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Why Netanyahu is so threatened by Breaking the Silence

What will the prime minister do on the day the Israeli public gets up and refuses to keep living by the sword?

By Dotan Greenvald

Israeli left-wing activists march to protest the recent incitement against "Breaking the Silence" and other left wing NGOs, in central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Israeli left-wing activists march to protest the recent incitement against “Breaking the Silence” and other left wing NGOs, in central Tel Aviv, December 19, 2015. (photo: Oren Ziv/Activestills.org)

Breaking the Silence has classified information in its possession. The information is so confidential that its publication could pose a genuine threat. I hope you are sitting down, because I am about to disclose that information. Just don’t tell me later on that I went first and told the gentiles or anti-Semitic foreign governments. You are hearing it firsthand from me, a silence breaker: Israel is a country that controls the lives of millions of Palestinians with no rights, and its elected officials are doing one hell of a job of keeping it from you.

There, now you know, too.

Since the previous concerted attack against Breaking the Silence in December of last year, the incitement by Netanyahu’s government and its shadow organizations have subsided a bit. But immediately following last week’s report on Channel 2, in which Breaking the Silence researchers were seen and heard speaking with a “mole” from right-wing group “Ad Kan,” Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted that “Breaking the Silence has crossed another red line, based on tonight’s Channel 2 investigation. The investigative security authorities are looking into the matter.”

And just like that, in 105 characters, Netanyahu provided the tailwind to the unfounded onslaught against human rights organizations that continue to ruffle his feathers. Exposing the reality in the occupied territories through soldiers’ testimonies — each of which are approved for publication by the IDF censor — pokes a hole in Netanyahu and his partner’s tires. For the past decade, Breaking the Silence has been exposing that which the government does not know how to deal with: a policy of never-ending occupation and control over a civilian population.

It is no coincidence that as the terror attacks have increased, Netanyahu has stepped up his attacks against leftist organizations. He is always looking for someone else to blame. Thousands of words have already been written about the government’s inability to cope with the rage of Palestinian youth; rage that is bubbling up in every possible corner and boils over every week all over Israel. And who is to blame? Arab DNA of course. It is not institutionalized, collective punishment; the arbitrary checkpoints between villages; the home demolitions and administrative detentions; a system of law that discriminates against people based on their national affiliation; or the harm inflicted on innocent people, which happens all too often. All these, in Netanyahu’s opinion, are irrelevant to our lives as Israelis. What happens in the occupied territories stays in the occupied territories.

Israeli army officers speak to Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak as the army prevented a Breaking the Silence tour from proceeding through the occupied city of Hebron, April 4, 2014. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

Israeli army officers speak to Breaking the Silence director Yuli Novak as the army prevented a Breaking the Silence tour from proceeding through the occupied city of Hebron, April 4, 2014. (Keren Manor/Activestills.org)

But we all know it doesn’t work like that. And fear of this simple truth – more than the poverty report that indicates that every third Israeli child is poor, more than the increasing diplomatic isolation, the deteriorating economic situation, the high cost of living, the hospitals on the brink of collapse due to pressure and dwindling welfare services – is what keeps Netanyahu awake at night. The fear that the Israeli people will connect the dots and understand the correlation between the reality in the occupied territories and the reality in Israel; the fear that one day the Israeli public will get up and say that it is no longer willing to live by the sword. What a catastrophe that will be for Netanyahu. What will he do in the face of such demands?

But Netanyahu, after all, is just trying to survive. And that is why when he smells a threat (solely directed against his interests, of course) he strikes. It is no surprise that Breaking the Silence is a major pain in his backside. If their classified information is distributed on the streets of Israel, it will horrify every household. With the black booklets of testimonies of soldiers who chose to break their silence and talk about what they were sent to do in the occupied territories, Breaking the Silence is capable of – God forbid! – exposing what we all already know: that the occupation is untenable, and that it definitely does not remain in the occupied territories. It is precisely for this reason, and to Netanyahu’s chagrin, that Breaking the Silence will not rest until every household in Israel speaks about the occupation and about the dead end toward which he is leading us.

