Don't Blame the Occupation on its Critics
Above: Breaking the Silence director and IDF veteran Yuli Novak defends Israeli human rights organizations on Israeli TV.
[icon-box icon=location width=1/3] Join the next Breaking the Silence tours of the West Bank on January 4th and 11th. More info.
[/icon-box]In serving as a translator for Breaking the Silence, unlike my coworkers, I’m not a former combat soldier. With dual Israeli and American citizenship, I grew up in Brooklyn and visited Israel annually. As both a member of the Jewish Diaspora and an Israeli resident, I’ll be ever grateful to Breaking the Silence, and other Israeli human rights organizations, for providing the public with tools to comprehend the occupation. Not having enlisted in the IDF, what I have in common with my colleagues is a deep commitment to improving the country we call home – which entails ending the occupation as a necessary first step.
Increasingly isolated by the international community over the years, due to the occupation and settlement project, the Israeli government has attempted to pawn off responsibility by delegitimizing its internal critics. Today, legitimacy in this country seems simply to rest on whether or not you align with the government’s policies. You’re either for or against the occupation. And as current leadership is dominated by members of the pro-occupation right-wing, many dissenting Israeli voices, let alone Palestinian voices, have been silenced, smeared, and vilified.
[pullquote align=right] I translate countless soldiers’ testimonies about carrying out the policies of occupation
[/pullquote]And so it came to pass that Breaking the Silence, a group of over 1,000 soldiers and veterans, metamorphosed from valiant patriots, into so-called deceitful, malicious, moles. The Israeli pro-occupation camp claims that critical discussions on Israeli politics belong here exclusively, when in fact criticism against the occupation is even smothered from within. The Jewish Diaspora has a stake in the collective dirty laundry called occupation. Allies of Israel who do not speak out against the prolonged military regime, which is tragically approaching its fiftieth year, cannot consider themselves allies. Being pro-Israel means being anti-occupation.
As I translate countless soldiers’ testimonies about carrying out the policies of occupation, my beliefs are reaffirmed. I understand that along with my deep respect for their bold unyielding work in sharing the reality of occupation with Israeli society, one doesn’t need to have served in the army to legitimately oppose military rule over a civilian population. One doesn’t necessarily need to know what a “straw widow” or “mapping” is, what “demonstrations of presence” are, or what the “routine of occupation” entails. Awareness of those IDF policies strengthens opposition to them, in helping to paint the true picture of coercive military rule more clearly, but the reality is bad enough as is. One doesn’t need to earn the right to say that.
[pullquote align=left] Communalistic, jingoistic Jewish McCarthyism has hijacked Israel, oppressing any critic that challenges its interests.
[/pullquote]What has become disturbingly clear within the whirlwind of slanderous incitement and fear-mongering, which climaxed in Im Tirtzu’s clip, is that power dynamics are shifting. I’m concerned by the hate speech and violence that forebodes, but I’m hopeful that with time the rubble may be rebuilt in a more equitable formation. Civil liberties are being held hostage by Israeli leadership that has grown accustomed to forcefully managing the status quo, blinded by eternal victimhood. Communalistic, jingoistic Jewish McCarthyism has hijacked Israel, oppressing any critic that challenges its interests. With the current government’s handiwork, the occupation is officially crossing the green line into Israel, which was only a matter of time.
Members of the Jewish Diaspora who claim to support a democratic Israel have an obligation to speak out against the occupation. With respect to what’s left of democracy in Israel, freedom of speech, and human rights at large, seize the moment to create the change this country so sincerely needs.