Breaking the Silence (Shovrim Shtika)

Profile

Country/TerritoryIsrael
Websitewww.shovrimshtika.org
Registration“Company for the benefit of the public” in Israel, founded in 2004.

Funding

Activities

  • Breaking the Silence (BtS) “collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifada,” claiming that the “testimonies portray a…grim picture of questionable orders in many areas regarding Palestinian civilians [which] demonstrate the depth of corruption which is spreading in the Israeli military…Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that which happens in its name.
  • Active in promoting “war crimes” charges against Israel. These charges were based on anonymous and unverifiable hearsay “testimonies.”
  • Although claiming to address Israeli society, the NGO’s lobbying and media advocacy focus on international audiences, including presentations in Europe and the United States. Yehuda Shaul, BtS co-founder, defended this practice: “Sometimes, when you want to deliver messages to the inside, you must go outside.”
  • In 2018-2020, Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, and Physicians for Human Rights – Israel (PHR-I) were implementing partners on an EU grant regarding Israel’s “forcible home entries.” (See more on the grant above.)
    • According to the funding appeal, “…the military justice system grants nearly complete impunity for Israeli security forces personnel and their conduct” regarding “Forcible Home Entries (FHEs)” (emphasis added). The project intended to address these supposed deficiencies by “Appealing decisions to close investigations on a case-by-case basis” and “Filing petitions to High Court of Justice on specific cases and principled matters” (emphases added).
    • As part of the project, in November 2020, the three NGOs published a joint report titled “A Life Exposed: Military invasions of Palestinian homes in the West Bank.” The report, which discusses the “practice of raiding Palestinian homes in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem),” falsely claims that “The existence of two legal systems that apply to two separate national groups, as illustrated in this report in the context of the rules governing entry into the private domain, supports the claim that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid in the West Bank” (emphasis added).
  • In July 2019, Breaking the Silence was a signatory on a letter to the President of the German Bundestag calling to revoke a joint resolution defining BDS campaigns against Israel as antisemitic.
  • On May 27, 2018, Breaking the Silence hosted Human Rights Watch Israel and Palestine Country Director Omar Shakir at an event featuring “testimonies” from soldiers who served in Gaza.
    • Shakir is a consistent supporter of a one-state framework and advocate for BDS campaigns against Israel. In May 2018, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior decided not to renew his work permit because of his involvement in anti-Israeli campaigns. HRW and Shakir are appealing the Ministry’s decision.
  • In 2017, Breaking the Silence published the book Kingdom of Olives and Ash, “to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, this anthology explores the human cost of the conflict as witnessed by…notable writers…in collaboration with Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence.” The book is part of Breaking the Silence’s campaign to create international pressure on Israel.
  • Between September 2012 – June 2016, BtS held more then 80 lectures, exhibitions and events across Europe, America, South Africa and Australia (See map below).
  • In June 2016, Ben-Gurion University canceled a NIS 20,000 award to Breaking the Silence because it is “not in the national consensus.” In response, the New Israel Fund published a Facebook post announcing that it will donate NIS 20,000 to BtS and accused Ben-Gurion University of canceling the prize because it is concerned “that it might be the target of the next campaign”.
  • In June 14, 2016, Israeli new site NRG published a video documenting BtS co-founder, Yehuda Shaul, telling tourists in Israel that “Yeah, One of the villages, this village actually, its new that they came back, because few years ago the settlers basically poisoned all the water cisterns of the village…” This allegation is completely unsubstantiated, and was never proven. It appears to be based on a single compliant from 2004 which investigated by the Israeli police and was closed due to lack of evidence. (See below: Anti-Israeli campaigns using Breaking the Silence).
  • BtS refuses to comply with the Israeli government request to provide the information on an incident documented in a former soldier’s testimony which reflects an alleged crime. This resulted in a court hearing in May 23 where the state sought an order that the NGO provide all the information it has on the case. BtS argued that that they should be allowed to “protect their sources” similarly to journalists, despite their lack of engagement in journalistic activities.
  • On January 11, 2016, Israel’s leading nightly news program on Channel 2 aired footageof Ezra Nawi, a radical activist from the NGO “Ta’ayush,” visiting the offices of Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence (BtS). There, a BtS employee provided Nawi with NIS 1,400 in cash. It is unclear what services were rendered to warrant such a payment, but Channel 2 showed footage of Nawi writing checks for Palestinians, ostensibly for taking part in protests that he, himself, planned.
  • In summer 2015, during a training session in BtS office, Nadav Weiman, the activists’ coordinator, explained that “most of the Palestinians are not terrorists, but fighters for their freedom, sometimes with means I don’t agree with. The word terrorists – I find it hard. Although whoever murders a baby in its bed is a terrorist… If you try to kill soldiers you are not a terrorist. This is also according to international law”. He continued: “If there is a country that occupies your country, in the area you live in, you are allowed to use violent means against the occupier- only against soldiers and policemen or border police. Not against civilians…” Weiman added that “Refusal [to serve in the army] is legitimate, but we don’t encourage it…”
  • In a video published by Ad Kan, Weiman explains the NGO’s role in providing data to international political actors: “You don’t understand who we are outside of Israel…the diplomatic community… ok, Yehuda [Shaul], you won’t fund anyone who doesn’t know Yehuda… ambassadors and parliament members… outside of Israel we are the voice that is considered very reliable and critical that lets say if they want information they approach us… Yehuda takes ambassadors, consuls, and parliament members every week. Just now he was with American Congress members who arrived in Israel… no one knows they are here. But they came and Yehuda took them on a tour.”
  • In May 2015, NGO Monitor revealed that following the 2009 Gaza conflict, several BtS donors conditioned the transfer of money to the group on its ability to gather a minimum number of incriminating “testimonies” against the Israeli army.
  • In 2010 BtS published a highly tendentious book titled Occupation of the Territories – Israeli Soldier testimonies 2000-2010, which claimed to provide a counter to the “official Israeli position” on IDF actions in the territories. NGO Monitor analysis has revealed that this book was rife with methodological problems and appeared to tailor the testimonies to predetermined “analyses” that falsely claimed that Israeli actions are not aimed at self-defense but at “terrorizing the civilian population.”
  • This book was later re-published under the title Our Harsh Logic and translated into Swedish, German, and Dutch. The launching of the book in the various languages served as a platform for further demonization and delegitmization of Israel, including accusations of “racism” and alleged “political assassinations” of Palestinians, claims that Gaza is still “occupied,” and implying that Israel is ethnically cleansing “area C.”
  • Analysis by Amos Harel in Ha’aretz: “Breaking the Silence…has a clear political agenda, and can no longer be classed as a ‘human rights organization.’ Any organization whose website includes the claim by members to expose the ‘corruption which permeates the military system’ is not a neutral observer. The organization has a clear agenda: to expose the consequences of IDF troops serving in the West Bank and Gaza. This seems more of interest to its members than seeking justice for specific injustices.” (July 17, 2009)
  • BtS members and anti-Israel activists Yonatan and Itamar Shapira were on the “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” boat “Irene,” which sought to violate Israel’s security-based policies regarding naval traffic into Gaza (September 2010).
  • During a BtS event at a museum in Sweden (March 2011), Itamar Shapira stated that “We [Israelis] are creating the terror against us.”
  • Conducts tours to Hebron and the South Hebron Hills to “witness first hand the dire situation.” Criticized by Israeli police officials for “antagoniz[ing]…settlers in the hope that the settlers will attack them.”

