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'Proud to be outside the consensus, until the occupation ends'

Under public pressure, Ben-Gurion University pulled a prize from Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli soldiers who talk publicly about what it means to serve in an occupying army. The group is ‘outside the consensus,’ the university’s president explained. But if occupation is the consensus, Breaking the Silence says it is proud to be on the outside. The following is a speech delivered by the organization’s executive director at an alternative prize ceremony.

By Yuli Novak

Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak speaks during a protest against right-wing incitement, central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Breaking the Silence executive director Yuli Novak. (File photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

The soldiers who have broken their silence did not do so in a vacuum. The act of breaking one’s silence is not of clearing your conscience or easing the post-trauma of those sent to enforce a military regime over civilians (although it can be a side effect).

The act of breaking one’s silence is not pleasant. Breaking one’s silence is grating, frightening; you lose sleep over it. The point of breaking one’s silence is to radically change the political situation — not cosmetically, but fundamentally, down to the roots.

Breaking one’s silence is taking a personal and moral stance against an unacceptable situation from start to finish, in its totality. Breaking one’s silence is also assuming responsibility for one’s actions and the willingness to pay a personal price for it.

We break our silence in protest of the occupation. Our act of breaking silence is the exclamation that military control over millions of people, Palestinians, for decades, is unacceptable at its core. That the occupation is not something that can or should be normalized or “repaired,” only terminated. Because even though it has existed for decades, it has no right to exist. And breaking one’s silence is to challenge that which has become part of us, and part of our identity, for nearly 50 years now.

The Ben-Gurion University administration said its decision to veto an award granted to Breaking the Silence was based on the fact that we are an organization that is outside the political consensus.

Since the day it was founded, Breaking the Silence has never been part of the national consensus. On the contrary, the act of breaking one’s silence is an act of coming out against the consensus.

Don’t be confused: occupation is the consensus. The soldiers who have broken their silence did so to bring an end to the occupation. They, we, are trying to challenge it. To undermine this mechanism. To disable it. They break their silence and expose what it means to occupy another people — not in theory, not as historical research, not from afar. They were there. And they show us the injustice built in to the implementation of this cruel policy. And they are willing to pay the personal price for this act.

Breaking one’s silence is a right that every citizen has in a democracy, in order to challenge the consensus. To stand facing it, and yell loud and clear that what we have been conditioned to think is a load of crap. It’s a lie. An illusion. It is a horrible policy that only serves a tiny portion of Israeli society: the messianic, settler Right and its representatives in the Knesset.

So, in effect, Professor Carmi and Professor HaCohen and the other members of the administration who chose this consensus argument have not revealed anything new to us. They are right. We are, proudly, outside the consensus.

The combatants who approach Breaking the Silence to give their testimony about what goes on in the territories are freeing themselves — knowingly and purposely — from the warm and comfortable embrace of the consensus. Each and every one of them is breaking his or her silence in order to differentiate itself from the consensus. One by one, testimony after testimony have transformed into a database of thousands of testimonies and stories that for the last 12 years have been exposing the dangers of the consensus.

In light of the hysterical and violent response of the consensus, the act is, apparently, highly effective.

Breaking the Silence will be part of the consensus the day that we win; the day the occupation ends, and a process of rehabilitation and reconciliation begins.

Until then, we have no interest in being part of the consensus. Not because we are interested in being spiteful, but because we have no other choice.

The occupation, this destructive regime, has prevented Israel from functioning as a democracy for 50 years and it is quickly becoming the very definition of who we are.

Yehuda Shaul of the Israeli activist group Breaking the Silence leads a tour group on Shuhada Street in the West Bank city of Hebron, March 7, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Breaking the Silence leads a tour group in the occupied city of Hebron, West Bank, March 7, 2014. (Photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

This means that more and more Israelis are effectively becoming servants of this occupation regime. More and more people — from all walks of life — are forced to take an active part in maintaining and upholding the consensus, primarily against the emerging cracks. Over the last year, I have witnessed this horrible process repeating over and over again.

