Sadly, it’s time for our last day here in Israel and Jerusalem. So far we have had the privilege to meet with a wide range of people, representatives, organisations and companies. Today is no different. After breakfast at the hostel here in Jerusalem we had our first meeting with Breaking the Silence, followed by a guided tour at Yad Vashem and a walk around Mount Herzl.
Who are Breaking the Silence? First of all, it might be useful to get an insight to what the military looks like in Israel before digging in deep with the details of what breaking the silence focuses on. All Israeli citizens who are over the age of 18 have to obliged to join the military service. The compulsory length for women are a minimum of 2 years and for men around 2.5 years. Breaking the Silence was founded 2004. BtS is a non-governmental organisations established by IDF veterans, the collect and publish testimonies about their military services in the West Bank, Gaza strip and East Jerusalem since the second intifada. One of their main goals is to create awareness of what happens in the occupied territories.
This Wednesday morning, we met with a woman named Merphie. During her time in the army she worked with civil administration, as she explained to us, it basically means handling the bureaucracy of the West Bank. Her voice was calm but firm, taking us through different specific cases they had collected. She told us about her own feelings when it came to serve in the West Bank, expectations before her service and what then came to be the situation on ground, different patterns she discovered over time on how to handle events between the settlers and Palestinians. Merphie, together with BtS wants to share the reality and everyday situations from the occupied territories. Some of the cases were extreme, while some of theme explained events occurring on a daily basis. As Israeli soldiers in the West Bank, their duty is to protect the settlers, and to protect them from the Palestinians. Merphie explained how she many times felt that the violence and attacks occurring in the occupied territories was in favour for the settlers. If a Palestinian 12-year-old boy throws a stone, and a 12-year old Israeli settler throws a stone. The legal outcomes in terms of duties, rights and sentences will be different. She continued with explaining how she in many situations felt a need to protect the Palestinians rather than the settlers.
We only had about an hour and a half with Merphie and her colleague Dean. Not even close to enough time for such a sensitive and complex topic. To get a deeper understanding of different cases and how they work, we really recommend you to visit their website: www.breakingthesilence.org.
After saying our goodbye’s, we hurried to by some lunch in order to catch the next tram to Yad Vashem, more commonly known as The Worlds Holocaust Remembrance Centre.
Here, we met with Roeeh. He took us on a 3 hour guided tour at the centre. The centre is built in an extremely beautiful setting by the foot of Mount Herzl just outside of Jerusalem. Its sole purpose is to make people really understand, and never forget, the tragic background of the foundation of the state of Israel. The main project is to collect the names and personal details of every jewish person killed during the holocaust in the “Hall of names”, a room which now contains an breath-taking amount of books but is still only about one quarter full.
Most of us agreed that Yad Vashem fulfils this purpose extremely well, being both informative and emotional in ways that other holocaust museums are generally not. It also surprised me by being quite impartial and not directly pushing the Israeli side in the current conflict as much as I expected considering how many other Israelis use this tragic event to justify the need of their own state. Still sometimes it was just too easy to see the similarities between some of the, even though less serious, things the Jewish people had to endure from the Germans and things that the Palestinian people have to endure from the Israelis today. Of course the argument against this is that it’s hard to compare the holocaust to any other event, historic or current, in terms of suffering. Still it’s perplexing to me that so many descendants from people who suffered greatly can stand behind a state that is now putting another people through some of the same kinds of suffering. Why can’t people apply what they themselves have experienced on others? Why do people have to make such clear divisions between groups of people and why is it always seemingly impossible to understand the “other side”? The saddest part is how this seems to be the case everywhere where humans exists, perhaps proving that this actually is human nature but above all proving that hate births more hate. Just the fact that some people who themselves, sometimes even in their own lifetime, had to flee their homes are now the most unwilling to accept refugees How is that possible? Okay, time for me to stop ranting. I realize that these questions might seem very cliché and I would normally agree but the best part about travelling, and perhaps especially travelling with UF, is the way you once again get in touch with the questions you have long since stopped asking yourself and the way you afterwards return to your normal life and your studies with new energy and curiosity to understand what is going on around you.
By Karin Åström and Alicia Björnsdotter