Breaking the Silence, an Israeli NGO that collects testimonies from former IDF soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, marked its tenth anniversary in Tel Aviv’s HaBima Square on Friday. For ten hours straight, writers, politicians, and activists read hundreds of accounts, each revealing another of the ignominious details of the occupation.

Unlike other NGOs dealing with Israel-Palestine issues, Breaking the Silence focuses on Israeli society rather than human rights issues in the Palestinian Territories. The organization’s Director of Public Outreach, Avner Gvaryahu, explained, “What we’re trying to do is create a public debate that will put in the public arena the moral price that we’re paying for a prolonged occupation.”

Throughout its ten years of activity, Breaking the Silence has been controversial. Professor Daniel Bar Tal, a political psychologist at Tel Aviv University, says that’s because the organization’s testimonies contradict Israel’s national narrative. In fact, a poll he conducted revealed that most Jewish Israelis won’t even use the word “occupation.”

“Acts of occupation, by their very nature are discriminatory, oppressive, and violate human rights,” said Professor Bar Tal. “Sixty percent of Israeli Jews do not view the present situation as occupation, but as liberation.”

A strong opponent of Breaking the Silence is the far-right wing Zionist movement Im Tirtzu. Matan Peleg, the CEO of Im Tirzu, says that Breaking the Silence presents accounts of the IDF’s actions out of context, and it delegitimizes Israel. For this reason, he says, “I think Breaking the Silence are more dangerous than Omar Barghouti, who established the BDS movement.”

But according to Ilan Fathi, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, Friday’s event was meant to reveal to Israelis the sheer gravity of the occupation.

“When you bring a thousand people, with a thousand testimonies, from a thousand soldiers, this cannot be treated as a bunch of lies,” Fathi said. “It puts it in a proper scale — the soldiers testimonies and the occupation behind them.”

Despite the novelty and controversy surrounding Breaking the Silence, the group hasn’t yet come close to achieving its goal of ending the occupation.

“The fact that we’re celebrating a ten year anniversary is a tragedy,” said Gvaryahu. “The fact is the occupation is not about to end. The Israeli government isn’t really thinking about how to end it, but how to maintain it.”


Reporting and production by Shoshi Shmuluvitz.

Photo: Israeli soldiers in Hebron, by Natan Flayer