In this sense, Professor Carmi is aligned with a host of dishonorable people, like Yair Lapid, who has targeted Breaking the Silence in order to find favor with the consensus. Alongside him are members of his party, who criticize him behind the scenes but remain publicly silent. And the same politicians who once led the fight against the occupation remain silent in the face of incitement and violence hurled at us; politicians have told me, with tears in their eyes, that “if they back Breaking the Silence it will cost them in the primaries.”

This list of “noble people,” who prefer to keep their personal opposition to the occupation silent because the price they would have to pay is too high, is growing longer and longer.

And yes, in 2016 Israel, hosting a lecture or awarding a prize to soldiers who have come out openly against the occupation is a brave act; it is not obvious. It is an act that comes with a price. I do not need to have explained to me the price that comes with opposing the consensus. But here is where the real danger lies.

Carmi not only withdrew the award from Breaking the Silence, but also — perhaps without meaning to, maybe without thinking it through too much — helped strengthen the consensus that labels us as traitors and spies. After all, if we weren’t traitors, the award wouldn’t have been taken away. This is the real tragedy: Carmi didn’t withdraw the award because she supports the occupation (though I don’t really know what she supports). And I don’t think she hates Breaking the Silence (she doesn’t really know us at all). She just got scared.

Carmi folded and gave in to the sensational and violent populism of the government of occupation, and the consensus. She accepted the un-democratic rules of the game. She internalized what the leaders of the consensus demand from all of us: don’t oppose it. Don’t give a platform to anyone who criticizes the government’s policies. Don’t obstruct the political echelon from continuing to occupy and settle. And most of all, don’t undermine their raging success at turning the occupation into the national consensus.

Now we can and must say the truth: the people who have enabled the occupation of the Palestinian territories to continue for nearly 50 years now, and to become a national consensus, are not the settlers or their elected officials in the Knesset. It’s not the prime minister either. Those who allow the occupation to prosper are its agents. Those who do not support it, but who nonetheless remain silent. Those who know it endangers the future of Israel, but do not rise up against it. Those who recognize that the occupation contradicts and undermines Israeli democracy, but choose again and again to remain within the consensus.

Having said all this, I would still like to thank Professor Carmi and the university administration: thanks to your decision, the award has become all the more valuable. It has become highly esteemed because in recent months, it exposed many more people to the immense moral perversion taking place here. Your decision mobilized people to come out, bravely, against the tyranny of the consensus.

And it is valuable because it is being awarded to us today by a group of inspiring people who acted out of faith and courage and stood their ground in a way that sets an example, and is a civic role model for us all. Guy, Hagai, Iris, Anat, Amit, Yoni, Oren and many others, I am proud to stand here with you at this moving event. On behalf of Breaking the Silence, I am proud to receive this award that is outside the consensus, that opposes the consensus, that is to the chagrin of the consensus.

Thank You.

Yuli Novak is the executive director of Breaking the Silence. Read this article in Hebrew on Local Call.

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    1. Bus189

      You are agents of foreign powers paid to produce propaganda against your own country. The funding you get from foreign governments should be immediately cut off to protect Israeli democracy from foreign intervention.

      Shame on you for accepting foreign money and shame on foreign governments for spending money to subvert Israeli democracy. Very few of the countries that send you money would accept Israel spending tens of millions of dollars to subsidize subversive organizations that operate to undermine the stability of their countries. Were a foreign country to financially sponsor neo-Nazi or Islamist fundamentalist groups in European countries, that funding would be immediately cut off and laws put in place to prevent subversive groups from receiving foreign funding. In many countries such foreign governmental donations are already illegal and so it should be in Israel.

      In conclusion, let me just say that your organization is the scum of society and should be shunned by universities and all other governmental and non-governmental bodies which possess even a modicum of self-respect.

      Reply to Comment
      • Baal

        So you little racist are against Israeli rightwing group AIPAC influencing te US government and elections. Thank you for that, douche.

        Reply to Comment
      • mordechai ben yosef

        We have wandered in the desert longer than the people of the Exodus. Bus189 and the consensus are the hard evidence that the Golden Calf now reigns supreme. Are there 36 truth tellers left?

