The former head of Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency has publicly backed a group of former soldiers under fire for whistle blowing on alleged abuses by the Israeli army. Former Shin Bet head Major General Ami Ayalon and retired senior police official Elik Ron published an advert, in Haaretz, supporting Breaking the Silence, a group that publishes accounts from soldiers who served in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In the advert, they said that Breaking the Silence protects ‘soldiers in the impossible situation in which politicians have abandoned them.’
The group’s attempts to raise awareness about the Israeli military’s activity in Palestinian territories has earned it the ire of Israel’s right wing, including Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon who, last week, banned it from speaking at Israeli schools or official army events.
Haaretz also reported, according to Andalou/Al Ray, that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also insisted in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, last week that opposition leader Isaac Herzog condemn Breaking the Silence, who he said ‘tarnishes the image’ of Israeli soldiers around the world.
Last week, hardline right-wing group Im Tirtzu released a video calling Breaking the Silence and other Israeli human rights groups the ‘moles’ of foreign agents.
The video was seen as an attempt to silence left-wing groups, with prominent activists B’Tselem posting on Facebook: ‘Make no mistake: The voice may be Im Tirtzuâ€™s, but the hands are those of the Israeli government. Donâ€™t let them silence criticism.’
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, himself a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, was also criticized by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked for attending a conference held by Haaretz that also featured Breaking the Silence.
More than 1,000 Israeli activists marched in Tel Aviv on Sunday to condemn the ‘incitement’ against rights groups critical of Israeli policies.
‘We’ve been under attack through a pre-meditated campaign, in which members of the extreme right-wing, including Israeli parliamentarians and elected officials, along with public figures and right wing organizations, are trying to silence both us and every debate related to the 48-year long occupation,’ said Breaking the Silence in a statement last week.
The group has recently focused on testimonies from soldiers who served in Israel’s ‘Operation Protective Edge’, which killed 2,200 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip last year.
The group claimed the testimonies showed Israeli politicians order soldiers to follow a ‘systematic policy’ that led to ‘massive and unprecedented harm to the [Palestinian] population.’
See video: Gaza City’s Devastated Al-Shuja’eyya Suburb