Opinion

Defend Israel's Anti-occupation Group Breaking the Silence

Justice Minister Shaked is investigating the spokesman for the army veterans' group for breaking the silence on what he did in Hebron – nobody else among the countless veterans who've told similar stories and worse, just him

Breaking the Silence activists hold signs saying 'this is what the occupation looks like'  at a rally against incitement, Tel Aviv, December 2015.
Moti Milrod

I arrived at the train station in central Tel Aviv last Wednesday and, as usual, got lost. I was en route to the Palestinian village of Sussia to attend an unusual book launch for the Hebrew edition of “Kingdom of Olives and Ash,” a collection of essays about the occupation written by authors from around the world. The ceremony took place in the most appropriate possible place, a hut in a Palestinian village whose residents have been uprooted from their land seven times, while across the road the settlers of Jewish Susya lie in ambush for them night and day, casting covetous eyes on their land.

As usual, I didn’t manage to find “Venice,” the bus rented by the Breaking the Silence organization, which was waiting at the entrance to the parking lot. A pleasant young man with a beard came to my rescue: Dean Issacharoff, as he introduced himself, the organization’s spokesman.

The next day, two weeks after Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked urged the attorney general to open an investigation against him, the Hebron police rose to the challenge and, with permission from State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, questioned Issacharoff at length under caution, as a suspect in a crime.

Issacharoff, a former officer in the Nahal Brigade and a man of honor, did the deed that lies at the heart of the organization to which he belongs: He broke the silence. A video clip disseminated by a group called Reservists on Duty shows him telling about how, during his military service in Hebron, he beat a Palestinian who threw rocks at him. His testimony confirmed what everyone knows at differing levels of denial and self-deception: There is no sterile occupation. Violence is an inseparable part of our military presence in the territories.

Shaked, who did everything she could to erase Breaking the Silence from our lives by passing legislation to harass left-wing organizations, found a roundabout way of abusing Issacharoff. She didn’t, heaven forbid, order investigations into the piles of complaints about attacks on Palestinians. She displayed no interest in other stories by soldiers about the violence that was an integral part of their military service. Instead, she targeted this case only and hastened to write the attorney general that “in light of the great importance I attributed to preserving Israel’s good name and that of Israel Defense Forces soldiers, I saw fit to ask you to look into the veracity of this incident. If it turns out to be true, the full force of the law must be applied immediately.”

As noted, none of us knew any of this as we were riding toward the south Hebron hills, with the monotonous landscape of barren hills endlessly repeating itself outside the window. If he was worried, Issacharoff didn’t show it; he continued to radiate calm.

Our behavior was distracted. It ranged from talking about the event awaiting us to author Noa Yedlin’s freestyle comic monologues, from pawing through the piles of sandwiches to conversations about the army tactic known as “straw widow” (commandeering Palestinian houses), from roars of unbridled laughter to bleak despair.

This, after all, is the crazy reality of our lives, and the sudden ambition of which the justice minister was possessed – to investigate violence against Palestinians by soldiers serving in the territories, but only if they’re affiliated with a left-wing organization that urges soldiers to talk openly about the violent incidents in which they took part – is therefore a natural part of it.

I have no doubt it will be very hard to break Dean Issacharoff and his colleagues in the organization, whose daily activities are an expression of deep, fiery humanity. But I would rather not put the strength of their spirits to the test. Their work is too important.

Thus we must respond to Shaked’s persecution with unequivocal solidarity. On Saturday night, at an event called “Black Mirror,” I, along with many other people, will read testimony from soldiers in the territories. A big turnout would constitute a decisive response to the enforcers of silence.