Occupation of the Territories (Breaking the Silence)
Since 2004, Breaking the Silence – a non-profit organization founded by Israeli military veterans – has been collecting testimonies of soldiers as they patrol the Occupied Palestinian Territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Their most recent publication, The Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies 2000-2010, is made up of testimonies from 101 soldiers, both male and female, who served in the Territories since the beginning of the Second Intifada.
The book is organized into four chapters, built around four terms – “Prevention”, “Separation”, “Fabric of Life”, and “Law Enforcement” – which are used by the Israeli military to describe their role in the Occupied Territories. In the introduction, the editors write, “instead of explaining Israeli policy, those terms conceal it by wrapping it in defensive terminology whose connection to reality is weak at best” (21).
“Prevention” is the term used to describe IDF operations designed to prevent terrorist activities against Israel. However, these testimonies reveals that the “term has become a code-word which signifies all offensive action in the Territories” (26). “Separation” ostensibly means greater security for Israelis and greater independence for the Palestinians but according to these testimonies, “separation” means systems of asserting control over the Palestinians. Likewise, “fabric of life” and “law enforcement” are terms which the IDF claims are providing for the common good of Israelis and Palestinians but which, according to these soldiers’, are accomplishing quite the opposite.
The goal, says Breaking the Silence, is transparency and truth. Believing that unjust policies carried out against an occupied people ultimately weaken Israel and it’s standing in the world, these soldiers are speaking up.
Naturally, Breaking the Silence and its publications have come under intense attack from the Israeli government, which charges that they are betraying Israel. Some charge that their political agenda invalidates their claim to be a human rights organization. On the other hand, human rights violations, the illumination of which require organizations like Breaking the Silence or Human Rights Watch, will tend to be accused of political agendas. Still, it would be tremendously valuable to have an organization telling stories of Palestinian combatants.
One strength of this book is it’s commitment to story telling – simply allowing the soldiers to share their experience in their own words. While the pain and suffering documented here is inflicted upon the Palestinian civilians, the soldiers also experience their own psychic pain as they struggle to reconcile their duty to the IDF with their own humanity.
It is extremely rare for active duty soldiers to share so candidly the details of their operations. More rare still is the opportunity to hear them share their personal feelings and struggles in carrying out their orders. Political ideology aside, one cannot deny that the occupation is taking a toll on individuals on both sides of the Green Line.
In addition to being powerful in it’s simplicity this book is beautifully designed and bound. It is unclear how the public can purchase a copy of this important book, but a preview is available for download at their website. Also on the website is a short documentary film.