Viewpoints: Transforming consciousness

Breaking the Silence is a dove with an olive branch pointing the way to a new and better future

The offices of the Breaking the Silence organization in Tel Aviv (photo credit: REUTERS)
The offices of the Breaking the Silence organization in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: REUTERS)
“I AM the state,” France’s Louis XIV famously declared, encapsulating the absolutist philosophy of his day: rule by an absolute monarch whose word is law. This arrogant tradition sparked the French Revolution of 1789, which overthrew the monarchy and gave birth to the notion of republican democracy based on liberty, fraternity and equality – the core values of the enlightened democracies of France and the rest of the Western world.
Over the past decade, Israeli democracy, based on these very same values, has taken a severe beating. The clash between Israel’s Jewish and democratic character and the growing dominance of an inherently ethnocentric self-perception have eroded its democratic foundations and fueled the rise of a non-democratic nationalistic and messianic Judaism.
The main reason for this is the political and security situation in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, where two and a half million Palestinians are denied the basic rights to dignity and liberty. For nearly 50 years, a regime of legal and administrative discrimination between Israelis and Palestinians has been in force in the occupied territories.
The vast settlement enterprise, in violation of international law, has placed about half a million Israelis on land designated for a future Palestinian state, with the express aim of preventing partition and the proposed establishment of two peaceful sovereign states, Israel and Palestine. Instead, a “republic of discrimination” is emerging in the West Bank, in which a Jewish minority enjoys a wide array of freedoms and opportunities, while a Palestinian majority is subjected to a military regime, trampling its democratic rights, dignity and future.
Now the non-democratic forms are seeping deeper into Israel proper, too. In an Israel that lacks a full-fledged constitution to safeguard the minority from the dictatorship of the majority and whose liberal-democratic tradition has been battered beyond recognition, the current right-wing government has no compunction about delegitimizing its ideological and political opponents as “enemies of the people.”
“I am the state,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserts in both word and deed. On his watch, a host of civil society organizations including Breaking the Silence – which reports on IDF excesses in the occupied territories – have become targets for systematic delegitimization, encouraged from above.
Over the past few months, in the absence of any peace process and with no hope for change, the intifada of the knives has been raging. The government is trying to combat the wave of terror with a combination of military and propaganda tactics, ignoring the diplomatic avenue which could really make a difference.
As a result, the government’s international standing is deteriorating by the day. Its political isolation vis-à-vis Europe and even the US is becoming more acute. Campus campaigns against Israel are causing concern, the global BDS movement is gaining momentum and anti-Semitic discourse is raising its ugly head.
In his hour of need, Netanyahu keeps reciting the mantra that “the IDF is the most moral army in the world.” But we know very well that an army of occupation is not and cannot be moral; moreover, we know, thanks to Breaking the Silence and others, that the legal system in the West Bank and the military and administrative means employed to crush the Palestinians are tainted by daily violations and even crimes by soldiers and settlers.
It is up to the Israeli left to eradicate the “republic of discrimination” that is emerging in the West Bank and threatening to seep further into Israel proper and ultimately to destroy it. It is up to us to bring the occupation to an end.
Breaking the Silence’s well-documented, cross-checked and authenticated testimonies of soldiers in the field challenges IDF claims to moral superiority. By turning public attention in Israel to this untenable situation, they enhance hope for change; by turning public attention abroad to it, they increase the chance of stronger international pressure for change.
The government’s angry response shows the extent to which organizations like Breaking the Silence can become instruments for transformation of consciousness and perception in both Israel and the world.
Breaking the Silence is to be commended as a dove with an olive branch pointing the way to a new and better future.
Ilan Baruch – a former Israeli ambassador to South Africa – is chairman of the policy committee at the Peace NGOs Forum, a coalition of over 80 Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations