Friday, 27 July 2007

Breaking the Silence

It's not just Palestinian organisations who are fighting against the occupation. It's important to recognise the role of Israeli NGO's too.

Breaking the Silence is a particularly interesting one. It's an organisation that was founded by a group of Israeli soldiers, having been discharged from their mandatory national service. Its purpose is to collate the testimonies of soldiers involved in the occupation, presenting the facts to the Israeli population. Their purpose is not to present a solution to the conflict, but to educate people with facts.

All the stories within testimonies are checked and verified through different sources and no testimony is turned away - regardless of whether it opposes the occupation or not. The testimonies are also kept anonymous.

There are soldiers who enter their period of service knowing that they oppose the occupation or at least feel uncomfortable about it. But they daren't say anything to their colleagues because they don't know what the ramifications might be. This can make them feel isolated, so it is often a relief to share their testimony and discover that others felt the same. At the end of each testimony, soldiers are asked if they know of other people who might want to share - which is how the number of testimonies has grown.

This is an example of a testimony from a soldier serving in Jericho:
"Routinely, when chasing Palestinians staying illegally in Israel who had bypassed the checkpoints from the east, we would take them behind an abandoned building near the checkpoint and beat them. The commander at the checkpoint could not see us behind the building If any of these illegal had a suitcase with them, we would empty the contents on the ground, cover them with powder and curse them. The officers knew about what we were doing and they would often take part."

The number of Israelis involved in opposing the occupation is estimated to be less than 1% of the population. Organisations like Breaking the Silence are trying to increase this number through education. For many, the first step is seeing the OPT at first hand - trips into the West Bank organised by Breaking the Silence are an important too. Over 3000 people have been on one so far this year. The political situation is worsening, and is unlikely to improve and therefore increasing the number of people who are involved in opposing the occupation is very important.

As a Brit, it was heartening to hear that some of Breaking the Silence's funding comes from the British Consulate - it made a contrast to the endless stories of US taxes being spent on the Israeli military. Also, it's apparantly very difficult to get media coverage within Israel, so it's often the case that stories are published first in the Guardian and then within Israel - so thank goodness we have a press who are willing to tell the truth!

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