Israel's Anti-occupation Soldiers Are Putting Their Necks on the Line

Breaking the Silence violated the greatest taboo of all: It broke the 'code of loyalty' of blind faith in the sanctity of the army and purity of its arms.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A play called "It's What We Do: A Play About the Occupation," based on testimony gathered by the Breaking the Silence organization of IDF soldiers, and performed in Washington, D.C. in 2015.
A play called "It's What We Do: A Play About the Occupation," based on testimony gathered by Breaking the Silence, and performed in Washington in 2015.Credit: IWWD archival photo
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The Israel Defense Forces may not be the most moral army in the world, but it’s certainly one of the most moral organizations in the country. The most salient proof of this is that no other state institution has ever produced an organization like Breaking the Silence, which collects testimony about the irregularities, abuses and crimes that IDF soldiers commit against civilians.

The police force shrouds deviations by its senior officers in strict secrecy. Among civil servants, some of whom have a tendency to unnecessarily abuse the citizenry, no organization whose goal is to uproot this civil torture has ever arisen. And in the Shin Bet security service, should any investigators ever open their mouths, they would surely be accused of treason against the homeland and stood up against the wall.

But Breaking the Silence violated the greatest taboo of all: It broke the “code of loyalty” to the lie and thereby created a historic precedent that hasn’t sat well in the belly of the nation, which was educated to blind faith in the sanctity of the army and the purity of its arms. For in a place where the priests of security can do no wrong and the holy vessels in uniform wear the sign of supreme morality around their necks, then even when they kill innocents, not even a shadow of a doubt about their purity can exist. Yet even so, Breaking the Silence, which sought to serve as a cleansing agent for the dark corners that the army carefully hid, has suffered far more than it bargained for.

The organization was well aware of the boiling oil that would be thrown on it from the heights of the fortified wall it sought to bring down. It knew it would be depicted as an informer, a subversive organization and a hater of Israel. In that, it was no different from all the other organizations that monitor infringements of human and civil rights – the groups imprisoned by the term “left-wing organizations,” which bring Arabs to the polls in droves.

But Breaking the Silence has surpassed even these organizations, getting branded as an “organization of terrorists” with whom no contact should be permitted. The defense minister’s order barring the group’s activities in the IDF is merely a softened version, one step below, of making it an “illegal organization” like the northern branch of the Islamic Movement. After all, anyone who “smears” the IDF – Jew or Muslim – undermines Israel’s national security.

Yet Defense Minister Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon’s order is merely the formal summation of the public verdict the right has handed down against the organization. And not against it alone, but against anyone who has contact with it, is friendly with its members, gives it information or is even in its vicinity.

President Reuven Rivlin learned the meaning of the crime of “contact with an enemy organization” from personal experience, when he breathed the same air as members of Breaking the Silence at Haaretz’s conference in New York this week, even as he was sitting beneath the Israeli flag. Can anyone imagine U.S. President Barack Obama participating in a conference with one of the leaders of ISIS?

Rivlin’s “guilt” isn’t subject to debate, and even his argument that he wasn’t speaking at a Breaking the Silence conference was rejected out of hand. The very fact that he was present alongside members of this dangerous terrorist organization justifies ousting him from office. There can be no cruder sabotage of the Israeli holy of holies than granting legitimacy to traitors.

It’s a mistake to think this is merely the view of one far-right faction; the right has no factions. It’s an ocean in which all the factions are swallowed up. This is the view of the masses who can’t tolerate a false note in the ranks of the choir.

The problem, therefore, is no longer with Breaking the Silence, but with its “sponsors.” It’s Rivlin’s good fortune that Israel is a democratic country which supports the rule of law and putting traitors on trial rather than executing them without trial.

But it’s impossible to rely on the wheels of justice to do their work properly. They usually grind slowly and prefer plea bargains. No. For the president, it’s impossible to wait until then. Anyone who wants to destroy Breaking the Silence, or so it seems from the fire-breathing Facebook pages, will first have to “neutralize” Rivlin.

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