Opinion

Who Are B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence Serving?

Many members of the BDS movement, who are trying to eliminate Israel, feel the materials from B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence advance their goals

Volunteers in B'Tselem's camera project in the West Bank.
Helen Yanovsky

At least some of the soldiers who provide statements to groups such as Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem think they are helping improve the ethical behavior of the Israel Defense Forces in the territories. But it turns out these organizations are aiming for much bigger things.

In their view, the way to end the occupation must be through changing international public opinion in order to apply outside pressure on Israel. This makes it clear why they sometimes exaggerate in their descriptions of our sins, because their goal is not cautious documentation, but propaganda.

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If there was a realistic option to bring about the end of the occupation in the foreseeable future, then this would have the potential of rescuing Israel from one of its most serious dangers, a binational state. But for now, no such option exists. It is only possible to lay the foundation for it and pressure on Israel based on a one-sided picture of the conflict certainly will not promote it.

First, because the mistaken conception in which the Jews are brutes and the Palestinians the innocent victims causes Israelis to move to the right. Second, because the Palestinians have torpedoed agreements time after time, and now, too, are continuing to stubbornly demand the right of return, pressure on Israel will not solve the main problem, nor will it change the Palestinian position. In fact, the opposite is true. It will push them to entrench themselves in their positions and wait. Why should they give in on something as long as pressure is being put on the other side?

So it is not surprising that the chief beneficiaries for now from the activities of B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence are not the organizations supporting peace and compromise, but actually those that want to inflame the conflict. For example, many of the members of the BDS movement, who are trying to eliminate Israel, feel the materials from B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence advance their goals. How much of this contribution is intentional is open to interpretation, because it is hard to draw a line separating the racist demonization of Israel by declared anti-Semites and the tendency to exaggerate in describing our sins by those who aspire to “only” create international pressure against the occupation. In practice, they are the same thing.

All this, too, diverts attention from the attitude of the Palestinians toward human rights. That is a shame, because it seems that here lies the great irony behind this entire use of human rights to create pressure on Israel: Experience teaches that human rights are violated more, not less, in places where the Israeli occupation has been removed. The savagery of Hamas demonstrated this clearly, but neither are the Palestinian Authority’s preventive security forces particularly committed to human rights. In this sense, focusing on Israel seems to be shutting your eyes, not opening them. It turns out that B’Tselem is very careful about the eye it insists on closing, no less than the eye is wants to open. (Take for example the case of Bassem Eid, who says he wanted to report on human rights violations by the PA from within B’Tselem, and was forced to leave the organization.)

If these organizations are pushing off the end of the occupation, and would not improve human rights even if they brought about its end, then what use can there be for their reports – except for the demonization of Israel? They do have an important use: Improving the ethical norms of IDF soldiers. And if they had wanted to advance this goal, then they would have been better off focusing their efforts inside Israel and providing information that the authorities can check on and then act accordingly. Adding oil to the fire of hatred outside of Israel will not help.