Editorial

Defend Breaking the Silence

The systematic escalation in the persecution of Breaking the Silence should keep all Israeli democrats awake at night

Breaking the Silence's Avner Gvaryahu being detained by Border Police on August 31, 2018.
Nasser Nawaja

The pincer movement against Breaking the Silence has reached a peak. The goal of the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is clear: to keep the organization from exposing the wrongs of the occupation.

To really understand Israel and the Palestinians - subscribe to Haaretz

On Friday, as they led a tour of the southern Hebron Hills, executive director Avner Gvaryahu and communications director Achiya Schatz were detained for questioned by the Border Police. Israeli human rights lawyer and political activist Michael Sfard was also detained.

The three were detained for entering a closed military area. The order closing the area was issued that morning for the purpose of preventing the tour, and was shown to the participants only after their arrival. According to activists at the site, they weren’t given an opportunity to leave before the arrests began. Of course the order was not enforced against the settlers living in the Mitzpeh Yair outpost, near the site of the arrests.

On Thursday the Jerusalem’s Magistrate’s Court ruled that the Barbur art gallery – which last year hosted a lecture by former Breaking the Silence head Yuli Novak, and which has been persecuted ever since by Culture Minister Miri Regev – must leave its home for the past 13 years. “Barbur Gallery has given a platform to those seeking to undermine our values and symbols and I can only welcome its closure,” she said in response to the ruling.

Judge Amir Dahan accepted the city’s claim to the property but recognized the political nature of the eviction. “It is crystal clear that the consideration at the basis of the demand is that the municipality is uncomfortable with the type of expressions there,” he said. Mayor Nir Barkat did not conceal the politics behind the city’s action, saying: “We will not allow city property to be invaded and used to insult Israeli soldiers and the state.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett has also used his authority to contribute to the encirclement of Breaking the Silence. In July the Knesset passed a law aimed at keeping the organization out of Israeli schools. Back in December 2015, then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon issued a prohibition on any cooperation between the military and Breaking the Silence.

The campaign to silence Breaking the Silence is overt and systematic. In its early years, criticism of the organization focused on its activities abroad, but its detractors now seek to silence it entirely: to stop its activists from speaking abroad, in the army, in schools, community centers, art galleries and cafés. And now they want to keep them from holding tours in the territories.

The systematic escalation in the persecution of Breaking the Silence should keep all Israeli democrats awake at night. This is a testing time for the opposition. Its members must demonstrate civil courage and join in to defend the organization and keep it from being labeled a domestic enemy – at any price.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.