BRUSSELS – The Israel Defense Forces: a concept that has become associated with brutality and violence by European panels, inquiries and government bodies. An army that is obsessed with carrying out the “Israeli occupation” in the West Bank. And an army that is “occupied with asserting military occupation over Palestinians.”
That’s the view that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and organizations like Breaking the Silence, consisting of IDF reserve soldiers, have portrayed in the European Union Parliament and other public and political forums worldwide.
But for the first time, Reservists on Duty, a different group of reserve soldiers telling a different story, was given the opportunity to address members of the EU Parliament. Their host, Czech EU MP Tomáš Zdechovsky, said at the event that the group was important in the fight against terrorism. He admitted that “in the EU Parliament, they are only getting information from one side,” but that the situation “is much more complex.”
“It’s important to hear the truth first hand, and to hear both sides,” he emphasized.
The NGO does not see itself as the “other side of the coin,” or as being “against organizations like Breaking the Silence.” They see themselves as an NGO that is simply telling the truth; that shares the reality of what is going on, especially when confronted with tough challenges such as terrorists sending children to do their bidding; using women, children and babies as human shields; and inciting children from a young age to hate and kill Jews, throw stones at soldiers and attack them wherever possible.
The night before their testimony, members of the group sat down in a picturesque kosher restaurant in the heart of Brussels to discuss their motivations. They don’t deny that there are instances where soldiers have acted against the army’s ethics and code of conduct, “but this is not the norm. And organizations like Breaking the Silence are making it out like it is, which is an outright lie,” one of the delegates said. “And when there are these cases, like now when those five soldiers were arrested, the military court deals with it and there are clear consequences.”
Another delegate, Noam Kampler, added that he joined the organization because, “We have been having a tough situation in the world, and I had the urge to do something, especially having served and knowing the truth about the IDF.”
He said there is a “massive gap between the truth and what people are being told – and I’ve seen it with the people.”
Kampler said he was in Brussels to share his experiences and expose the “false facts that are fueling the popular voice” within these public and political domains.
Shai Ochayon said the most frustrating thing for him is that intelligent people in the EU are supposed “to have studied; they know history and they’re supposed to be open to hearing all sides of the situation, and they don’t know the facts.
“They don’t know what really happens there,” he said. “I think it’s really important [for me] as an Israeli citizen – and as a soldier who has seen the situation with my own eyes – to tell them that what you think you know is not true, and what you see a lot of the time on the news is not true.”
Noy Leyb added that “baby steps” are the key. “They might hear what we have to say and start doubting what they’ve heard in the past, and realize what they’ve been hearing goes against their morals.”
Christian Arab Jonathan Elkhoury, who was born in southern Lebanon and came to Israel with his family after Israel withdrew from the area in 2000, said he was deeply concerned about how the world remains silent when minority groups such as Christians and LGBTQ individuals are being persecuted by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
THE NEXT MORNING, the group arrived outside the EU Parliament, took some pictures and chatted. Some paced, while others waited silently, going over their testimony in their heads.
Representatives of Breaking the Silence were also there, running a parallel event at the EU Parliament – a photo exhibition that aimed to “expose the truth of the occupation.”
The group made its way into the side room where the testimonies would be given. Some of them were nervous that no one would come, but the room filled very quickly.
The focus of the testimonies emphasized the difficulty and shock they’ve experienced when confronted by Palestinian terrorists using human shields – mainly women and children.
The event began, and with it, the nervousness dissipated and their words prevailed. The testimonies were emotional and deeply moving. There was no doubt about their authenticity and virtually everyone who listened shared this.
Kampler shared raw testimony of how he had arrested the 15-year-old terrorist who murdered Daphna Meir, a mother of four and a nurse, in Otniel.
“All I could think was, ‘How can a 15-year-old kid stab a mother of four to death? How could he have committed such an evil, brutal attack?’”
The second time was during Leyb’s testimony, as he spoke about the two 14-year-olds who he arrested after they infiltrated from Gaza, sent on orders by Hamas. He described them as “shivering and shaking” from fear, both holding knives, both told that they would receive glorify if they killed an IDF soldier.
He explained that war is not “black and white, it’s dirty. When I see kids being used in warfare, it sickens me.”
“It’s unforgivable,” he said, adding that it was time for Europe and its politicians to wake up.
Several EU MPs attended, with the Austrian MP saying they had his full support.
AFTER THE event, we went to see the photography exhibition of Breaking the Silence. The Reservists on Duty delegation walked around and looked at the pictures, and later stood silently as Breaking the Silence members addressed the group that had come to listen.
Asked what they thought, Noam said that after he had spoken at the event, he felt so proud and on top of the world. But as he listened to Breaking the Silence, he said, “Every lie that was being said felt like a stab to the heart.”
The delegates said it is frustrating for them when they see the damage these people are doing in the world.
“What they are doing is a betrayal to us and to the Israeli people. It feels like a real stab in the back,” one said.
One of the other delegates added that he felt shame because of what Breaking the Silence is doing. “This is what the world thinks of me as a soldier, and it’s all not true. They have no credibility. A lot of their testimonies are anonymous. All of us here can swear on our testimonies.
“They’re betraying us – lying to the world,” he added.
As the delegation left the Parliament building, a man wearing a sign supporting the Kurds in Turkey saw the group holding an Israeli flag while they were having photographs taken outside.
The older man came up, and with tears in his eyes, said to the group, “You are Jews from Israel? I am Kurdish from Turkey. We Kurds love Israel. I wish the world and the EU would give us 1% of the attention that is given to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Our people are suffering under the tyrannical Erdogan. We are being slaughtered, and the world is abandoning us time after time. When will we get independence?”
The group had several photographs taken with the man and gifted him with an Israeli flag.
The delegates from Reservists on Duty expressed pride that they had been able to share their stories. They hoped this would begin the process of change that would encourage politicians and the public alike to start questioning the until now one-sided narrative that has proliferated in Europe.
The writer was a guest of Reservist on Duty.
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