Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Breaking the Silence commemorates 10 years


By Eva Jael - June 10, 2014
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Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Breaking the Silence]

An Israeli soldier poses with a Palestinian detainee in an undated photo taken by a fellow soldier. Photo provided by Breaking the Silence.
 
They all served in the Israeli military, but none of them agree with the things they witnessed while serving. Those are the two traits that all speakers had in common at the 10-year anniversary of Breaking the Silence this weekend in Tel Aviv. 
 
Among the participants were prominent journalists, politicians, actors and authors, as well as many 'ordinary’ Israelis. On Friday they read aloud their testimonies about their time in the army at a public event in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square. For ten hours, from eight in the morning until six in the evening, visitors could listen to often surreal stories about home invasions, curfews and unprovoked violence against Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
 
As Director of Public Outreach at Breaking the Silence Avner Gvaryahu, explained, Israelis don’t hear about these things very often, and when they do, it is filtered. “They don’t hear x, y, z happened. They hear that x, y, z happened, but they immediately hear it’s a lie,” said Gvaryahu, That is what the organization is trying to change by collecting testimonies from soldiers and telling them to as many people as possible. “Now they hear about it from someone who says, 'This is what I did, this is what I was asked to do.’ That is much more difficult for them to dispute,” Gvaryahu argued. 
 
The format of the anniversary commemoration—public readings of personal testimonies—fits with Breaking the Silence’s objective to reach out and create awareness. No performances, no speeches, just person after person breaking their silence about the harsh reality of day-to-day life in the occupied territories.
 
Some of the other ways the group tries to achieve their goal are through regular tours of Hebron and the South Hebron Hills, lectures and photo exhibits. The ex-soldiers use as many different platforms as they can to get their testimonies to the public. According to Gvaryahu, their tours alone reach about 10,000 people a year, sixty percent of which are Israelis.
 
“Hebron is a city that is very accessible for Israelis. For Palestinians not so much. It’s like a hammer in the head for Israelis who are disconnected. We use our testimonies to teach them about the situation on the ground,” Gvaryahu told the Palestine Monitor.
 
Quite a few people came to Tel Aviv on Friday to support Breaking the Silence, or at least to hear the 'other side’ of the story. However, many people in Israel hold quite different views regarding Israel’s occupation; some of them decided to voice their opinion in Habima square, just opposite of Breaking the Silence’s event. Carrying signs that read, “the state cannot survive traitors within its borders,” and wearing Israeli flags as capes, they were not hard to spot. “I am a Zionist,” Lidor from Ashdod said, explaining why he decided to attend the counter demonstration. “It’s good that most people are, and that there is right wing control. If those people were in control…” he said, pointing towards the Breaking the Silence crowd. “What they don’t understand is that if they were in control, and let’s say they give the Arabs their state and our army grows weak, the Arabs would kill them too.”
 
As the protesters started to try to convince onlookers of their view of the occupation, Arabs [i.e. Palestinians] and the history of the state of Israel, they were soon sent away by the police. “You see, why are these traitors allowed to be here while we’re not?” Lidor complained from the spot to which he was moved by police. “They are dangerous, I’m not saying we should hang them all, but we should take their citizenship away and throw them out of the country.” 
 
As Israeli citizens, Gvaryahu explained, Breaking the Silence members have the right to protest or organize events in public. The police were notified in advance, and they have a protocol for these situations. “It’s just that the nature of this event is out of the ordinary. But the fact that there are people organizing events, that just happens, and it should happen in any democracy. The fact that Palestinians are not allowed to protest is something that adds to the struggle.”
 
He admits many people have grave problems with what Breaking the Silence does, which can make life hard for those who are a part of it. “I have an uncle who is a settler, and a cousin who lives in an illegal outpost. A lot of my high school friends live in settlements. I grew up religious,” he said, lightly laughing. “I had a lot of people 'un-friend’ me on  Facebook. I try to keep it out of family discussions. Sometimes it comes up and I try to keep calm about it because I’m very passionate about this, because I did these things, not someone else.”
 
On 6 June Breaking the Silence didn’t do anything new or groundbreaking. The participants did what they have been doing for ten years, they reached out. The spectators may have learned a little more about the harsh reality Palestinians know all too well. The organization expanded its platform to get their message out, and after ten hours of personal testimony, the day ended as it began: a veteran owning up to the horrors of Israel’s occupation. 
 

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