When I saw on Facebook that Breaking The Silence was hosting a group of international authors, I was curious. It announced: “The second delegation of authors has arrived! The authors are here to see and understand firsthand what Israeli military control over a Palestinian civilian population looks like, so that they may write pieces for a compilation ahead of the unfortunate 50th anniversary of the occupation. Among them are Ayelet Waldman and Michael Chabon who will be editing the compilation to be released next year. We wish them an enlightening journey full of eye-opening understanding.”
I asked to join their activities in Hebron, and when we got there last Friday Yehuda Shaul, the founder of the organization, was already hard at work explaining to the writers about the history and the daily life under occupation. He also read to them excerpts from soldiers’ testimonies.
There is no one who is better equipped to talk about the reality in Hebron than Yehuda. His background is very similar to that of the settlers in Hebron. He comes from an American ultra-Orthodox family and spent his high school years at a Yeshiva in the occupied territories. Unlike many Haredi men who don’t serve in the army, he did and was a combatant in Hebron. Upon his release in 2004, he founded Breaking The Silence with several comrades from his regiment.
Breaking The Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who served in the occupied territories. The purpose of the organization is to shed light on Israel’s operational methods in the territories and to encourage debate about the nature of the occupation (from the book Our Harsh Logic compiled by the organization Breaking the Silence).
I imagine that this was also the reason why Breaking The Silence wished to show a group of international authors the reality of occupation in Hebron. In addition to their short tour there, the writers had visited several strategic sites with special significance like Old jerusalem, the Kalandia Checkpoint, the main checkpoint between the northern West Bank and Jerusalem, and Ofer Military Prison.
Peace activists, like Yehuda Shaul, who care for Israel and devote their life to find a solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, showed the writers around. They pointed out the many injustices of the current situation in order to, finally, end occupation after almost 50 years.
Yet from what I heard I am doubtful whether most of the authors were able to grasp the complexity of the situation. For example when I asked one of them how she felt about the actions of the peace activists, she didn’t understand my question. I guess it was natural, she was so absorbed with what she saw that she didn’t notice those activists who guided her and made some sense in what was there. I felt that this was a missed opportunity.
Michael Sfard, an Israeli attorney who represents various Israeli and Palestinian human rights and peace organizations, recently wrote in an opinion article: “one day occupation will end.” Indeed it will happen thanks to the work of peace activists in organizations like Breaking The Silence, Machsom Watch, The Parents Circle and many others. Those organizations need international assistance in order to survive and their members cannot not afford to remain invisible. It is true that talking about occupation should come first, but activists need to emphasize their contribution to end it.
Normally I look forward to reading the thoughts and insights of venerated authors about topics which I care about. But as I would only visit a foreign country with a serious travel guide, I would like to trust a book of essays about Israeli occupation. In this case I am not sure that I can. The Israeli Palestinian conflict deserves a more serious consideration.
P.S. I would like to add that several Middle East correspondents participated in the tour, they seem to be experts on the subject of occupation. Perhaps it would be wiser to compile a collection of essays based on their knowledge and first hand experience.
Links to my previous posts about Breaking The Silence: