This is our Voice
Yehuda Shohat - Yedioth Ahronoth
"Breaking the Silence" - Nurit Peled-Elhanan and Yigal Elhanan
They lost their loved ones in wars and terror attacks. Now, on the heels of the campaign against Breaking the Silence, more than 30 bereaved parents, siblings and children have decided to publicly express support for the organization. "This is an attempt at silencing and intimidation."
"We who have lost our most precious loved ones to this land, in their army service or in terror attacks, object to the anti-democratic attempt to prevent organizations like Breaking the Silence from operating. This de-legitimization campaign must end. Only because of their work can the army make claims of morality."
More than 30 bereaved parents, siblings and children have joined an initiative to publicly declare support for Breaking the Silence. They oppose the aggressive campaign which has been waged against the organization in recent weeks. The story, they emphasize, is not about a debate between them and the group of bereaved parents who sent a letter opposing the organization to the Minister of Defense last week. "As a society," they write, "we should listen to additional voices, and we should be able to look at ourselves and see what is happening here. We should be examining what happens to our kids when we send them to the army to maintain the occupation, which not only does not contribute to the democratic nature of our society and country, but actually endangers our existence."
Hatred Became Understanding
Yuval Rahamim, whose father was killed in the Six Day War, understands the negative sentiment shared by large segments of the Israeli public. "My entire childhood was colored with feelings of hatred and revenge," he says. "These are instinctive feelings, and they are what society as a whole feels when there is so much violence around us. At some point, you realize that it doesn't get you anywhere. Today, I just want there to be no more parents who lose their children, or children who grow up without their parents. Unfortunately, in Israel today we are missing the faith that this is possible."
Robi Damlin: her son, David, was killed in a terror attack at a checkpoint near Ofra.
This atmosphere, he says, is where Im Tirzu's campaign came in. "Once faith is lost, people become scared, and when you're scared, every Arab becomes a potential murderer. We believe it is possible and we want to prevent the despair. Organizations like Breaking the Silence show another side of things, and they demonstrate the harm in occupying the Palestinians. It's not only the humanitarian aspect. Even the most tolerant and moral soldiers will reach the end of their rope and snap at times. The blame is not on them but rather on the reality that we have created. Im Tirzu's dangerous campaign is designed to fight our hope, to crush the little faith that we have left."
The main claim against Breaking the Silence is that their work abroad is harmful to Israel and to IDF soldiers.
That's absurd. Nobody is fighting against IDF soldiers. On the contrary, the members of Breaking the Silence are IDF combat soldiers. We cannot doubt their loyalty, they are full of love for the country. We are not calling for people to refuse to serve in the army or to put soldiers in danger, we are saying that this situation needs to be solved.
What about the claim against funding from foreign sources?
Yuval Rahamim: his father was killed in the Six Day War
The budgets of organizations like Breaking the Silence are negligible, and unlike other organizations, they operate with transparency. The country should voluntarily fund these organizations.
Gili Meisler's brother, Giora, was one of the famous missing soldiers from the Yom Kippur War. Only two years after the war was his body found and laid to rest. "In my opinion all criticism is for the good, any exposure of corruption is beneficial, just as the Office of the State Comptroller is obligated to regulate such things," he asserts. "Of course it would be best if the state would support and encourage, perhaps monetarily, but definitely by standing behind every one of these organizations, from B'Tselem to a comparable right wing organization. The most ridiculous claim is that we shouldn't air our dirty laundry outside. In the age of the global village, that isn't possible. All criticism here finds its way out into the rest of the world. And this happens with right wing organizations as well."
Like Rahamim, Meisler also underwent a long process of change. "In the years following my brother's death, the bereavement caught me in a web of Arab hatred," he remembers. "As a teenager, I was so right wing that even the extremist, right wing Rabbi Kahane, was too left wing for me. Over the years I began to see things differently and I switched sides. From my perspective, any opinion is legitimate as long as it does not involve invalidation of the other. Breaking the Silence are people like you and me, who served in the army, experienced things as soldiers and commanders and decided they want to share them. What is more legitimate than that? The army should adopt them."
"Sometimes, it is necessary for criticism to come from the outside. I'm not bothered by the right wing that considers Breaking the Silence to be traitors. What really upset me are those in the center, who think the criticism is important, but keep screaming 'just don't tell the world.' It's pathetic. What's next? We'll restrict the State Comptroller's reports to a secret, Knesset sub-committee, the reports will be written in Rashi script that nobody understands, and that will be it? It doesn't matter if it's in the area of morality and the occupation, treatment of the elderly or poverty and welfare. Criticism is necessary."
Yitzhak Frankenthal: his son, Arik, was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists
A Bullet in the Back of the Prisoner
Beni Gefen, who lost his son Eliav in a clash in the north, is himself a kind of breaker of silence. He served in the Palmach and in Golani, and continued to do reserve duty in the Paratroopers until the age of 56. "I always served with youngsters," he recalls, "and I saw how we dictate what they do. People used to ask me if Eliav, who enlisted despite health problems, was a hero. I would tell them that I don't know. He did what we sent him to do."