Dotan Greenvald served in the Nahal Brigade of the IDF and as a researcher in Breaking the Silence. Today he is pursuing a doctorate in New York on the history of Zionism. This article was first published in Hebrew on NRG.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      This strange argument that Gaza isn’t actually occupied still crops up. Although Israel controls Gaza’s borders, its imports and exports, its population registry (!), how far out Gazan fisherman can sail, which foreign dignitaries can visit, and on and on, the idea still persists that Israel isn’t an occupying power. – simply because no Israeli soldier actually walks the streets in Gaza City.


      Reply to Comment
      • andrew r

        Pro-Israel propaganda also often claims the West Bank isn’t occupied because of the autonomous Palestinian areas, nevermind that the IDF has the first and last word on who travels through Area A. Of course there’s the hasbara variety that states the West Bank and Gaza were never occupied territories at all. Some people need to get their story straight.

        Reply to Comment
    2. brightdarkness

      Better question: Why are you so panicked? Worried that the spotlight might find some more unsavory items in BtS?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Unsavory? I think of Breaking the Silence as one of the most wholesome, squeaky clean, honorable, respectable, upright, morally strong, courageous, strong groups in Israel, and for that matter in the world at large. By far. It’s no contest. What they are doing takes true courage. You should bow before them. I mean that. What you are doing on the other hand is the easiest, weakest thing.

        Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      Bruce-Don’t you think that if the HAMAS regime in Gaza stopped promising more and more wars to their population and built schools and hospitals instead of rockets and attack tunnels that Israel would be able to relate in a different way to Gaza and open the borders up. Is screaming for a genocidal war against the Jews a good way to encourage Israel to change its relationship with Gaza?

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        If by “screaming for a genocidal war against the Jews” you mean the Hamas charter, that was written over a quarter century ago, it hasn’t been reference for a long time, and almost all the people who wrote it are dead. Gaza is a giant prison whose borders are controlled by Israel – what kind of behaviour do we expect of the inmates?

        Reply to Comment
    4. Eliza

      The work of BtS is courageous and valuable. But, by itself, I doubt that it can bring about substantive change within Israel. Its not only that it is too easy to blame the Palestinians for all the ills they bear or pretend that that they don’t even really exist. Its also that Israelis have to question the ‘rightness’ of a State that exists to privilege Jews over non-Jews – I doubt that this can ever happen. I doubt that Netanyahu or any Israeli politician of any hue is overly worried about a spontaneous outburst of clarity of vision from the general public – no group holding privilege or power has ever willing given up their privilege/power until they are forced to. Why should Israel be any different?

      I think the only thing that Netanyahu and cohorts really worry about is the loss of American support; the devaluing of the Zionist narrative within the ranks of young Americans, including Jewish Americans. So for BtS to really contribute to effecting change, it must look to the dreaded goyim.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Lewis from Afula

      Breaking the Silence = a few meretz activists, communists and self-haters. An irrelevantly small group of leftwing cuckoos. Best to ignore the idiots – they are of no importance.

      Reply to Comment
      • Carmen

        If they were of no importance, you wouldn’t be here.

        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Not only would Lewis and his ilk not be here engaging in trivial hominem attacks on leftists, but Channel 2 and their journalistic ilk and Ya’alon and his ilk and Ad Kan and their ilk would not be participating with such zest in this witch hunt and this exercise in noisily shooting the messenger. All of this cooked up, busy pseudo-concern with what specific question Breaking the Silence asked a right wing mole is meant to distract, distract, distract, from the injustices and the flat out war crimes that Breaking the Silence has over many years, and with perfect integrity and professionalism and sobriety, revealed–with meticulous testimony, every word of which was submitted to and passed by the military censor. Why isn’t Channel 2’s ridiculous Ofer Hadad asking questions about what Breaking the Silence actually does reveal to the public? That’s the real scandal.

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          Poor old Benny poor old extreme leftists. They are pissing against the wind. The tide is shifting. They are destined to go the way of the dinosaurs.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Ben

      Human rights groups must demonstrate solidarity with Breaking the Silence
      Investigation of actions in the Israeli-occupied territories must go on and go deeper. For this, a coalition is needed of all human rights groups.

      Ze’ev Sternhell.


      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Extreme leftist human rights groups are political entities who only believe in Arab human rights. The victims of Arab human rights abuses don’t bother them.

        That is why they are destined to go the way of the dinasaur. People are beginning to have a gutfull of their one sided polemics. The pendulum is swinging the other way. In the short term, it will swing to the other extreme. In the long term, it will swing back to the middle.

        Reply to Comment