Op-ed: Learning to listen

“We bring to this debate an Israeli, patriotic voice that says ‘we love Israel, but the occupation harms it.’ It’s critical that the world knows there are Israeli soldiers who think the state’s future depends on ending the occupation.” – Yuli Novak, Executive Direct of Breaking the Silence, and former Israeli Air Force officer (Haaretz).

On March 3, J Street U will bring former Israel Defence Force (IDF) soldier, Avner Gvaryahu to speak about the reality of serving in the occupied West Bank. Avner represents Breaking the Silence (BtS), an organization of IDF veterans, who collect testimonies and seek to make public the day-to-day activities of soldiers who confront civilians in the West Bank. The primary goal of BtS is to address the dissonance between the harsh reality of the occupation and its typical portrayal in Israeli society as a justified element of Israel’s security. Whereas IDF soldiers see the day-to-day abuses of Palestinian rights, such as the restrictions placed on Palestinian freedom of movement and random military actions to “make our [military] presence known,” the mainstream Israeli media frames cases of abuse as outliers. The occupation is invisible in the daily lives of average Israelis and BtS hopes to end this by calling on the Israeli public to think about the actions that their state carries out in their name. “By definition, our job is to spoil the party. It is our job to remind everyone that even though Tel Aviv is very nice and beautiful and normal, so to speak, there is also a Hebron in our country” Gvaryahu says.

BtS represents a voice often missing in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that does not vilify either side, but instead engages critically with the reality of the occupation. BtS takes an unequivocal stance that the occupation, first and foremost, denies Palestinians their basic human rights, but it is also detrimental to Israelis. Soldiers have to grapple with the immorality of some of the orders they have to carry out and face a society that does not provide a space to acknowledge these orders and the accompanying moral dilemma. As Israelis, BtS works to create a better Israel. A spokesperson for BtS writes, “We want a moral Israel and a moral army. That is why we want the IDF to cease being an occupying army.”

Due to the polarizing nature of dialogue on Israel-Palestine, BtS faces backlash from those who believe that their testimonies misrepresent the IDF as bloodthirsty, disregard the efforts taken by the army to spare civilian lives and paint Israel in an unfair light. By this view, any criticism of Israel is seen as fueling anti-Israeli sentiment. As we began advertising our event, several people contacted us, urging us to consider the consequences of bringing a contentious group like BtS to campus, and whether we want to contribute to the already ubiquitous Israel-hating going on at American universities.

At J Street, we believe that to be pro-Israel necessitates encountering the realities of the occupation. We believe that an end to the occupation is crucial to Israel’s long term security and to the viability of a two-state solution. By learning to listen, even when we hear things that don’t match our preconceived notions, we become more understanding of each-other and recognize the moral imperative to change the status quo of this conflict.

We hope to encourage students at Tufts to think critically about the conflict, and recognize that it is possible to acknowledge the security concerns of Israelis alongside the human rights concerns of Palestinians.

We invite Tufts students from all sides of the conversation on Israel-Palestine to join us for this conversation. This is an opportunity for the Tufts community to engage critically with a powerful and challenging Israeli narrative.


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