Israel, Politics

“Together We Will”…Speak the Truth. Only Then Can We “Win.”

by Joel Carmel

It was only a day or two into this war, long before the initial shock of the horrific October 7th attacks had even set in fully, that a new slogan came to symbolize the Israeli zeitgeist that would accompany this military campaign: Yachad nenatze’ach, together we will win. The slogan was, and remains, everywhere: from bumper stickers to large banners draped on buildings, residential and commercial alike; featured in every form of advertisement (I’ve seen it on a packet of frozen chicken wings); plastered on the sides of buses and trains, and so on. It’s unavoidable. Together we will win.

While international attention has focused heavily on the events as they unfold in the Gaza Strip, and rightly so, it’s worth taking a moment to consider the atmosphere on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv too, the cities where our decision makers formulate and hand down policies and commands, which are in turn translated into the massive and devastating death toll in the Gaza Strip, just a 90-minute drive away from each. The yachad nenatze’ach culture plays its part in informing this decision making process, one that has led to the killing of at least 32,000 people – mostly civilians – in Gaza so far.

And perhaps more importantly, the flip side of yachad nenatze’ach serves as a very clear message to anyone who seeks to criticize this war: don’t. We’re all in this together; don’t ruin it for us. Those who do not conform to the militaristic fervor are seen as having effectively removed themselves from that ‘togetherness’. Questioning the goals of this war, criticizing its strategy or tactics, or making any statement that undermines the dominant narrative here, that any loss of life in Gaza is entirely the responsibility of Hamas – not to mention going all out and calling for a ceasefire: in today’s Israel these are all deeply unpopular positions and saying any of this publicly can even be dangerous. The countless reports of arrests and harassment of Palestinian citizens of Israel and others who have spoken out against the war – including a high school teacher who was briefly imprisoned for posting pictures of Palestinian children killed in Gaza – are a testament to that. Yachad nenatze’ach.

(Photo taken by Joel Carmel; Hebrew reads: ‘Mount Herzl car park / Free parking / Together we will win!’ Note: Mount Herzl is known for its military cemetery.)

That being the case, humanizing the Palestinian victims of this war and feeling empathy is harder than ever in Israel right now. Efforts to do so have in some cases been met with scorn and anger, but for the most part these attempts, usually by foreign media outlets who have gone to incredible lengths to retrieve human stories from the front lines, like this heartbreaking episode of This American Life which follows a Norwegian Refugee Council worker and his family in search of shelter, have largely been ignored. Stories like theirs will probably never make it into Israel’s mainstream media, which has played a central role in nurturing the yachad nenatze’ach culture.

And yet, if there is any chance at all of getting Israel to change its course, one of the most important vehicles for change will be the other side of the coin – the accounts of the soldiers themselves. Soldiers form an integral part of Israeli society and are deeply revered within it. While ministers and leaders on the right talk about creating deterrence to push off the next war as far as possible, the soldiers who fought and experienced the war first hand know the price of these endless cycles and hold the power to speak about the need to bring about real political change and an end to the occupation so that the next war won’t be necessary. 

That’s why we need platforms like Breaking the Silence: a space for soldiers to speak the truth about the rules of engagement, the use of statistical weapons and “dumb bombs” on inhabited areas, the “kill zones”, the treatment of Palestinians civilians and prisoners, the distribution of aid or lack thereof. We need this platform: whether as Israelis who are sending our young people to kill and be killed in our name; or as citizens of Israel’s patrons around the world – the US in particular – whose tax dollars and political support are being used to that end. These testimonies allow us, the dissenters, to break through the omnipresent collective denial fed by the IDF Spokesperson’s sanitized talking points, giving us the legitimacy we need to talk about the true cost of this war. Once the discourse moves away from denials and justifications and towards facing up to the IDF’s actions, we will finally be able to work towards true, meaningful change. 

If this war is to end, we need to be able to cut through the rhetoric of the “moral army” and talk about the immoral policies that shape the army’s actions. And that’s what the soldiers’ testimonies do – they provide the pieces of the puzzle that tell us not only about the individual soldiers’ experiences but, put together, about the story of this war as a whole: what instructions the soldiers were given, reflecting the decisions made by the political leadership and the top brass. The testimonies we published after previous military campaigns in Gaza were groundbreaking in that they shed light on the foundational doctrines of those operations, exposing both the mindset of the leadership and the goals these missions were meant to achieve. More widely, we were able to learn about Israel’s attitude to Gaza as a whole and its place in the “forever war” that Israel is determined to pursue – at the expense of countless civilian lives, Israeli and Palestinian – in order to protect and entrench the occupation.

All of this may appear very far off at the moment, but under the surface, something is happening. Soldiers are coming forward and talking to us right now. Changing our society’s discourse, whether in Israel or in the US and other countries, will be an incremental process; but it is within reach, and publishing these testimonies is a crucial step on that path.

Through this work we are fostering our own yachad, togetherness – a community of silence breakers, bound by our shared values and commitment to human rights and dignity for all living on this land. On a personal level, as someone who has felt very alone at times – particularly as an IDF officer serving in the West Bank, feeling that what we’re doing is simply wrong and having no one around me to share that with – the fact that I am now part of a community who feels the pain of this moment and is motivated to act is deeply significant. And, like me, other testifiers are coming forward to share their experiences because they believe there is a community here listening – a community that once exposed to this truth will do the hard work of bringing it to more spaces, demanding and creating change. 

For us at Breaking the Silence, collecting and publishing these testimonies is perhaps the most important mission we’ve ever had. This is why there has never been a more important moment to support us in this endeavor, on our path to creating real change and ending the occupation once and for all.

You can support Breaking the Silence’s crowdfunding campaign here.

Joel Carmel grew up in the UK and immigrated to Israel aged 18. After studying at Yeshivat Maale Gilboa, Joel enlisted to the IDF and served in the COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories) unit, first on the Gaza border and later, as an officer, in the Jenin district as part of the Civil Administration. Today Joel lives with his wife and daughters in Jerusalem and works as Breaking the Silence’s Advocacy Coordinator.

One thought on ““Together We Will”…Speak the Truth. Only Then Can We “Win.”

  1. Courageous.
    Your efforts are so remarkably courageous.
    Thank you.
    Breaking the Silence is slowly, steadily transforming the discussion. It is an essential counterpoise to hasbara.

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