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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