Subscription 790/year or 190/quarter

To maintain the occupation with silence

Working with human rights in Israel is getting harder and harder, and more and more organizations are being attacked. "The consequences of occupying another country have become a taboo topic," says one of those trying to break the silence.


"During the last two election campaigns here, the word 'occupation' has not been mentioned a single time," said Yehuda Shaul, 33, as he fiddled with his mobile phone.

"It says something about how normalized this situation has become. And anyone who tries to turn the spotlight on the occupation again becomes a threat to the government as well, "he continues, adding:" One of our members was just arrested by the police, so I just have to follow the phone in case he needs to help quickly. ”

Shaul is one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, an organization that does just that – breaks the silence by letting former Israeli soldiers share their experiences with the occupation. The organization publishes the testimonies of the soldiers, arranges lectures and provides guided tours where they tell about the experiences of the two- or three-year military service they conducted in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). During the nearly 12 years the group has been active, they have collected over 1000 testimonials.

The member Shaul refers to – he who has just been arrested by the police – is also a former soldier, now active in Breaking the Silence.

"Although there are relatively many serving in the military, no one in Israel actually knows what happens during the military operations. Nobody talks about the consequences of occupying another country, ”says Shaul. "Basically, our higher goal is – to force the public to take a stand and discuss the occupation and its consequences."

The ink Campaign. Israeli human rights organizations report on increasingly difficult working conditions, and on increased attacks from both political and civilian levels. In February this year, the Israeli National Assembly Knesset passed the so-called NGO law for the first time, with 50 votes in favor and 43 votes against. The bill has been promoted by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing settler Jewish Home and requires all non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receiving over half of the funding from foreign authorities to state this in all their official publications.

According to Reuters news agency, 30 NGOs have been registered in Israel, of which about half are active. About 000 of these groups deal with the Palestinian conflict and receive financial support from either the EU as a whole, from EU countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Belgium, or from Norway. Recently, Breaking the Silence was investigated, accused of collecting and leaking classified information from military operations in the Palestinian territories. "We have also been exposed to both physical and digital attacks," says Shaul. "Our website has been tried to close on several occasions. The sitting government with Netanyahu in the lead has launched a black campaign against us. This is spreading to the population, which results in attacks and violence, ”he says.

On May 22, Breaking the Silence appeared in court. The Israeli state has demanded that the former soldiers who gave the organization their diploma on the Gaza war in 2014 be identified under full name. If the verdict falls in the state's favor, it will be the first time the state forces Breaking the Silence to reveal the identity of the soldiers who pronounce it anonymously. The organization fears that such a ruling will prevent other soldiers from commenting. The verdict falls in June.

Admittedly, it has never been easy to work to publish information about what the IDF soldier missions actually entail. Breaking the Silence has repeatedly been attacked by settlers during their guided tours of Hebron. The authorities have also responded by closing the group out of the area on the pretext that there is a closed military zone. The group took the case to the Israeli Supreme Court and won.

"But the situation has tightened in recent years," Shaul says. Recently, a person tried to attack the group's premises in Jerusalem. This has led to the premises being guarded by 24 guards today.

Photo exhibition from the intifada. Shaul himself has been jailed several times, but never for long. He grew up in a political right-wing family and took his advanced education in an illegal settlement in the West Bank. From 2001 to 2004 he spent as a soldier in the occupied West Bank.

"Today's government is the most extreme in Israeli history."

“In the military, it is first and foremost the camaraderie that matters. Politics has no place there – you are there for your mate and he is there for you. Even though this was my everyday life, there was something in me that said this wasn't right, "Shaul says. “But as a soldier you always find a way to continue. There's no room to ask questions – it's about assignments, and it's about orders. As I moved up to become a sergeant and got more free time, I began to think about the future. I think this was the first time in my adult life that I thought of life as a civilian. "

A few months before the military service was over, he decided to share his thoughts with some friends, including those in the military. It turned out that they had been thinking in the same lanes. "Gradually, it became a theme for us – that those at home send us out on an assignment, but not knowing what the assignment actually entails," says Shaul.

A few months later, in June 2004, 64 former soldiers organized a photo and video exhibition documenting events from the Second Intifada. Overnight, the soldiers became national celebrities in Israel. This was the first time military veterans had organized to tell their stories. Within three weeks, the exhibition was viewed by 7000 people. A few months later, the group was invited to the Israeli parliament.

“We didn't understand what we had been up to. I think one could say that the most important exhibit contributed was to have other soldiers who had been in other areas tell. This was the start of Breaking the Silence, ”says Shaul.

He emphasizes that he is not an opponent of the Israeli military per se.

"We are simply a bunch of veterans who believe the military should be reserved for defense – not occupation and repression. We simply believe that a state should have the right to decide for itself and not be decided by another army. The occupation is morally flawed and it also destroys morale and professionalism within the IDF. Ultimately, it also destroys the morale of Israeli society, ”says Shaul.

Extremes. During three weeks in December last year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went on public verbal attack on Breaking the Silence on three occasions. Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon from the same party, in turn, issued a directive prohibiting the IDF from inviting Breaking the Silence to its events. Shortly after, Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home issued a directive that also prohibits schools from inviting Breaking the Silence to information missions, as they have previously had the opportunity.

Then, in March of this year, came the investigation and allegations of leaks.

What do you think is the reason for this change of attitude towards organizations working towards the occupation?

“Today's government is the most extreme government in Israel's history, and it fails to deliver. Therefore, they try to divert by making sure that we do not cry out about the mistakes being made. It's an attempt to try to silence anyone who criticizes the occupation, "says Shaul.

He thinks the main reason why the Israeli occupation of Palestine is maintained is because it does not get enough room in the public spelling.

"But if we are to have a chance to do something about the occupation, the issue must be on the table," says Shaul.


Carima Tirillsdottir Heinesen
Carima Tirillsdottir Heinesen
Former journalist for MODERN TIMES.

You may also like