March 24, 2016; i24 News

In June of 2015, Rick Cohen wrote about the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS), a veterans organization dedicated to accurately reflecting the stories of those who served in the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Its mission is to exhibit the “deterioration of moral standards [that] finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and…justified in the name of Israel’s security.”

On Monday of this week, Israel Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon accused Breaking the Silence of treason. Although yesterday he walked the statement back a bit, revising his objection down to the collection of military information by an anti-occupation NGO, which he terms a “security offense,” the group remains in the crosshairs of the Israeli government.

Breaking the Silence was founded by IDF veterans. It has been gathering testimony from soldiers who have served on the West Bank and in Gaza to accurately portray to the public exactly what it is that the army is doing there. They go to great lengths to corroborate those testimonies and even clear all of their information with Israel’s military censor before publishing. The group opposes the occupation, but does not gather information only from those sympathetic to its cause.

When pressed on whether Breaking the Silence was committing treason, Ya’alon replied, “We are looking into the matter. […] Based on an initial examination, much of their information was indeed disqualified by the censor; they collected information without permission or authorization.”

Ya’alon insisted he was not trying to silence the group. “I am not calling to outlaw the organization,” he said. “It is their right to express themselves. They can oppose my policy. I am prepared to argue with them. However, such behavior is obviously unacceptable.”

Breaking the Silence responded:

After Ya’alon took back his dangerous, politicized and embarrassing accusation that Breaking the Silence is a bunch of traitors, it is only a matter of time until Ya’alon will be forced to take back as well the feeble charge of holding information. Breaking the Silence works in deference to the censor and its orders for over 10 years, and does commit any information offense. […] Breaking the Silence are soldiers and fighters, citizens of the State of Israel, who oppose the occupation and fight the far-rightwing government’s occupation policy, for the sake of the State of Israel.

—Ruth McCambridge