Opinion

Way to Go, Silence-breakers

Soldiers pay the direct price for Israel’s actions in the West Bank, and those who break the silence have more rights than we, the silent majority.

Breaking the Silence Executive Director Yuli Novak at the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, February 8, 2017.
Emil Salman

Way to go, you guys, the soldiers who are breaking the silence. Congratulations, founders and activists of Breaking the Silence, which gives these soldiers a platform. Well done, owners of Barbur Gallery, who hosted them and us, who came to hear them.

On Tuesday, the day before the event, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev asked Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to block it, saying Breaking the Silence “acts to damage Israel’s image and paints it in chilling colors as an immoral state that harms Palestinians by means of Israeli soldiers.” Regev’s spokesman vowed: “The lecture will not take place under any circumstances.” Jerusalem announced that the gallery would be shut down.

But the event did take place, and how! There wasn’t room inside for all the participants, nor outside for all the young demonstrators who stood fast against the counterdemonstrators. The shouts and slogans were heard clearly inside. They, together with the anxiety over the potential for violence that gripped us — mainly older people who had come to hear young people — interfered at first with our ability to listen.

But the personal, clear and sincere words of Nadav, a Breaking the Silence activist, overcame the tumult outside and the tension within. He spoke about the path since his mandatory army service — all of it policing in the occupied territories – that led him to the difficult decision to break the silence. He described what he and his fellow soldiers did and continued to do there, from physically hurting the Palestinian residents and damaging their property to obeying the orders of settlers.

Yes, he painted Israel in gloomy colors, like all the testimonies of the soldiers who break the silence. Yes, their voices are heard and they harm Israel’s image. Regev was telling the truth. But their truth is deeper and more important than hers; it’s not image that concerns them, but the destructive and dangerous identity being gradually consolidated beyond repair — that’s what the testimonies of those doing the work are talking about.

Those who say they are lying are themselves lying. Any Israeli who goes to the West Bank knows there is no need to wonder whether Breaking the Silence examines the testimonies. The ruins of homes and tents are there for all to see, as are the frightening checkpoints built all over the territory, the narrow and dangerous roads allotted to Palestinian movement and above all, the way the settlers have taken over huge expanses around their communities.

All this confused and criminal reality is taking place under the auspices of the army and its soldiers. It’s ridiculous that so many people in Israeli civil society, from investigative journalist Ilana Dayan to Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid, Regev and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu come down on Breaking the Silence to catch them in a lie. None of what these soldiers describe is being done covertly. Go out to those territories where the army is sovereign and the settlers are the masters, and you can see and hear what they order the soldiers to do there and how 18- and 19-year-olds armed to the teeth look as they carry out those orders.

But until you, the silent majority, do that, respect the soldiers who break the silence; Listen to them and defend their right to say their piece in Israel and abroad. Their right is greater than ours, because their bodies and souls pay the direct price for their actions, which are serving an ideology, not defending the security of Israel and its citizens.

Never was this truth clearer than it is today.