by Tim Bowman
In Jerusalem on, 3 August, our Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) delegation met Michael, one of the former Israeli soldiers now active in the "Breaking the Silence" organization. Originally American, he immigrated to Jerusalem in his early years. For people like him, he said, the State of Israel was "a sort of miracle." Joining the Israeli military was like joining a good college in Americathe key to advancement and an enjoyable social life. He did well in the military and quickly rose to the rank of Lieutenant General.
"Breaking the Silence" started in 2004 as an exhibition with photographs and stories from disillusioned military personnel who had served in Hebron. Michael happened to see it in Tel Aviv and now works full time as one of Breaking the Silence's main representatives. His military background helps in getting an audience, and he spends most of his time talking to young people before their military service.
The organization seeks to educate Israelis who "have no clue," according to Michael. Most Israelis, he said, seem to be in a sort of self-induced slumber as to the realities of occupation. They lazily believe that some form of equality and dignity is possible despite the occupation, a formula Michael passionately rejects.
Originally "Breaking the Silence" would take tourists to Hebron, but settlers attacked them and the police eventually kicked out. Now they take three or four people if they go at all, because such low numbers do not officially constitute a "group."
Michael talked in detail about a round of duty he had in Nablus in 2002, protecting a settlement. Part of his duty that he found particularly distressing was commandeering houses; the military would always ensure one family member was there to create a human shield against attack.
He is not a fan of what he sees as political rhetoric. He prefers to talk about what he sees as inalienable facts that cut through the crap, e.g., "if you are an occupier you WILL dehumanize the occupied."
[Members of CPT's July 22-August 4 delegation to Palestine were Ben Barwick (Mishawaka, Indiana), Matthew Bosisio (Augusta, Georgia), Tim Bowman(Bristol, England), Hannah Breckbill (Northfield, Minnesota), Alan Dick (Bloomington, Indiana), Amanda Dick (Kansas City, Kansas), Esther Kern (London, Ontario), Emily Kothe (St. Louis, Missouri), Kelly Latimore (Aurora, Illinois), Emily McNeill (Fairport, NY), Bob Palmer (Chicago, Illinois), and Suzanne Yatim (Florissant, Missouri.)]