‘Is­rael can sur­vive if its val­ues sur­vive’ Anti-oc­cu­pa­tion group de­fends its ‘ex­posés’ of IDF

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - BY NAOMI FIRSHT

ANTI-OC­CU­PA­TION GROUP Break­ing the Si­lence (BtS), a col­lec­tive of army veter­ans who aim to call out wrong­do­ing within the IDF, is fight­ing for the iden­tity of Is­rael, ac­cord­ing to one of its founders.

Since March 2004, BtS has pub­lished the tes­ti­monies of more than 1,000 men and women, some still serv­ing in the army, al­leg­ing var­i­ous forms of mil­i­tary mal­prac­tice.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion has been widely ac­cused within Is­rael and in the Jewish di­as­pora of be­ing overly crit­i­cal of IDF tac­tics.

Its most re­cent ma­jor re­port, on Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge in Gaza in 2014, claimed to “paint a dis­turb­ing pic­ture of the IDF’s pol­icy of in­dis­crim­i­nate fire, which di­rectly re­sulted in the deaths of hun­dreds of in­no­cent Pales­tinian civil­ians”.

BtS for­eign re­la­tions di­rec­tor Ye­huda Shaul, who also co-founded the or­gani- sa­tion, ar­gued that far from un­der­min­ing Is­rael, his col­lec­tive was making the coun­try stronger.

He said: “I think there is a strug­gle here over the iden­tity of Is­rael, over what Is­rael is about and what are the val­ues of our coun­try. There is a strate­gic fight over whether Is­rael will sur­vive, and we be­lieve if one thing will take down Is­rael it is the oc­cu­pa­tion.

“We be­lieve it is morally de­stroy­ing the IDF and Is­raeli so­ci­ety. Pro­fes­sion­ally it is de­stroy­ing the IDF, armies are not sup­posed to oc­cupy civil­ians for­ever. And ul­ti­mately, strate­gi­cally, po­lit­i­cally, it is de­stroy­ing the le­git­i­macy of the state of Is­rael.”

The 32-year-old said he was driven by the feel­ing, on com­ple­tion of his mil­i­tary ser­vice, that he could not morally

Next year, Bel­gium’s post of­fice will release this stamp fea­tur­ing faith lead­ers, in­clud­ing chief rabbi Al­bert Guigui

Is­rael doesn’t havea PRprob­lem, it has a pol­icy prob­lem’

jus­tify many of the ac­tions he took part in dur­ing his time in the army.

Af­ter speak­ing to com­rades, he dis­cov­ered many of them felt the same way, and BtS was born. The group made head­lines in Is­rael with their first photo ex­hi­bi­tion in Tel Aviv in June 2004.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion’s re­port on Op­er­a­tion Pro­tec­tive Edge was heav­ily crit­i­cised in the Jewish press as a boost for Hamas in its PR war against Is­rael.

But Mr Shaul, a Jerusalemite, re­jected the crit­i­cisms. He said: “I think we are help­ing Is­rael. Is­rael doesn’t have a PR prob­lem, it has a pol­icy prob­lem.

“Ul­ti­mately, the prin­ci­ple we stick to is that the price of si­lence is higher than the price of break­ing the si­lence. Ul­ti­mately, I think peo­ple who are an­ti­semitic and anti-Is­rael don’t need us. They would have enough pro­pa­ganda to bring to the ta­ble. You won’t hear any good word about Hamas from us.”

Along­side his work for BtS, Mr Shaul stud­ies at the Open Univer­sity. He has a right-wing back­ground and even at­tended a high school in a West Bank yeshivah. His fa­ther was the only mem­ber of his close fam­ily who at­tended the first BtS ex­hi­bi­tion, telling his son pri­vately af­ter­wards that he un­der­stood why he was do­ing it.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Shaul, BtS is at­tempt­ing­toopenu­pade­batethathas­be­come very nar­row.

“Out­side of Is­rael, this dis­cus­sion is very po­larised. I think Bibi and the BDS are liv­ing in the same world — for both of them it’s all or noth­ing,” he said.

BPOST/LIEVE BLANC­QUAERT

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