I thought this was likely another lie, or at least an exaggeration. I checked it out when I got home.
In fact, Gvaryahu was being disingenuous. Ayalon claims that BtS has the right to operate, but in fact told The Jerusalem Post in an interview last year that “he doesn’t support BtS”—“I hate what they do.”
I contacted Amit Deri of the NGO Reservists on Duty hoping that he could clear up a few more things. He’s in Israel at the moment, but was happy to speak with me by phone.I specifically wanted to know if 65 percent of BtS activities involved interacting with Israelis, as Gvaryahu claimed during his talk. Deri said it was a dishonest statement and was only correct if you counted the Hebron tours, which shouldn’t be tallied because not a lot of Israelis participate in those.
— Breaking the Silence (@BtSIsrael) October 7, 2016
In fact, Deri told me that BtS programming in Israel probably doesn’t account for more than 20 percent of its overall annual activities (although he did note that it was hard to know for sure because BtS isn’t transparent about everything it does).
It became clear during our conversation that Deri’s not a big fan of Gvaryahu.
In Deri’s words:
Not every Israeli leftist organization deserves to be condemned or challenged. But Breaking the Silence must be. Gvaryahu and the others in the BtS leadership are very dangerous people.”
Turns out that it was hearing Gvaryahu tell about how he treated Palestinians during his West Bank patrols—roughing them up for no reason; bursting into homes in the middle of the night with no purpose other than to intimidate—to foreign tourists on one of his “Hebron tours” that convinced him to devote his post-military career to combatting BtS and the larger BDS movement.
Deri told me that he ended up contacting the soldiers from Gvaryahu’s unit and they produced together this must-see video:
Basically, Gvaryahu’s IDF buddies go on record to call him a bald-faced liar. If he could concoct these kinds of falsehoods about his own tour of duty, what else did he say last week in our Dewitt synagogue that was also a lie?
Here’s a 10 minute video well worth watching in which Gvaryahu’s “testimony” is debunked:
Providing that after an investigation they are determined to be true, specific acts of misconduct by IDF soldiers are inexcusable. But such incidents are the exception, not the rule. They certainly don’t tally up to Breaking the Silence’s outrageous accusation that the “IDF has thrown its code of ethics out the window.”
Whatever useful purpose this group may have once served for confused and troubled young Israeli men and women fresh out of their compulsory military service, BtS has long ago crossed a line. Today, there can be no doubt that it makes common cause with the campaign to turn the world against the Jewish state by relentlessly tainting an army that keeps Israelis safe while treating Palestinian civilians with humanity.
Bottom line: The Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence undermines Israel’s security and the well-being of its people. American Jews who want the best for Israel should have nothing to do with it.
— avner gvaryahu (@avner87) February 19, 2017
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman. From 1983-1985 she was a “lone soldier” in the Israeli Air Force, reaching the rank of Sergeant