Professor Nurit Peled Elhanan, whose daughter Smadar was murdered: "We are dealing with an accelerated process of increasing fascism. Through the use of intimidation, indoctrination and concealing of information, the government is becoming master and the people are becoming its servants."
The first formative experience he encountered occurred during the Sinai War."At the end of a battle in which we lost four fighters, 15 meters from the commanders I saw a soldier who was leading an Egyptian prisoner of war take his identifying documents out of his pocket and shoot him in the back of the neck," he remembers. "This happened more than once. I went to the commanders and said, 'are you crazy? This is against international law, against the morals of the IDF. You're turning our children into murderers!' The command to kill was canceled. After a little while 50-60 Egyptian soldiers turned themselves over as prisoners of war, and a young officer came up to me and said, 'you saved so many lives. If we had continued to kill the captives they would have kept fighting and more of our soldiers would have fallen."
The second time Gefen was faced with a situation that made him question the purity of arms (morality of warfare) was after the Six Day War. "We were positioned along the Jordan River," he remembers, "and during a briefing our commander said, 'we're not going to take any captives.' I saw that the company of veteran paratroopers was silent, so I questioned him. 'What is the meaning of what you're saying?' He gave me a sly smile and said, 'what's the meaning? I stated it pretty clearly.' I reported to commander Gedalia Gal that a command to kill had been given, and the command was changed."
In the current atmosphere, he worries, there won't be soldiers who challenge commanders who give such orders. "Today's young people aren't able to question higher ups," he says. "In every group, including in the army, the most aggressive people are the ones who set the tone. In the current reality there are soldiers who support La Familia (an extreme right wing group of Beitar Jerusalem sports fans) and the rest are afraid to say anything against them. The things that Breaking the Silence exposes are so important, from the point of view of Zionism, Judaism, humanity and existentially. They are being accused of defaming our name outside of Israel? What can you do, we are in need of external pressure, because we've become insensitive and we're not fixing our own mistakes."
Yitzhak Frankenthal has been one of the most important voices in the peace camp, since his son Arik was kidnapped and murdered 21 years ago. "When you enter the realm of silencing, when you take people who are not only concerned combatants, but who also have the highest level of morality, and you turn them into a black stain on Israeli society, it says something about you. What would happen here if there wasn't anyone to be critical?"
What would happen?
Without comparing, god forbid, there is room to learn from the silencing practices of dark regimes throughout history. A large segment of Israeli society, and unfortunately a very large segment of religious Israeli society, has become nationalist. It is a terrible affliction that harms our Judaism, our ethics and our human values.
And the breaking of silence?
When you see an injustice and you remain silent, in many ways you become part of the injustice. Breaking the Silence is doing holy work, in the service of morality and from a place of Zionism and devotion to the country and its values. People have forgotten that the country is not a goal but rather a vehicle, that we need to come with values. We are damned if we continuously try to bring the line of thought in Israeli society to one unified place like Im Tirzu and others like them are attempting.
Lior Yonatan, son of the poet Natan Yonatan and his former wife Tzefira, was killed in the Yom Kippur War. His mother will soon celebrate her 90th birthday, but she remains lucid and is horrified by the reality unfolding before her eyes. It is a reality, according to her, that is connected to actions taken here since the war in which she lost her son. "Just like I felt then, that I needed to express my opinions in the best way possible and I lost some of my friends for doing so, so too today," she says. "The expression 'breaking the silence' is harsh. What does breaking really mean? Hugging, holding. But if you're stuck in a hold, sometimes there is no choice but to break it."
After that war, Tzefira wrote "The Wounded Remain Silent," a powerful text in memory of her son. "You can amuse them or pose for a photograph with them, you can donate money - heretic of silence. And I pound my fist, why are they silent?" she wrote. "We are all experimenting in a performance of bravery, bravery after the act, bravery devoid of benefit that comes to silence the conscience of those who are truly at fault, who clink their glasses secretly and openly, in honor of their private victory in the depths of the bunker, and the wounded remain silent... give them the strength to shout out the terrible truths of the war."
"They are not Calling for Refusal to Serve"
Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan, whose daughter Smadar was killed in a terror attack 18 years ago, is harsher. "What is happening with Breaking the Silence is a symptom," she asserts. "There is an accelerated process of increasing fascism in Israeli society, through the use of intimidation and concealing of information. It is easy to understand why B'Tselem or Breaking the Silence bothers them.
Yuval Rahamim, who lost his father Avraham: "Breaking the Silence show the harm in occupying the Palestinians. When soldiers deal with reality in the territories, even the most moral ones will snap at times."
