Israelis' Silence Has Given Way to Violation of Rights. No More

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Tantura residents flee their village, May 1948.
Tantura residents flee their village, May 1948.Credit: National Library of Israel

The past week was one of breaking the silence. The most resounding example is that of the massacre in Tantura.

After over 70 years of intentional silence, veterans of the Alexandroni Brigade – who slandered and denounced Teddy Katz for revealing the massacre two decades ago and, in an injustice that cries out to heaven, led to him being stripped of his academic degree – have now admitted in a documentary by Alon Schwarz that there was indeed a massacre at Tantura. Moreover, Israel Defense Forces documents show that a mass grave is hidden under the Dor Beach parking lot (Haaretz, January 20).

One’s heart shudders. A mass grave, a term familiar to us from other places where our ancestors were the ones buried in it, was dug by Jewish soldiers. And afterward, an entire web of Jewish organizations covered it up, swept it under the rug, silenced and erased it.

The country was also in an uproar in the past week after Tomer Ganon of the daily Calcalist reported that the police used Pegasus spyware to monitor political activists, and even marked one such activist as a target for extortion due to his sexual orientation. Veterans of the IDF’s Unit 8200 warned us seven years ago that the unit’s SIGINT is used for this very purpose – against Palestinians. They warned us, but we all remained silent.

Yet someone in the police’s SIGINT unit could no longer remain silent and spoke with Calcalist. Thanks to that officer, we now know how the police betrayed the public’s trust.

Yuli Novak, a former executive director of Breaking the Silence, described both in her Hebrew-language book “Mi At Bichlal?” (Who Are You, Anyway?) and in an interview with Haaretz in Hebrew (January 21) how a campaign of incitement led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and later-to-be Prime Minister Naftali Bennett turned her life into a nightmare. People threatened her and physically assaulted her, to the point that she felt she had to flee the country. Her crime was helping Israeli soldiers talk about what the state asks them to do on the pretext of protecting our security.

Since then, a generation of soldiers has since been sent to carry out the work of the occupation, and when they are demobilized, the state demands that they forget. For if they remember, the state will instantly transform them from “the best of our sons” into traitors.

Israel always viewed its citizens as tools that could be used and thrown away. Holocaust survivors who came here in the 1940s and 1950s were asked to keep quiet. If they didn’t, they were scorned, or else termed “soap” (once again, the heart quails) or “human refuse.”

Only when Israel had to organize a trial for Adolf Eichmann were they permitted to speak out publicly. Since then, it has used them to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive, but at the same time it has thrown them to the dogs.

Soldiers – since the days when Uri Avnery published his book “The Other Side of the Coin,” which described the atrocities of the War of Independence (and which later appeared in English as the second half of his book “1948”) – have always been required to keep quiet about what was done to them, and also about what they did. But we can’t continue living on a mass grave.

We have to end the silence and hold a difficult, honest conversation with ourselves – to learn where we came from, what we did, what we are still doing. Only then can we know where we are going.

Every person has the basic right to recognition as an end rather than a means. This is the heart of human rights, and human rights do not discriminate among different humans. When we demand that public servants keep quiet, we’re depriving them of their essential nature as human beings and turning them into instruments.

“If a heart is neither closed nor corrupt,” said the famous ruling in the case of the 1956 Kafr Qasem massacre, it will identify the black flag that flies over war crimes. But too many institutions and individuals here have closed and corrupted our hearts.

The result is an ongoing violation of human rights whose cessation is prevented by our silence. And as the Pegasus incident shows, such violations easily cross the lines drawn on the maps. No more.

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