After an intense visit to the Palestinian Settlement in the West Bank we had some lunch. We then did some more listening and touring, this time from an Israeli who recently finished his service with the IDF. He is a member of the group “Breaking the Silence” which, via the pamphlet given to us, is a group comprised of “Soldiers who served in the South Hebron Hills, have been witness to the consequences of this callous disregard. Members of Breaking the Silence uphold their civic duty to inform Israeli society about what happens in the Territories and its name, and hold up a mirror that reflects the price of our presence in the Territories.”
The group started in Hebron shortly after the second intifada, about six or seven years ago. First an exhibition was made at a museum in Tel Aviv and it was a much larger turnout than expected. 80,000 people came, there was a huge media fuss — journalists, politicians, etc. The Israeli soldiers who went said that they have their stories too that they’d like to share, and from that, Breaking the Silence (BTS) began.
Avichai is 27 years old, and has been a member of BTS for two years where he serves “hours and hours of his time every day.” He served mostly in the Southern Hebron Hills in a combat unit in the IDF from 2001-2004. He grew up in a suburb of Haifa and until 2001, had never set food in the West Bank. He knew only what the media told him.
After an introduction he presented us with a situation to imagine. One of his first nights serving Avichai saw an IDF soldier beat up a Palestinian terrorist. In situations like these the IDF may have more control than the Israeli police. This was the first of many times he saw a Palestinian get beat up, or otherwise harmed by a member of the IDF. He became so conflicted, he did not like seeing anyone get beaten, but he is an Israeli, and is pro-Israel. If he yelled then he would get in trouble with the Israeli army. “It’s all black and white, you have no idea what to do when they change roles.”
Again, I feel constricted in what I can say but he concluded by saying that the IDF IS the most moral army in the world, so we cannot ignore this problem. He is optimistic because “I know Israeli’s care, they just have no idea what’s happening.” There is a huge gap between soldiers (under a political agenda), and everyone else in Israel.
He said how Breaking the Silence is NOT against Israel or the IDF. He just feels this needs to be changed by the public and hopefully it can eventually pressure the government. A typical Israeli doesn’t know the South Hebron Hills are being annexed, and truthfully, he doesn’t think they want to know. As he was speaking the Palestinian that we interviewed that morning drove by and saw us. He is friendly with Avichai and he stopped to tell him that there was an attack that morning between a Palestinian and an Israeli settler and he was going to film the footage. Talk about getting in the thick of it all.