By returned EA Helen. Helen recently returned to the UK after serving as an EA with EAPPI in Israel and occupied Palestine
“As soldiers we were told to ‘make our presence felt’ and ‘show who owns the place’. [In Hebron] this meant entering Palestinian homes to search for drugs and weapons, and throwing stun grenades in residential areas to ensure that Palestinians knew that we were there and that we weren’t going anywhere.”
David*, Breaking the Silence
David led a tour of Hebron that I went on earlier this year. I wanted to learn more about this Israeli-controlled area and the actions of the soldiers there over the past few years. The tours are organised by Breaking the Silence (BtS), an Israeli organisation that works to highlight the realities of the Israeli occupation. BtS was founded in 2004 by Israeli veterans and, as well as organising tours of Hebron and the South Hebron hills, it collects and publishes testimony from ex-soldiers who have served in the occupied territories since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000. BtS members hope to force a public debate within Israel about the activities of the military and, ultimately, help end the occupation.
Photograph of the tour [Photo: EAPPI/Helen]
During the tour David talked about the use of collective punishment on Palestinians. He called this “they kill – we build”, explaining that if, for example, a Palestinian attacks a soldier with a knife, the Israeli military responds by expanding or strengthening roadblocks, fencing, military security zones or settlements. He also pointed out that when settlers have carried out attacks on Palestinians it is sometimes the Palestinians that are punished. He cited the restrictions placed on the Palestinians in Hebron in 1994 after the Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein attacked the shrine where Abraham, or Ibrahim, is buried. Ibrahimi mosque, as Muslims know the site, was open for Friday prayers and 29 people were shot dead, with more than 100 injured. As a result of this attack, the Palestinians were subject to a 30-day curfew, shops on the main street (Shuhada Street) were closed by military order, and Israeli military checkpoints were built around the shrine (which was then partitioned, separating Jews and Muslims into different sections).
Photograph of closed shops on Shuhada street [Photo: EAPPI/Helen]
These tours, and the testimonies that BtS collects, illustrate that Israeli soldiers are ordinary people, but that these ordinary people can and do violate international law on a daily basis by breaking human rights and humanitarian law. BtS has collected over 1000 testimonies showing that beatings, arbitrary detention, humiliation at checkpoints, curfews and destruction of property are not the behaviour of a few bad soldiers but commonplace. One of the organisation’s recent reports has focused on the close relationship between the Israeli military and the settlers. The High Command: Settler influence on IDF conduct in the West Bank is a collection of testimonies that highlights the influence that settlers have on soldiers on a day-to-day level.
BtS has been heavily criticised in Israel for hating the country and being unpatriotic. Individuals have also faced personal abuse and criticism. Legislation aiming to limit foreign governments’ funding of Israeli non-profits is currently being drafted by the Israeli government and is thought to be targeting organisations such as Breaking the Silence.
The work of Israeli peace organisations is essential to end the occupation and needs our support. Please visit the Breaking the Silence website to find out more about the organisation.
* Name has been changed.