The executive director, communications director and legal adviser of the anti-occupation organization Breaking the Silence provided testimony at a police station outside the West Bank city of Hebron on Sunday.
Michael Sfard, legal counsel of the left-wing army veterans NGO, the organization's executive director, Avner Gvaryahu, and communications director, Achiya Schatz, were detained by Border Police on August 31 at the entrance to the unauthorized West Bank outpost of Mitzpeh Yair, south of Hebron, on suspicion of entering a closed military zone.
Although the police said the three were not questioned under caution on Sunday – meaning that they were not suspected of or charged with any criminal wrongdoing – it is not clear whether there are other suspects in the case or if the investigation of the incident is ongoing.
Sfard, Gvaryahu and Schatz were arrested on the orders of an Israel Defense Forces battalion commander in the course of a tour in the southern Hebron area that Breaking the Silence had arranged following an attack on a left-wing activist there. They were taken to a local police station but immediately released. The three were suspected of entering an area that had been declared a closed military zone under special orders, because of the Breaking the Silence tour.
Founded in 2004 during the second intifada, the NGO collects testimonies from IDF veterans about alleged human rights violations that they witnessed during their service in the occupied territories.
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The three were detained even though they were accompanying a group on the tour and despite the fact that the closure order was not enforced against the other participants or against Jewish settlers who live in the vicinity. Following their arrest, Sfard filed a complaint with the Military Advocate General.
“The forces on the ground understand the atmosphere of persecution by the right-wing government and are serving as the enforcement arm of the Yesha Council [of Jewish Settlements],” said Sfard. He accused the security forces of being apathetic to violence on the part of settlers “while the battalion commander chose to evidence hostility toward left-wing activists to satisfy” those who sent the soldiers, as he put it.
Sfard said that the accounts he and the two directors from Breaking the Silence gave to the police on Sunday were brief, and that they were asked mainly to describe the incident in August.
Added Gvaryahu, the NGO's director: “In its surrender to the demands of the settlers, the army is mistaken in thinking that arrests, [military] orders and investigations will prevent us from exposing the reality of our service in the territories.”
The police confirmed that the three testified and were not considered suspects in the case at the moment, but did not explain why it was necessary for them to give their accounts, or in the context of what legal proceedings they were provided.