On Monday 4 June, the Institute hosted a well-attended address by Avner Gvaryahu, Executive Director of the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. Through his own experiences in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), Avner was motivated to join Breaking the Silence to spread knowledge of the fear and terror among Palestinians that he, as a soldier, had helped perpetuate.
The IDF method of engagement was described as ‘limited confrontation’, where the purpose is to instil fear in the minds of Palestinians. The Israeli soldiers have often grown up without any interaction with their Palestinian counterparts and are trained to protect Israeli life at all costs.
Avner shared explicit details of the confronting reality of everyday life for Palestinians in the occupied territories. These he drew from his own experiences, as well as the testimony of the many IDF soldiers that Breaking the Silence has interviewed. Not only do they face daily violence from the Israeli soldiers, the oppression of Palestinians in these areas is systematic – the implicit aim is to make any separate Palestinian entity unviable. Avner explained the nature of the dual legal system that exists: the democratic judicial system which governs the lives of Israelis in the occupied territories is juxtaposed with the arbitrary military court that Palestinians are accountable to, infamous for its harsh penalties and discriminatory judgments. As a result, rights and justice that are taken for granted by Israelis are not in the Palestinian lexicon.
One poignant example that Avner used was the Israeli settlement of 700, guarded by 650 soldiers, which is situated in the very centre of the Palestinian city of Hebron with a population of over 200,000. This settlement is a hotbed of violence and is an extreme demonstration of Israeli power and their protection over the settlements.
Breaking the Silence is attempting to bring to light the repressive reality faced by Palestinians and bring about an end to occupation. In this endeavour, the organisation has been excoriated by the Israeli government, which has labelled Avner and his colleagues as ‘Trojan horses’ and ‘enemies from within’.
Nevertheless, Avner remains determinedly optimistic. The battle for Breaking the Silence is not against Israel itself, as the beloved homeland, it is a struggle against the oppressive policies of the ‘religious-nationalist’ Netanyahu government, and the organisation will fight unwaveringly to end the occupation.
In response to questions, Avner expressed confidence that Israel could survive in security without the abuses occurring in the occupied territories, which were in fact damaging to Israel’s longer-term interests. He agreed that there was much to criticise in the behaviour of Palestinian leaders. He did not agree that criticising aspects of Israeli’s behaviour amounted to anti-Semitism or questioned Israel’s right to exist.
Report by Diana Lambert,
AIIA NSW intern