Electric Light Is the Most Efficient Policeman: Breaking The Silence

On a recent visit to Hebron with  Breaking The Silence, our guide told us that when he came home for Shabbat, during his army service in the occupied territories, he could tell no one at home about his experience. Even his own mother didn’t want to know and said ” it’s okay, you are home now.”

Breaking The Silence was founded in 2004, it is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life 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)

Publicity has been seen as an effective tool already by the famous supreme court Justice Louis D Brandeis (the first Jew to be appointed to that court in 1916) who wrote that “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases.”(1915)

But in Israel the publicity of Breaking The Silence is seen as a betrayal and not a remedy. Because the organization collects testimonies of soldiers about their experience in the Occupied Territories and then publicize them inside and outside Israel, it has become the enemy of the people. Thus speakers from Breaking The Silence are banned from appearing before  students and soldiers. Even our prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who grew up in the largest democracy in the world, talks about them as traitors..

If we compare our state to a family this is quite understandable. In dysfunctional homes the children are usually instructed never to talk about the problems to people outside the family. Moreover, in extreme cases of abuse children are threatened not to mention it to anyone. Thus, the worst crimes often happen inside the place which is supposed to be a safe haven– our own home.

We were brought up to believe that our army, the Israeli army, was the most ethical in the world. For us a phrase like “the purity of weapon” was not an oxymoron but an important principle, going back to the time before the founding of the state of Israel. It was also a favorite topic of discussion in our youth movements’ activities.

The name IDF explicitly states that the purpose of our army is to defend us, but throughout the years the definition of defense has changed, and what is seen as a threat today is not the same as it was in the early days of the state of Israel.

The public activity of Breaking The Silence, and their educational work should not be perceived as a threat to Israel, quite the contrary. In the age of social network when we could find everything on the web, arguments like this  organization  is causing demoralization, or it is giving ammunitions to those who hate us anyway, is not valid anymore.

We should be proud that in Israel we have watchdogs like Breaking The Silence, which publicize injustice, they help us be better people and stay that way, or as Louis D. Brandeis said in the latter part of his statement “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants, electric light the most efficient policeman.”

P.S This is the link to the essay, which I wrote, following the visit to Kiryat Arba and Hebron with Breaking the Silence.


About the Author
I have a PhD in English literature from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and I usually write about issues concerning women, literature, culture and society. I lived in the US for 15 years (between 1979-1994). I am widow and in March 2016 started a support/growth Facebook group for widows: "Widows Move O.," In October 2017 I started a Facebook group for Older and Experienced Feminists. I am also an active member of Women Wage Peace and believe that women can succeed where men have failed.