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