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        The seething, threatening rightist hatred oozes (confirming Yuli Novak’s very premise) precisely because Breaking the Silence speaks the truth with incomparable authority and integrity, and they can’t be stopped short of turning Israel into an East German style police state. The Far Right is trying to do that of course and there are portents. Breaking the Silence used to speak only in Hebrew. But Israelis en masse adamantly refused to listen. And the same Israelis bitterly complain that Breaking the Silence now speaks also in English to “outsiders.” The only real solutions to the Right’s problem is to either quit the occupation or let their hair down, take the mask off and ease into more or less full blown fascism. They’re dancing on the edge of the latter. Not there yet of course. “Accustomization” takes time, you know, or so they hope. But can they do it? Are their professions of supreme confidence that time is on their side empty bluster or realistic? We live in interesting times.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bus189

          What you meant to say is that once they started getting lots of money from various European organizations for propaganda projects against Israel in other languages they started producing material to fit the contract.

          Yuli and her organization are paid whores of foreign governments and organizations that hide behind some token Israelis to push forward their anti-Israeli positions. Their foreign funding will be stopped sooner or later and they will crawl back into the marginal sewer that they crawled out of. Or they will get real jobs. You know.. Where they would actually do something productive for a living instead of being paid by foreign organizations to travel around to agitate and propagandize against their own country.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            This anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli paranoid 30 pieces of silver thing the settler right wing does is truly the most amazing phony, desperate and self-hating thing. You reveal your true colors, in spades. Writing from a trailer near Hebron? From what middle class suburb in the United States do you hail from?

            Reply to Comment
      • Frank John

        I’m from Canada. I’m an atheist. I am an 80-year old male. I whole-heartedly support the soldiers who served in the IDF and are now coming forward to tell the world what we already believed of the Israeli apartheid government. They are only giving us the basic stories as to how their service has effected them. And they are not anonymous. Their stories are on YouTube. Their pictures are on YouTube so they can be identified — which is more than you, hiding behind some fictitious name. I have recorded all of their accounts on to a DVD and am showing it to as many folks as I can in our theatre group. I have already read most of the history books on Israel. I was a former student of the bible before I became anti-religous. I have listened to all the lectures on the internet from both sides. It is so unfortunate that you have been propagandized from birth. I would have thought that the intelligent amoung you would have realized the truth by now. Sand, Pappe, Chomsky, Levy, Finklestein and even Einstein have tried to tell you the truth, but it appears to be useless.

        Reply to Comment
        • AJew

          “I have recorded all of their accounts on to a DVD and am showing it to as many folks as I can”

          “Sand, Pappe, Chomsky, Levy, Finklestein and even Einstein have tried to tell you the truth, but it appears to be useless.”

          Selective reading is a wonderous thing. Did anyone tell you that telling half truths is a form of lying?

          What is your claim about what Einstein said eh? Nothing much more than that he did not favor Jewish nationalism (Zionism) which by the way in his later actions recanted. But Einstin’s name on that list of yours looks good am I correct, Franky? Propaganda anyone?

          The rest of the names on that list? Chomsky, Pappe etc, you can be proud of them. They are all obsessive Israel haters like you. Proper historians document wrongs done by both sides, not just by one side. I notice you did not include Benny Morris on your list. I wonder why? He used to be a darling of extreme anti Israelis like you when he first started writing and made some revelations about us which we should be aware of. But then he went and spoilt it all for ya all’ and he blamed Arabs too and qualified some of his earlier criticisms of Israel. So now he fell off the lists of favorite “historians” of obsessive Israel haters and he no longer qualifies as a “Must Read Historian”. That says it all!

          Reply to Comment
        • Carmen

          Heartfelt and welcome post Frank John!

          Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Yes, welcome Frank John, please continue to post. Fresh air.

          Reply to Comment
        • Chris

          Thank you for posting that, Frank John.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Carmen

      Bravo Ms. Novak and Breaking the Silence. The truth must continue to be heard.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Avigail

      kol hakavod Yuli.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Zara

      So much Respect and Gratitude for standing in your Truth.

      All Truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. Arthur Schopenhauer

      Baruch Dayan HaEmet

      Reply to Comment