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21 Dec, 2015 21:26

‘Breaking the Silence’: Israeli whistleblowing NGO under pressure for exposing IDF abuses

A group of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) veterans, who call themselves ‘Breaking the Silence’, are trying to expose the reality of IDF actions in the occupied territories. However, it stands accused of posing a threat to Israel by the country’s top politicians.

Breaking the Silence says its mission is essential to stopping violence in the region by helping to end the military occupation of the Palestinian territories. Members of the organization are trying to draw public attention to issues that are not covered by Israeli media and are not made public.

They say their mission is primarily an informational and educational one. According to the organization’s official website, it collects and publishes testimonies of the soldiers that “have served in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since September 2000” as well as holding lectures and other public events devoted to the issue. It also conducts tours of Hebron and the South Hebron Hills region to show Israelis the reality of living in the occupied territories.

The aim of the whistleblowing NGO is to “expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories” and to “stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality,” in which this everyday life is controlled by the IDF soldiers, Breaking the Silence says on its site.

According to the organization, “cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years,” with a “deterioration of moral standards finding expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement.”

According to Haaretz, the organization has so far collected evidence from more than 1,000 IDF soldiers.

The group says that the IDF deliberately targeted Palestinian civilians during 2014 Gaza conflict and brings soldiers testimonies as a proof.

“The instructions are to shoot right away… be they [Palestinians] armed or unarmed, no matter what,” one such testimony published by Breaking the Silence said.

“The working assumption states: anyone located in… areas IDF took over is not [considered to be] a civilian,” another testimony stated.

“Israeli soldiers, [the] Israeli army is controlling the Palestinian people through the barrel of the gun. Bringing more guns and more tanks and building higher walls will not bring us security. The only thing that will bring us security is ending the military occupation,” Avihai Stollar, a member of Breaking the Silence, told RT as he explained the NGO’s goals.

‘Angry response’

However, the organization’s activities are strongly criticized by many Israeli top politicians, which accuse Breaking the Silence of slander and defamation of the IDF and the State of Israel itself.

On Sunday, Yair Lapid, the chairman of the Yesh Atid party, accused the NGO of defaming Israeli soldiers and announced that he would propose a bill banning groups that promote a “boycott of Israel” to receive fund from abroad. According to Lapid, such measure would contribute to fighting against Breaking the Silence.

“That is not criticism; that is undermining the foundations of the state. Organizations like Breaking the Silence have crossed the red line between criticism and subversion,” Lapid said during a press conference commenting on the NGO’s activities.

“These are the people with Hamas behind them trying to endanger the core existence of the State of Israel,” he added.

At the same time, a petition against Breaking the Silence launched by the Yesh Atid party together with some activists from the IDF was signed by more than 600 Israeli soldiers and officers and 60 members of the Israeli parliament, the Jerusalem Post reported. Many IDF officers tried to disprove the statements published by Breaking the Silence.

One of the reservists, Avihai Shushan, even established an organization aimed at collecting testimonies countering the claims of Breaking the Silence.

Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Education Minister Naftali Bennett banned the IDF and Israeli schools from engaging in any form of cooperation with Breaking the Silence.

“The activities of Breaking the Silence have slandered Israel abroad and they [Breaking the Silence members] have made it their goal to hurt their brothers who defend us,” Bennett said and Ya’alon denounced the group’s claims as “hypocrisy and deceitful propaganda.”

‘A threat to democracy’

Breaking the Silence members say that the ‘witch hunt’ against them was launched by politicians, who pose a danger to democracy.

“[The] Israeli government, Israeli institutions are doing everything in their power… in attempt to silence Breaking the Silence and not just [this NGO] but also other human rights organizations, other bodies that are operating among the civil society in Israel and… they just delegitimize human rights organizations… Our democracy is threatened,” Avihai Stollar told RT.

Earlier, Breaking the Silence executive director Yuli Novak accused Lapid of acting in his own narrow political interests and threatening those testifying for the NGO.

“[Lapid] is once again choosing to lie… because he knows that if you repeat a lie enough times, it will stick. We will not be silent. It is our patriotic duty to continue Breaking the Silence,” she said as quoted by The Jerusalem Post.

At the same time, the NGO’s efforts are supported by some politicians and IDF veterans. Major General Amiram Levin published a notice in Haaretz, in which he expressed his support for Breaking the Silence.

Zehava Gal-On, the leader of the left-wing Meretz party strongly criticized Lapid for his actions by saying that he is “the personification of hypocrisy.”

She also called the soldiers and officers testifying for Breaking the Silence “heroes of Israel,”“patriots” and “true lovers of Israel,” while denouncing Lapid and Bennett alongside with the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “leaders of this ugly incitement campaign [and] a clear and present danger to the future of the State of Israel,” as reported by The Jerusalem Post.