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Palestinian/ Israeli update12/21/2015..Breaking the Silence

Monday, December 21, 2015 17:40
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(Before It's News)

Greek parl. to recognize state of Palestine

‘Breaking the Silence’: IDF whistleblowers expose reality of occupation to Israelis

Israeli officials condemn Breaking the Silence — and restrict its activities

They’ve been banned from Israel’s schools and forbidden from speaking to Israeli soldiers. Israel’s prime minister denounced them from the floor of Knesset. A right-wing group has accused them of being foreign moles.

The Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence has been controversial since it was founded in 2004 by soldiers who had served in Hebron during the Second Intifada. The group’s goal is to give soldiers a forum to speak out about their service in the West Bank and Gaza, and to advocate against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. It publishes soldiers’ testimonies of alleged abuses during conflict, such as indiscriminate firing on civilians. It also runs tours of Hebron.

Figures on Israel’s political right and center have accused the group of taking testimonies out of context and distorting the truth. It’s drawn particular ire for publishing many testimonies anonymously, for releasing its reports in English and for taking veterans on speaking tours in Europe and the United States.

This week, Israel’s government mounted an unprecedented campaign against the group. Senior Israeli politicians have accused the group of slandering the IDF. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon banned the group from speaking to active-duty soldiers, calling the group’s work “hypocrisy and false propaganda” in a Facebook post Sunday. Two days later, Education Minister Naftali Bennett barred the group from appearing at schools.

“Breaking the Silence doesn’t care for the IDF’s morality,” Bennett wrote on Facebook Thursday. “It’s focused on defaming IDF soldiers across the world: In Belgium, in Sweden, in the U.N., in the European Union. Since when does someone who cares for the IDF go around the world spreading blood libels about our soldiers?”

READ: Affiliates of elite Jerusalem high school turn their backs on military service

Breaking the Silence has called the recent moves against it an unjust and undemocratic attempt at curtailing speech.

“This is a worrying and violent incitement campaign from the same forces calling to close [Israel’s] Supreme Court, who call the country’s president a traitor, and who work to shut down human rights organizations in Israel,” Breaking the Silence wrote in an email to supporters Wednesday.

Bennett’s and Ya’alon’s decisions to bar the group from schools and from contact with active-duty soldiers come as the Knesset is considering a bill to require NGOs like Breaking the Silence to declare their foreign funding sources. Ya’alon’s move also came the same day as Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke ahead of the group at a conference hosted by the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz in New York on Sunday.

That day, Israeli TV Channel 20 called Rivlin’s appearance at a conference that also featured Breaking the Silence “a total loss of shame” and said he didn’t represent the country. Knesset Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Wednesday to denounce the channel’s comments.

Instead, Netanyahu criticized Breaking the Silence.

“Come to the podium and vocally denounce the Breaking the Silence organization, which slanders soldiers worldwide and works to tie the hands of the state of Israel when it defends itself, which defames the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said from the Knesset podium.

Opposition to the group isn’t universal. On Wednesday, left-wing Meretz party Chairwoman Zahava Galon criticized Bennett’s decision as a politically motivated move.

“Breaking the Silence is a patriotic organization that helps the IDF keep its moral character,” Galon wrote on Facebook. “They help us guard the human image as a society and army.”

READ: Israeli veterans say lax rules of engagement led to destruction in Gaza

Breaking the Silence has been embroiled in controversy before, drawing criticism from Israelis seen as moderate. In 2013, the University of Pennsylvania Hillel initially barred the group from holding an event in its building, but allowed the event following backlash from students.

After Breaking the Silence released a collection of negative testimonies in May from soldiers who fought in last year’s war in Gaza, centrist Yesh Atid party Chairman Yair Lapid formed a group of soldiers called “My Truth” to counter the allegations with positive accounts of IDF service. He called Breaking the Silence “anti-Zionist” and “radical.”

On Wednesday, the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu took the condemnations a step further, publishing a video accusing the heads of Breaking the Silence and other left-wing NGOs of being foreign “plants” and supporting terror against Israelis.

