Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the "Jewish Home" party, introduced a new bill last week demanding that Israeli left-wing NGO's identify themselves and their funding resources upon every interaction that they have with the government – using a special "tag.” According to this law, organizations that receive a majority of their funding from foreign governmental agencies would be physically marked. For many in Israel, this suggestion is a reminder, in very bad taste, of the darkest of times.
For several years now the Israeli right wing has been trying to hamper the work of civil society NGOs that oppose the policies of the current government. These NGOs are not breaking any laws at time and are extremely transparent, so the government is inventing new ones to stop them from doing their work. Perhaps this is the prerogative of the ruling parties, but this new law will practically only affect the organizations that oppose indefinite occupation over Palestinians which is the very essence of Prime Minister Netanyahu's coalition.
One of the organizations the bill will most likely target is Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. As a member of this group, I myself served as a paratrooper in the elite special forces of the Israel Defense Forces. Throughout my service the question arose: were the late night raids I had led in Palestinian cities more about control and intimidation then security? The Palestinian homes I had invaded were used as our own, and I found there petrified families, trembling children. The threats Israel faces are real, but the actions of the occupation, I learned, are mostly about perpetuating THIS unsustainable reality – not bringing an end to it. It wasn’t until I left the army and began reflecting on this that I began to truly question what must be done in order to create positive change.
I believed then, as I believe now, that the most patriotic action possible is to speak out, and I'm proud to wear my heart on my sleeve. Over 1,000 men and women have chosen to expose the reality of the Israeli military occupation through our group and have demanded change. These are the people our government is seeking to silence now.
The grim reality of the last month is just another reminder of the fact that silence is not an option. The rising body count for Israelis and Palestinians, and the genuine sense of fear present in the streets, makes this conversation more urgent now than ever. Although the news is full of this reality, no one is talking about the bigger picture, the context in which this unsustainable reality of occupation is thriving. No one, that is, besides the groups the Israeli government is trying to silence.
Just last week, a border police officer was recorded calling out at night in the center of a Palestinian village, "We are the occupying army, if you keep throwing stones at us we will gas you until you die. Children, adults, old people – all of you! We will not leave any of you.” This report got some media attention and was gone after one news cycle. Without anti- occupation organizations, who will constantly try to remind Israelis that the occupation continues after each military operation? Who will fight to talk about the context of the violence? Who will try to take responsibility and create future change?
Minister Shaked calls this bill the "transparency act,” and is trying to seal this as an act of good, transparent governance. Nothing could be further from the truth. All the organizations they’re after are already transparent, and work within the boundaries of the law. Shaked quoted Judge Louis Brandeis in reinforcing her spin on transparency, saying that, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” Were Judge Brandeis aware of the context in which Shaked quoted him, I seriously doubt he would have approved of her use of his writings. This current Israeli administration is obsessed about what people around the world are saying about Israel but are actively trying to hide what is going on in Israel. The only thing this new law will bring is more darkness.
Avner Gvaryahu is an M.A. candidate in the Institute for the Study of Human Rights Columbia University and a member of Breaking the Silence.