Opinion |

Israel Fights Against Its Finest Sons: Ex-soldiers Who Dare Speak Up

Zehava Galon
Israeli soldiers at the Tapuah junction in the West Bank, in May.
Israeli soldiers at the Tapuah junction in the West Bank, in May. Credit: Moti Milrod
Zehava Galon

The Tax Authority surrendered to the pressure of right-wing organizations and demanded the removal from its building of signs posted by Breaking the Silence – from a campaign in which the organization called on the defense minister and the public security minister to take aggressive action against settler violence. This violence is a daily occurrence, and its objective is terror: to expel the Palestinians from their land by force – the combined force of the settlers and the army – and to convince them that there is no point in returning to it. If the Palestinians fail to cultivate their land for several years, the government will transfer it to the settlers. And now another branch of the government has joined the masked hooligans of Yesha (Judea and Samaria).

A few words about the usual suspects: Rapper Yoav Eliasi, aka The Shadow, is a famous hooligan, who was involved in organizing attacks against left-wing activists during Operation Protective Edge, the 2014 Gaza war. Jerusalem’s Deputy Mayor Arieh King became famous when, after the murder of the three young yeshiva students in 2014, he called on “our Phineases” (an allusion to the biblical figure known for his zealotry) to punish the Palestinians – a few hours before three self-proclaimed Phineases kidnapped and burned to death 15-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Then there is right-wing activist Shai Glick, who proudly dubbed himself “a kind of terrorist.” These three gems are the face of the State of Israel today.

The exercise somewhat backfired: The Tax Authority did not have any legal authority to remove the signs. And so the signs were removed on the final day of the campaign – and Breaking the Silence was reimbursed for the entire sum that was spent on the campaign, and it will continue. And still, a day when an official authority in Israel declares that the battle against ideological crime is a “political act” is a dark day.

The State of Israel is fighting determinedly against its finest sons – soldiers who served in the territories, but, as opposed to most of their colleagues, were so shocked by what they saw and were forced to do that they decided that nobody should do it anymore. They expose the daily regime of horrors of the military dictatorship in the territories – less so the acts of murder, which are relatively rare, and rather the regular, quiet, unspoken abuse. Until they break the silence.

And for this they are being persecuted. Activists from the organization have been attacked repeatedly. The Israeli occupation regime complains and claims that they are telling the world about what they saw – as though it isn’t the world that finances the Israel Defense Forces and backs the occupation regime. A law was passed against them – the Breaking the Silence Law – whose aim is to prevent them from speaking to students.

It backfired, just like the battle to remove the signs. And still, the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem, which hosted Breaking the Silence, was closed by municipal order due to this law. Shai Glick boasted that he sends threats to the police about anticipated violence at events of the organization, which provide the police with an excuse to cancel them.

Jews have always been at the forefront of struggles for human rights, everywhere, against every oppressive regime. Rabbis marched alongside Martin Luther King when it was very dangerous to do so, and his supporters were murdered. And here, in the Jewish state of all places, this tremendous legacy is being tossed into the trash can. The Jewish state wants the land of Area C in the West Bank so badly that it is placing itself at the head of those trying to roll back the human rights revolution that began after World War II.

As though we learned nothing from the period in which regimes could treat their subjects as they wished. The day will come when Breaking the Silence will be the heroes, and the entire community that encouraged the attack against them will cast their gaze downward. But how will we get rid of the shame?

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