Breaking the Silence: toward a moral army and a moral country

End the occupation because it is unjust and unethical, and because its cessation is necessary for Israel to be genuinely democratic and egalitarian.

February 10, 2016 22:13
4 minute read.
A woman reads testimonies during a gathering in Tel Aviv

A woman reads testimonies during a gathering in Tel Aviv to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Israeli NGO "Breaking the Silence". (photo credit: AFP PHOTO)


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Last week the results of a poll conducted by The Association of Civil-Military Studies in Israel revealed that 53 percent of the Israeli public believes that Breaking the Silence’s (BtS) activities constitute political protest that has nothing to do with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). As far as we at BtS are concerned, these are excellent results. More than half of the Israeli public has managed to listen and understand us despite the media frenzy and onslaught of spins concocted by the Right.

Throughout the campaign conducted against BtS in recent months, one spin that stood out in particular was the attempt to portray the organization’s focus as criticism of IDF soldiers and their conduct. Those who adopted this stance started by presenting BtS as an organization whose declared goal is to address specific incidents in which soldiers commit unethical acts by deviating from orders, and proceeded to claim that we fail to achieve this goal. For example, Education Minister Naftali Bennett wrote: “People can concern themselves with our purity of arms... However, BtS is not concerned with the IDF’s morality. It is concerned with slandering IDF combatants worldwide... Want to repair the IDF’s flaws? Provide the IDF with precise materials and it will address them with utmost severity.”

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First off, let me appease Minister Bennett. All of the testimonies published by BtS are reviewed and authorized by Israeli military censorship.

Beyond that, we publish our testimonies on our website so that they are widely accessible to the public, including the IDF itself.

However, the fabrication of facts regarding our goals does not stem from any confusion or misunderstanding on the part of Bennett and his lackeys. It is rather conscious and deliberate determination to divert the debate from the real reason we publish testimonies – to expose the public to the reality of occupation we experienced during our military service. Like thousands of other soldiers, we also learned to become all too familiar with the primary mission the Israeli public has tasked its army with for nearly half a century: military rule over a civilian population.

Of the vast injustices of occupation, high ranking among them is its sole means of implementation: through force and violence. In order to control the civilian population in Palestinian territory, the IDF is compelled – like every other military ruler – to use force in order to foment an atmosphere of constant fear, which ensures that the subjects remain submissive and docile. During our military service in the occupied territories, we became intimately familiar with the profuse mechanisms of control Israel employs on the Palestinian civilian population.

This is what we Israeli soldiers do, for example, when we are sent on missions to “make our presence felt.”


These operations are designed to “remind” the civilian population that we are there at all times, always watching them. These types of operations include patrols in populated streets at all hours of the day and night, during which shots are fired in the air for no reason, stun grenades are thrown into random alleyways and homes are entered indiscriminately. Within this context, it makes no difference whether we break the door of the house or knock on it politely. Either way, we fulfill our role as another screw in the machine that positions rulers retaining all the power on one side, with subjects stripped of all basic rights on the other. This is an unethical, unjust reality that we soldiers could not change.

This is where BtS comes in.

We want a moral Israel and a moral army. That is why we want the IDF to cease being an occupying army. As part of Israeli society, we know that the majority of the public doesn’t understand what military control over a civilian population actually looks like on the ground. We believe that the lack of knowledge works in favor of those who want to preserve the occupation – such as Bennett. This is the reason we insist on talking about the reality we experienced with anyone who is willing to listen – both in Israel and abroad.

We do not deal with IDF soldiers but rather with a system of military rule that those soldiers are required to enforce.

We turn to our society and to the Israeli leadership with two demands: first, assume responsibility to remain aware of the nature of the missions you send us out to carry out and what they entail. Second, change the mission.

End the occupation because it is unjust and unethical, and because its cessation is necessary for Israel to be genuinely democratic and egalitarian.

This is not a partisan demand but it is certainly a political one. We don’t believe that political demands are a bad thing, but rather our way of determining and improving our shared futures.

The author served in the elite Duvdevan unit of the IDF from 2005-2008, and is now the spokesperson of BtS.

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