Because Breaking the Silence and B'Tselem crack their monopoly on everyone's lives. The worst thing is that most people agree with it. Racism is so prevalent here that people don't realize where they are living. It's a societal low, and it is exactly where the government wants us to be."
Her son Yigal agrees. "It's another intimidation campaign by the right wing against those who dare to break the conspiracy of silence," he says. "The goal is that those who are involved in human rights, in the struggle for justice and the end of the occupation know that their faces will appear on the social media networks. From there the distance to physically harming these people is not far. What they are saying is: if you break the silence, know that we will find you and there will be consequences. What is ridiculous with Breaking the Silence, is that they are not even a radical organization. They are not calling for refusal to serve or draft evasion. They are merely soldiers who return home and relate what they did and what they saw. This is what scares me, that it comes from within the consensus."
Robi Damlin, whose son David was killed in a terror attack in a checkpoint north of Ofra in 2002, has long been active in peace-promoting organizations and unconditionally supports the activities of Breaking the Silence. "When my son was killed they found the code of ethics written by Asa Kasher in his pocket," she recounts. "People just don't comprehend what the occupation does to Israel and what it does to our soldiers. They stand there, and they cannot return without an element of violence within themselves, and society as a whole is becoming increasingly violent."
In an article she wrote this week, Damlin demonstrated the absurdity in the criticism of Breaking the Silence with a series of examples of what happens to the Israeli combat soldier with his discharge from the army. "There are those who go to India, others to South America, in order to run away from what they did and what they saw. Others are filled with regret and attempt to admit what they did in order to release themselves of the burden. If we were a normal army in the world, that would definitely be the right way to operate."
Captain Yael Kfir, daughter of Ben Kfir, was killed in a terror attack in Tzrifin 12 years ago. Ben Kfir prefers not to comment on Im Tirzu's campaign, but rather on the idea itself. "Everyone has the right to express their own opinions, and nobody has the right to dictate to someone else what they should think," he says. "We are all intelligent, we all know everything, we are all sure that we are the smartest ones in the world. But others are sure of this too. I don't understand what my advantage is over them or what their advantage is over me. There is freedom of thought and freedom of opinion, even for Im Tirzu, and the goal of their campaign is one: to create de-legitimization of different opinions."
Just over two years ago, Seraiah (Yaya) Ofer, former commander of the Shaked Battalion and among the founders of the Shaldag Unit, was murdered by two Palestinian terrorists. The perspective of his daughter Meital, who signed the initiative supporting Breaking the Silence, is unique even among the Israeli left wing. "I can understand outrage and anger at people for airing our problems outside of Israel," she says. "I can understand the criticism because it too is legitimate. People in Israel speak in such black and white terms, right or wrong, yes or no, and reality here is much more complex. For Bibi and his friends, it is much easier to spread these kinds of messages, but for the left too it is more comfortable to be in a place of good versus evil and black versus white. In many cases, when a Palestinian murders a settler, people on the left say to themselves, 'oh well, it was a settler, he chose it.' People don't talk about lives that are cut short here. It's like a game, for everyone."
What purpose does this serve?It's much easier to live in this kind of reality, because then you can justify your actions, no matter what they are: the occupation, the settlement enterprise, or the opposite. Intimidation takes away our responsibility, and part of the issue is to realize that reality here is not a Hollywood film, and it has many and multiple shades."
On the other hand, Ofer says, in many ways the campaign led to a reverse outcome. "In recent days I have seen many soldiers' stories on Facebook, and it is important that people here these stories. It's something good that came out of the campaign - people who didn't think they were part of Breaking the Silence or the left are sharing stories and experiences. The only way forward is that people know what is happening in the territories. So the campaign created a conversation and not just criticism.
List of Supporters:
The bereaved parents, children and siblings who support the declaration against Im Tirzu's campaign and in support of the work of Breaking the Silence.
Yitzhak Frankenthal, Robi Demlin, Mashka Litvak, Yona Bargur, Dani Schurr, Gili Meisler, Yael Admi, Ronen Leshem, Yuval Rahamim, Tzefira Yonatan, Beni Gefen, Oren Balaban, Roni Hirshenson, Professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan, Rami Elhanan, Yigal Elhanan, Alex Shapira, Hagit Shapira, Ya'ara Shapira, Meital Ofer, Efrat Gerry, Ayelet Gerry, Ronit Gerry, Ben Kfir, Galit Oren, Yaakov Guterman, Nurit Satvi, Orna Lavi Flint, Ilan Flint, Rachel London Katz, Avi London Katz, Aaron Barnea, Ayelet Harel, Tova Buksbaum, Itay Snir, Nirit Snir, Lili Yaffe, Miri Ben Refael, Niv Sarig, Avraham Shomroni, Hadassah Teron, Varda Zelig, Oded Arnon, Yuval Roth.
Read the article on "Yedioth online" here.
Translated by Jenna Hanson