But even Breaking the Silence’s critics condemned the Im Tirzu campaign as a step too far.

“The name-calling from left and right — using terms like ‘traitors,’ ‘fascists,’ ‘agents’ or ‘McCarthyism,’ — and demonization campaigns or personal attacks do not contribute to a healthy public debate,” read a statement by Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, a right-wing organization that opposes Breaking the Silence’s activity and investigates its funding. “This uncivil discourse is antithetical to Israel’s democratic values.”

Breaking the Silence: Our courageous gatekeepers

Op-ed: The Israeli public should be grateful for soldiers who insist on their Jewish right to maintain ethical standards during or after their military service.

Merav Betito

Published: 12.16.15, 23:25 / Israel Opinion

You don’t really know what goes on there. It’s convenient to repress the fact that our children don uniforms and turn into other children’s nightmare. You don’t really know what goes on there, when a high school student enlists and finds himself shortly afterwards in the middle of the bedroom of someone else’s parents in the dead of night.

 You don’t really know what goes on there, when a youth movement instructor is stationed in Hebron as an operations sergeant and is afraid to say out loud: “You can’t take this necklace, it belongs to someone.” You don’t really know what it’s like to serve in the territories.

 Yoaz Hendel

Op-ed: The organization of IDF soldiers and veterans isn’t publishing anonymous testimonies about individual cases, but a false testimony about an unbalanced army, an unbalanced state and good people who have turned into monsters.

Full op-ed

And neither do I. My military service was one of the most pivotal experiences in my life. It outlined the professional road I chose, taught me about my strengths and weaknesses, shaped the way in which I look at the Israeli society and emphasized the definition of my identity as a citizen of the State.

The military service chapter is one of the broadest common denominators defined for us by new Zionism. Nonetheless, Israeli democracy is robbing the right of hundreds of soldiers and officer to openly speak about their service experience. The moment a military service candidate receives an accurate document dictating the insights he will receive during his period as a soldier, as well as the spectrum of feelings he will experience after seeing his best friend beating up Arabs, seems closer than ever.

The war, just like the military rule within Palestinian neighborhoods, is an ongoing event which affects and shapes the consciousness of anyone taking part in it – soldiers as well as citizens, adults as well as children, commanders as well as fighters. And there is no success in the groundless attempt to influence the way soldiers see events they have taken part in.

The destructive narrative, which sees the soldier as the sum of the government’s desires – long after he has been discharged from military service – is a clear danger to the future of Israeli society. The soldier has many faces: He comes in a variety of shades and beliefs and in a wide range of lifestyles and values, and there is no point in denying the fact that just like his faces are different, so are his opinions.

Throughout Jewish history, including the biblical times, the Jewish people aspired to maintain their fighters’ moral values and not to present them as killing machines. It is so strange, therefore, that soldiers who insist on their Jewish right to maintain ethical standards during or after their military service are accused of degrading it, and it’s concerning that senior government officials, who are in charge of society’s integrity, are inciting the public against them, hoping to gain political power which will preserve their place in the government.

In the past few weeks, members of the Breaking the Silence organization – IDF soldiers – have been turned into the punching bag of an impassioned crowd, vigorously encouraged by public representatives and journalists aiming for a patriotic democracy and marking the treacherous leftist. How is it possible that the defense minister, a former chief of staff, a former member of the Labor Movement, has come out to fulfill the mission of pushing Breaking the Silence outside the camp?

We are not talking about a security-related issue here, but about moral questions which encounter a difficult reality of a soldier versus a citizens. In high school classes, it isn’t really possible to offer rules of thumb for the scene which “David the Nahalite” took part in, simply because there are no such rules. Every person responds differently to the crazy drama of life, and every soldier acts differently when facing a Palestinian boy with a rock in his hand.

The courageous soldiers from Breaking the Silence have every right to point to the grave outcomes of the occupation, and it is the Israeli public’s duty to be grateful for their service as gatekeepers.


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