Opinion

If You Served in the Army, You Know: Breaking the Silence Is Telling the Truth

A group of reservists is trying to discredit the group, saying it lies about Israel's actions in the occupied territories. I'd like to thank them for getting me to finally speak up about what is being done in Israel's name

Asaf Danieli
Assaf Danieli
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Palestinians and Israeli activists fleeing Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the West Bank, November 2016.
Palestinians and Israeli activists fleeing Israeli soldiers during a demonstration in the West Bank, November 2016.Credit: Majdi Mohammed/AP
Asaf Danieli
Assaf Danieli

Finally, a smoking gun has been found. Clearly, Breaking the Silence – which collects testimony from Israeli soldiers about their service in the territories – isn’t just a multifaceted organization of traitors, but an organization that boldly lies to millions of Israelis and billions of antagonistic outsiders.

The “gun” is a group of reserve soldiers who took a stance and courageously said that the organization’s spokesman and their former comrade in arms, Dean Issacharoff, made up a story about abusing a Palestinian prisoner.

“You’re lying,” they charge, using much the same tone and gestures as that “You’re fired!” man who fooled America all the way from a reality TV show to the most important role in the world.

If Issacharoff is unabashedly lying, just imagine the lies in anonymous testimonies, warns the video by the Reservists on Duty group.

The group’s message is clear: Members of Breaking the Silence aren’t just enemies of Israel; they’re also accomplished liars.

This has caused an internet meltdown. The proof of the “deceit” has been watched hundreds of thousands of times and shared tens of thousands of times by people simultaneously shocked and delighted. One can almost imagine ill-wishers convening on a summer’s eve atop the ruins of a Palestinian village and deciding to invent tall tales about Israeli soldiers.

Many on the right feel this is the biggest, most important battle over patriotism: Not only is this a battle against the spreading of testimony overseas; it is denial of the content itself. Because if any of it is true, one might dare suggest it should be heard. But if it’s all lies, it should be eradicated. “Investigate,” as the video commands.

This battle is typical of the denial the Israeli public so badly wants – and is the very justification for the existence of Breaking the Silence.

Here is a spoiler, in case you never set foot in the occupied territories: Even if somebody inflated his story, and their colleague was an innocent soldier who took things out of context, Breaking the Silence is telling the truth. That group’s video does not prove it is lying about anything. And for every story brought to Breaking the Silence, there are innumerable ones that don’t reach it.

Few who served in the territories saw or heard nothing. For many, incidents of this nature were part of the daily routine, not a thing they should think or talk about. It’s just there. It’s part of the experience. Not something anybody would even bother mentioning over dinner.

I never gave a testimony to Breaking the Silence; I even rejected the request to verify testimonies by my friends. But I saw dozens of instances that were as bad, or not, as the case described by Issacharoff. From harassing the elderly, to holding people up at checkpoints for hours for no particular reason, to slaps here and looting there, to shooting unjustifiably, to terrifying children in the middle of the night. And to Yair Lapid, who told a web user named Ido that “In a case like that, it is very important to report it to your commanders so they can take action,” I can state that in the few cases I did make a report, nothing was done.

It isn’t the politicians exploiting this video to score “I love Israel” points who scare me. What’s scary is the thousands of Israelis who can look in the mirror and deny everything without blinking; who declare their certainty without even checking the facts. These are people who tell you one day about a Palestinian being beaten up, and the next day claim Breaking the Silence is lying.

I never testified before Breaking the Silence. But for all my discomfort at the path the group is taking, for all my reservations, next time I think I will, without hesitating. Because in the face of a shameless lie, and the attempt to blind the eyes of the willfully sightless even more, what matters is not only knowing the truth, but stating it.

The more the testimony deniers grow, and declaimers of the “most moral army in the world” multiply, the clearer the importance of Breaking the Silence’s primary goal: to tell Israelis what is being done in their name.

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