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Israeli occupation: the cry from Hebron, “let’s break the wall of silence”

On January 16 the Holy Land Coordination of bishops (HLC) met with Yehuda Shaul, co-founder of the Israeli NGO “Breaking the Silence”, whose aim is to disseminate information on the reality of everyday life the Occupied Territories, the military occupation marked by abuses, harassment, beatings, arbitrary arrests and humiliation against the Palestinian population, including children. In the only Palestinian city in whose centre stands a Jewish settlement with a few hundred people – mirroring the Israeli occupation – Shaul shared his experience as veteran and explained how “to break the wall of silence” on the occupation could help reach a solution to the conflict which is in the hands of Palestinians and Israelis alone

Palestinian youths are beated, slapped, segregated for hours, molested and intimidated to the point of wetting their pants. Young – but old enough to be viewed as “terrorist supporters.” Adults are beaten, humiliated, blindfolded, handcuffed, grabbed by the hair, and by their nails. And there is more: land confiscation, arbitrary arrests and night raids. It’s the Israeli military occupation told not by the victims but by the same veteran combatants in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) who served in the Israeli military in the areas of the Occupied Territories, in Gaza and East Jerusalem, since the outbreak of the Second Intifada (2000). Yehuda Shaul is one of them. He is the co-founder and co-director – with two of his comrades in arms, Avichai Sharon and Noam Chayut, of the Israeli NGO “Breaking the Silence” (Shovrim Shtika in Hebrew).

Over 1,100 testimonies. Since 2004 Shaul and his organization have sought to spread news on the daily life in the Occupied Territories, the daily life of military occupation, or worse, the “norm.” Their efforts are aimed at exposing the Israeli public to the abuses perpetrated against Palestinians, whilst giving soldiers the possibility to “speak about the distance separating the reality they faced and the silence they are met with once they return home.” This reality, Shaul told SIR, “is rarely reported in media outlets.”

To date, over 1100 ex soldiers, – men and women – have publically spoken about their experience in the military, sparking off controversies and heated debates.

The Israeli population majority – pointed out the veteran combatant of North-American origin – do not appreciate what we do.” One of their strongest accusations against us is that we delegitimize the work of the armed forces. “There also many who support us – which the numerous conferences, meetings and events that we hold in many different venues, are a token of.

Denouncing the immorality that is gaining grounds in our military system is not an easy challenge, but it should be faced. It involves the very future of our Country.”

The meeting with HLC. Shaul served in the IDF as Sergeant from 2001 to 2004, in Gaza and the West Bank. Today he dedicates all of his time to his NGO. Also in these capacities on January 16 he led the Holy Land Coordination of Bishops (HLC) to Hebron, the only Palestinian city with a Jewish settlement in its centre, occupied by a few hundred settlers.

Vescovi Hlc a Hebron (16 gennaio 2017)

To ensure its protection, the Israeli army placed severe restrictions on the freedom of movement of tens of thousands of Palestinians that marked the end of the ancient quarters of the city, of its shops, streets, with Palestinian families forced to leave their homes for good. Retracing the history of the city, the co-founder of “Breaking the silence” gave us the figures of the occupation: 1014 homes were abandoned in what once was the central area of Hebron, as many as 659 were left empty during the Second Intifada. 1.829 shops (77% of the total number of stores in the area) were shut down. At least 440 of them were ordered to close by the Israeli military authorities. Israeli’s right to exist and defend herself is not being questioned, rather, the issue at stake is the fact of “using defence as a form of attack, which leaves the door open to constant violations.”

“Even one day is a day too many.” In 2017 recurs the 50th anniversary of Israeli military occupation, following the Six-Day-War (June 5-10, 1967), of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The conflict is still ongoing and nobody, notably the international community, has managed to put an end to it. In this respect, Yehuda Shaul has a clear picture of the situation.

“The future of Israel and Palestine is in our own hands.

If we don’t do anything, we will never find a solution. Conversely, if we start doing something I think that the occupation will end along with the conflict. Breaking the wall of silence is a step forward.

I am Israeli. I don’t fight against Palestinians. I am against the occupation

and against everything that came with it. I want the occupation to end. It’s been ongoing for the past 50 years. Even one more day is a day too many.”

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