Israeli former soldier and co-founder of Breaking the Silence, which aims to educate the Israeli public about the daily activities of the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories. The group also hopes to spark a conversation among Israelis about the corrupting influence of the occupation on Israeli society and Israelis themselves.
Yehuda Shaul was born in 1982 in Jerusalem. He is one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, a group started in 2004 by Israeli soldiers who work to educate the Israeli public about the daily activities of the Israeli military in the occupied Palestinian territories. Breaking the Silence conducts interviews with former soldiers who have served in the occupied Palestinian territories, and presents their photographs and narratives in exhibitions and publications.
However, these activities are a means to an end: To spark a conversation among Israelis about the corrupting influence of the occupation on Israeli society and Israelis themselves.
"We gather together in this group not because we have the same political affiliation. We gather together because we agree on the same problem: the moral corruption," Shaul says. "As a group, we don’t deal with anything more than just telling the truth."
Growing up in Israel, Shaul had looked forward to serving in the military. From March 2001 until March 2004, Shaul served in the exclusive Nahal Brigade and rose to the rank of commander and platoon sergeant. He served in many parts of the West Bank, including Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron. However, by the end of his time in the military, he began to question how his experience as an occupying force within Palestinian society had affected him. In addition, he found that many others in the military were asking similar questions.
In June 2004, Shaul and some fellow Israeli soldiers started Breaking the Silence with a photo exhibition in Tel Aviv about Hebron. The members of Breaking the Silence explained their mission this way:
"Since our discharge from the army, we all feel that we have become different. We feel that service in the Occupied Territories and the incidents we faced have distorted and harmed the moral values on which we grew up.
"We all agree that as long as Israeli society keeps sending its best people to military combat service in the Occupied Territories, it is extremely important that all of us, Israeli citizens, know the price which the generation who is fighting in the territories is paying, the impossible situations it is facing, the insanity it is confronting everyday, and the heavy burden it bears after being discharged from the IDF—a heavy burden that hasn’t left us.
"That’s why we decided to break the silence, because it’s time to tell."
More than 7,000 people viewed the exhibit and it received a great amount of media attention because it dealt with issues that were previously not raised in Israeli society. It soon became clear that there were many other soldiers who had similar experiences and they wanted to share them. Breaking the Silence began to record the testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories and now has 400 interviews with Israelis who have served in the occupied Palestinian territories.
For learn more about Breaking the Silence, please log onto www.shovrimshtika.org/index_e.asp
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Kathleen McQuillen on the Federal Budget and Palestine-Israel