By Ilan Sinelnikov
This week the United Nations Human Rights Committee published a report on the Israeli operation in Gaza - Operation Protective Edge. Ironically enough, right after the report was published, the Palestinian organization Hamas, which is recognized by the United States and the European Union as a terror group, congratulated the UN on aspects of the commission's findings mentioning that Israel committed War Crimes. The UN has officially lost its sense of morality by announcing that the Israel Defense Force committed War Crimes in Gaza. As the British Commander to Afghanistan Colonel Richard Justin Kemp said in the past conflict in Gaza "We know that the Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare". One of the organizations that provided testimonies for the UN report was “Breaking the Silence”. The testimonies they provided are being spread around the world and used as anti-Israel propaganda by different campus groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine. Thus, it comes as no surprise that out of all of the organizations that represent Israeli soldiers, Breaking the Silence was the only one invited to speak by the Human Rights Committee, even though they don’t represent mainstream Israeli society or veterans. In this article, I would like to share my truth, to break my silence. I was born in Israel, a first generation Israeli in my family, and most of my relatives and friends currently live in Israel. My family lives in the city of Ashdod, where Israeli citizens have no more than thirty seconds to run for shelter from Hamas rockets. One of my biggest heroes is my younger cousin Daniel, who just started first grade. Daniel was six years old during Operation Protective Edge. I tried to Skype Daniel and his brother Tal (an 8 year old) as much as I could throughout the war. At some points during our conversations the siren would go off and the rockets would start flying. I had a brief second to ask my cousins “Aren’t you afraid?” Their answer was: “We aren’t, those are just rockets. We must run now, we will talk to you later.” Tal and Daniel hung up the phone and ran for shelter, while I stayed frozen on the other side of the line. For a few minutes I kept repeating to myself their response. “Those are just rockets.” I realized that I must break the silence and tell my family’s’ story, because young kids should not grow up this way. My cousins, like thousands of other Israeli kids, should not have to run away from Hamas’ rockets.
6 year old Daniel and 8 year old Tal
I must break the silence not only for my family and my younger cousins, but also for my friends, who fought in Gaza last summer. During the war, I spoke on the phone with my childhood friend from elementary school, Noam. During our conversation, Naom remarked, “I don’t know how long we can continue fighting like this. Every day I turn on the radio and more names of killed soldiers are being published. Do you realize they are our age? Even younger? I don’t know if you heard what happened to Ohad, he was critically wounded. We are going to visit him in the hospital tomorrow, we don’t know if he will wake up to see us.” At that point we hung up the phone again. I could not stop thinking about what Noam said about Ohad.Ohad was from my hometown of Rehovot. He was 19 years old, and he was critically wounded in Gaza defending my six and eight year old cousins in Aahdod. Ohad went to high school on the other side of town, and he was just two years younger than me. When the war was over, we learned from the news that Ohad was the most severely wounded Israeli soldier in Operation Protective Edge. During the fighting, an RPG rocket exploded near Ohad, critically injuring the right part of his brain. In that same cursed fight in Gaza's Shejaiya neighbourhood, 13 other IDF soldiers were killed in action. No one thought that Ohad would have a chance to survive, but today, a year later he is learning how to dress, speak and smile again. When Ohad was injured I promised myself that no matter what happens to him, I will break the silence. I will tell the story of our families and friends at every place I go. I will continue telling Israel's story, that same story that shaped me as a person, and I will be the one to break the silence.
Ohad Ben Yishi During his Recovery Months
What is this silence, and how do I break it? As an undergraduate student, I decided to promote and teach my friends on our college campus about Israel. In that context, “Silence” is the thousands of students who do not understand the complexities of the Middle East and Israel, and are easily influenced by anti-Israel groups that spread lies and misinformation. Some of the anti-Israel students act to promote BDS, for example, to harm people like my cousins in Ashdod, or my friends Noam and Ohad, without examining the facts or thinking critically about the situation. Silence is when students that feel some sympathy for Israel cannot overcome a desire to be part of the apolitical college crowd, or simply want to be left alone and avoid complicated issues. It is hard enough to be an Israel supporter, let alone to be open and proud about it on campus. To “break the silence” for me meant to take action on our college campuses.
The silence was broken three years ago when I established and registered Students Supporting Israel at the University of Minnesota. At that time, Israel had just fought in Gaza during Operation Pillar of Defense. The main goal of Students Supporting Israel was to empower pro-Israel students to no longer sit idle on campuses. Students needed to learn to raise their voice and their level of activity and involvement, and together as a strong student group, make a significantly stronger impact than what any one person could do alone. Today, SSI has 36 chapters across the US, Canada, and the UK. With hundreds of activists across the world thousands of participants at events, and hundreds of thousands being reached on social media, we are able to effectively present the truths of Israel’s story and fight the pervasive lies and half-truths that are often used to slander Israel.
Students are often influenced the most by their friends. Therefore, it is SSI’s and my personal obligation to influence my friends and other students. To do this effectively, Students Supporting Israel provides students with the support and networks they need to represent Israel on campus. This representation takes place through proactive action and grassroots work. Together as a movement, when each SSI activist shares their connection to Israel, we are able to tell the story of the entire nation of Israel.Our mission of sharing the story of Israel, and most importantly of Israelis, is critical. Our brothers and sisters in Israel don’t have the time to travel to our campuses to talk about Israel and their values and experiences in order to show the true faces of our country. Every single one of us who is active with Students Supporting Israel is an ambassador for the State of Israel. We speak to the hearts and minds of our friends on campus and engage them in pro Israel work. As our movement keeps on growing, we will continue breaking the silence in order to share the truth on our college campuses.
The world may have already forgotten what happened last summer in Gaza, but we will keep sharing the stories of our heroes and loved ones who stood for fifty days on the front lines against terror, rockets, and tunnels as they defended our home, our freedom and our democratic values. It is time to break the silence and speak up, and in today’s social media era it is easier than ever. The latest skewed UN report is only a reminder that at times like these, we don’t have the luxury to rest. We must act. Every voice matters.
Ilan SInelnikov is the President and Founder of Students Supporting Israel. Ilan first established SSI in March 2012 at the University of Minnesota. Today Ilan is leading the movement on its campuses across the U.S.A Canada and the U.K.