Israeli human rights group, Breaking the Silence, best known for publishing testimonials by current and former Israeli soldiers has been nominated by two European Green parties for the European Union’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.The Sakharov Award is given out annually to groups or individuals that exemplify a commitment to human rights, and is usually awarded on December 10th, the day the United Nations General Assembly ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Previous recipients include Nelson Mandela, Hu Jia of China, Salih Mahmoud Osman of the Sudan, and groups like Reporters Without Borders and Basta Ya!
Breaking the Silence is a group formed by Israeli veterans who were traumatized by their military service, and wanted to speak out about atrocities that they witnessed or participated in. Since its founding, hundreds of testimonies have been recorded and transcribed, in which soldiers describe beatings of bound and blindfolded Palestinian detainees, shooting of unarmed civilians, protection of settlers as they attack Palestinian people and property, and torture of prisoners.
According to the group’s website, “Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still excused as military necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases. Our testimonies portray a different, and much grimmer picture.
‘While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that which happens in its name. Discharged soldiers who return to civilian life discover the gap between the reality which they encountered in the Territories, and the silence which they encounter at home. In order to become civilians again, soldiers are forced to ignore what they have seen and done. Breaking the Silence voices the experiences of these soldiers, forcing Israeli society to address the reality which it has helped to create.”
The group has been targeted by the Israeli military for publishing these testimonies, and its founders have been threatened with imprisonment.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit of the European Green Party, which nominated the group, told reporters that they chose Breaking the Silence because, ‘The Greens/EFA group wants to recognize the bravery of all the individuals involved who work to shed light on the injustices of the Israeli occupation and ensure Israeli society does not simply turn a blind eye. [Although] Israel is a democracy, it nonetheless takes enormous courage to speak out and break through the taboos and prejudices surrounding the Israeli occupation.”
A right-wing Zionist, Gerald Steinberg, has launched a campaign to stop the EU from awarding the prize to Breaking the Silence. Upon hearing of Steinberg’s campaign, Breaking the Silence issued a statement saying it is “proud to be one of the organizations under attack by Steinberg, which include the European Union itself, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.’