The gatekeepers of Israel’s democracy

This morning, the head of “Breaking the Silence” was detained by border police for questioning, together with 2 other people.

The official reason: he was in a military zone, which is a ludicrous reason when we know that the settlers are authorized to access such areas.

The real background for this is different: it is part of a systematic harassment and incitement against this group and others (BeTselem, New Israel Fund) by the Israeli authorities, that deem them as traitors.

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend a tour of the occupied territories with Breaking the Silence, and it was as depressing as it was eye-opening, even for someone who has lived 4 years in Israel in the past 20 years, holds Israeli citizenship and is married with an Israeli-born wife, and whose kids’ mother tongue is Hebrew.

It was depressing because it is one thing to know about the occupation and its consequences, it is another thing to see or hear from direct witnesses what it really means. Knowing about trees being cut down or Palestinian citizens viciously attacked is not the same as hearing from a soldier what it means to witness such attacks from settlers without being able to do anything. The latest events of last week in South Hebron Hills are just the latest illustration of this sad reality.

It was depressing because the sophistication to legalize every aspect of the occupation is heartbreaking. We are said to be the people of the book, and the Law is something very important, both as a religious group, but also because as minorities throughout our history, the rule of law has been our strongest defender against the mob and authoritarians. Our ability to use the law the make the occupation look and sound legal is all the more infuriating

But what struck me most during this 6-hour trip was actually something else: it was the fact that I never visited that region and looked at this reality while I was living in Israel, not because I did not care, but because I did not care enough, like many Israelis. The occupation is right there, but it is somehow very distant, and this is why these tours, and because organizations such as Breaking the Silence or Chalom Akchav are so important, to wake us up or to keep us awake.

Complacency, fatalism are the allies of those who want to turn this occupation into a well-established reality that is here to stay, and to make possible the rampant annexation we are witnessing. This exhaustion, and the willingness to carry one with one’s lives are perfectly legitimate, and the toughness of life in Israel is an additional explanation for that.

But yet the liberal Israelis and the progressive supporters of Israel abroad need to participate in these tours, to be engaged, and to testify when they return from these in order to push others to do the same. The occupation needs to remain a temporary, abnormal status, not a reality, the territories cannot become “Judea and Samaria”, the settlers need to be called as such and not “Israeli citizens living in Judea and Samaria” etc etc…

And also, the Israeli taxpayer needs to demand how much money is funneled to the territories, because a highly taxed Israeli would be surprised to see the quality of the infrastructure in Efrat relatively to the cost of housing there. Someone pays for this, and I am not sure this is fully financed by the settlers of Efrat…

Remaining awake, angry and even outraged is more critical than ever, and I thank Breaking the Silence for helping us do that. They are not traitors or backstabbers, they are actually true guardians and gatekeepers of Israeli democracy in these troubled times.


About the Author
French-Israeli business executive living in New York.