By EA John, Northern West Bank.
Breaking the Silence is an organisation of serving and former Israeli soldiers who publish personal testimonies about the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and its impact on the local population. Their aim is to open up a discussion in Israel about the occupation. Their belief is that the systematic repression of Palestinians by the Israeli authorities is bad for everyone involved, both Palestinians and Israelis, and that the occupation has to end. Recently Breaking the Silence has been under intense pressure from the Israeli government who has called the group’s work “treason” and used legal processes to force them to disclose their sources.
Achiya Schatz, a spokesperson from the group, spoke to Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) recently. He described to us what he called a typical ‘mapping’ operation used by the Israeli military in the occupied West Bank. Large numbers of soldiers arrive at a house at one or two in the morning. They hammer on the door. They ‘open the door’. It does not take long to force their way in. The head of the household is forced to gather everyone together. Adults are confused and alarmed. Children are crying and upset. Soldiers, some of them wearing face masks, are shouting and pointing guns. In a crude search, cupboards and drawers are emptied and furniture turned upside down. Finally the soldiers make a rough sketch of the house layout. The spokesperson said, “You have to make your presence felt. The Palestinians have to know fear and understand that resistance is pointless”.
This perfectly describes what happened in the village of Kafr ad Dik on the morning of Wednesday 25 May, 2016. We visited the affected families a few hours after the raids had taken place with an official from the local municipality acting as our guide. Between midnight and three in the morning ten houses were searched and nine men were arrested. Hundreds of soldiers were involved in the operation. Cupboards were emptied, food was dumped onto the kitchen floor, homes turned upside down and in one case the floor of a toilet was dug up to reveal the sewage pipes. In some of the houses the soldiers said they knew the people were hiding something. A mother described to me how one soldier placed his foot on the legs of a two-year-old girl to encourage her father to talk. Soldiers shouted at him, “Where are the weapons, where are the weapons”. However, the only weapon that was found during the entire raid was a toy pistol belonging to a young boy, Wadiya, who looked stunned and bewildered as he held out the smashed remain of his plastic toy.We asked if the householders would seek compensation for damage caused. ”No”, they said. “This is the occupation”. Another man said, ”This is abnormal, but here the abnormal has become normal”. On 7 June four of the men arrested that night were released. They were told it was for “lack of evidence”. Yosef, the father of Wadiya, the young boy with the toy gun, told us they had been held in military custody. Three of them had been obliged to pay a fine of between 1000 and 5000 sheqels. One of them was given the choice of paying 5000 sheqels or spending five months in detention. The local mayor, Yamal Mahmoud Dik, said he was convinced that the whole exercise was simply part of military training and was designed to intimidate the people, just as the Breaking the Silence spokesperson had explained. As of the 6 July three of the original nine men still remained in detention. Breaking the Silence – and EAPPI – believe that ending the occupation is the only way of stopping these sorts of violations of international law in occupied Palestine.
Click here to read more about the experiences of peace activists with Breaking the Silence.