“On behalf of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, I implore you today to take action. Anything short of decisive international action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation.”
These words, which I addressed to the UN Security Council in 2016, have earned me the honor of being barred from speaking in Israeli schools – thanks to Amendment 17 to the State Education Law. This amendment, enacted in 2018 (and also known as the Breaking the Silence Law), applies to “anyone who operates overseas to help institutions that promote diplomatic steps against Israel.”
I understand that most Israelis have chosen to continue ruling over, oppressing and violently dispossessing the Palestinians. To do so, we’ve defined almost any opposition to our rule as “terror,” including demonstrations, appeals to international public opinion or legal institutions, appeals for economic action, and virtually everything else.
We’re stronger and, for most of us, it’s more comfortable to continue the way we are. The Palestinians are weak, the world is enabling it. So why see the Palestinian under our boot if reality allows us another day, another year or another generation of blindness?
Nevertheless, this repulsive practice also demands control over Israelis’ consciousness. If too much of a stench rises upward, our sense of smell might cause something to happen somewhere between our kidneys and our heart. Therefore, it’s necessary to mark those Israelis who loathe the boot as traitors and gag them. I understand this very well, and I also understand the public popularity of such moves.
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But when you draw a circle defining who’s outside, it’s impossible not to pay even more attention to who’s inside. Who, by law, is worthy of speaking to your children?
Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who calls for bombing 8-year-old children, is permitted to speak to schoolchildren in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (“Arab voters are going to the polls in droves”) is permitted. So is Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (“Zionism won’t continue to bow its head to individual rights”), the inflammatory Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (“arson terror”) and the corrupt Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman (“There are no innocents in Gaza”).
Nor is it just our elected officials who are allowed. So are Supreme Court justices, who routinely approve house demolitions, collective punishment and prolonged detention without trial. So is Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, our diligent moral compass who proposes creative ways of legalizing more and more crimes and violence. So is Military Advocate General Brig. Gen. Sharon Afek, who is responsible for giving advance approval to the rules of engagement – which permit the shooting of unarmed demonstrators – and is also skilled at whitewashing any violations after the fact. The doors of the education system are open to all of the above.
Your children can also hear our devoted diplomats. These are the ambassadors who keep themselves busy “explaining” such “image failures” as the Palestinian medic who insisted on jumping into the deadly path of an Israeli bullet. They also disseminate propaganda that equates international opposition to the occupation with anti-Semitism and, at the same time, pave a path to the hearts of anti-Semites in Hungary, Austria and Germany.
It turns out that all of the above are worthy of being heard in Israeli schools. These and others – the voices of the Israeli “center,” the “normative” voices whose essence is legalizing injustice and perverting human morality – are heard loud and clear, and have been setting the tone for decades already.
Yet despite all this, the truth and the facts have a tendency to peek out from behind the propaganda. Therefore, the occupation project and the gagging project are both destined to end the same way: in utter failure. It’s possible to pass stupid laws, but it’s impossible to erase that “b’tselem” – the Hebrew word for “in the image” – from the first chapter of Genesis: “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him.”
Therefore, the Israeli consciousness will continue to be exposed to the reality of our rule over the Palestinians – but this exposure isn’t enough to remove Israelis from their comfort zone.
And that brings us back to the international community’s responsibility to change all of this, as I explained in my Security Council address: “I am a citizen of that country. It is my homeland. For most of my country’s existence, the world has allowed it to occupy another people. I have lived my entire life, every single day of it, with that reality. Millions of Israelis and Palestinians know no other reality. We need your help.”
Hagai El-Ad is the Executive Director of B’Tselem