Legal Troubles

  • In January 2021, two IDF soldiers filed a lawsuit against Breaking the Silence and a former member of their tank crew for defamation and “spreading lies and fabrications.” According to the lawsuit, the defendant provided Breaking the Silence with “false testimony, fabricated or edited the events in a way that their actions, which were done in accordance with guidelines and operational needs, were completely taken out of context and depicted as cruel war criminals.”
  • In March 2020, Ad Kan, on behalf of a group of senior IDF commanders, filed a petition with the High Court of Justice demanding the Attorney General open an investigation into Breaking the Silence for allegedly “collecting sensitive military intelligence that, if made public, could put national security at risk.” In October 2020, the High Court of Justice dismissed the case.

ICC Activities

  • On its website, Breaking the Silence distorts the principle of “complementarity,” a legal principle that states that the ICC is only authorized to investigate when a country’s judicial system has proven unwilling or incapable of prosecuting cases that fall within the ICC’s jurisdiction. Breaking the Silence attempts to discredit Israeli courts and investigations, stating that the “investigation of low-ranking soldiers allows Israel to present a semblance of objective investigation mechanisms before international investigative bodies. With regard to international law, this could prove to be an obstacle in launching external investigations of Israeli actions. Low-ranking soldiers are thus being used as ‘human shields’ by policymakers facing international demands for external investigations.” (emphasis added)
  • In February 2021, Breaking the Silence Executive Director Avner Gevaryahu published an article titled “The best way to avoid an ICC probe: Don’t commit war crimes.” In the article, Gevaryahu alleged that “Military operation after military operation, Israel has ignored the black flag — a warning sign of immoral orders which ought to be defied — that flies over the rules of engagement dictated by its government cabinet and the IDF’s top brass.”
  • On May 13, 2015, the Israeli news site Ynet reported that ICC Prosecutor Bensouda expressed a desire to utilize Breaking the Silence publications: “Bensouda said her office was trying to get a copy of the [Breaking the Silence] report ‘to see how it can assist us in the preliminary examination phase’” in her review of the 2014 Gaza war.

Anti-Israeli campaigns using Breaking the Silence

  • In June 19, 2016, the Turkish news website “Anadolu”, repeated the allegations citing “Israeli anti-occupation organization ‘Breaking the Silence’” and added a blood-libel claiming that a “rabbi call[s] to poison West Bank water”. PA president Mahmoud Abbas repeated these allegations in a speech to the European Union Parliament (June 23, 2016), but retracted them number of days afterwards. BtS did not retract its allegation regarding a poisoned water cistern, but claimed that the incident was the result of mistranslation. (This issue was highlighted in a column by Ben-Dror Yemini)
  • The report of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on the 2014 Gaza War, headed first by William Schabas and then by Mary McGowan Davis after the former’s resignation over his undisclosed paid work for the PLO, quotes extensively from anonymous testimonies of Breaking the Silence. After the report was published, Hamas terror organization published a press release where it claims that “the report ignores the explicit confessions on war crimes the Israeli soldiers and officers made during and after the aggression, in which they stated they had received direct instructions to target civilians. Many soldiers affiliated to the Israeli organization of ‘Breaking the Silence’ confirmed such Israeli orders.”
  • During an explicit anti-Israel demonstration in Dublin in June 2014, Mr. Richard Boyd Barrett a member of the Irish Parliament said: “[The state of Israel] was born in blood it was born in racism… it was born in apartheid…. there is no two sides. There is Israeli, terrorist, apartheid regime ruthlessly cruelly, murderously killing innocent civilians…we had former Israeli soldiers for Breaking the Silence, came in to us on the door last week, everybody should read their book so we understand that everything Israel does is absolutely, deliberately murderous, these were the people who’ve did it and they’ve documented how they were ordered to kill, to intimidate innocent people and they were told specifically by their commanders to attack innocent people…”.

Examples of International Activity

  • In November 2019, Breaking the Silence launched a US speaking tour. As part of the tour, a group of former Israeli lone soldiers wrote a letter demanding “our communities to take responsibility for their seemingly unconditional support for Israel despite 52 years of occupation.”
  • In February 2019, Breaking the Silence held a photo exhibition at the European Parliament alleging “violence and discrimination, which IDF soldiers have had to carry out in Hebron and other parts of the ‘occupied territories in the West Bank.’”
  • Scotland – In October 2015, a BtS representative gave a number of lectures in Scotland, among them to the friends of Palestine in the SNP party and to the NGO “Medical Aid for Palestinians”. The first supports the “right of return” and BDS, and the second was involved in antisemitic campaigns.
  • The cultural center in Zurich hosted an event, June 4 –14, 2015, featuring the BtS photo exhibition, as well as demonizing “testimonies.” The event was sponsored by the Swiss Foreign Ministry, the Municipality of Zurich, and several church groups that are active in delegitimization campaigns against Israel.
  • The European Union parliament – In May 2015, BtS former CEO, Dana Golan (it remains unclear as to what exact position she currently holds in the NGO) lectured to the left parties’ coalition (GEU/NGL) in the EU. This coalition supports a full boycott of the state of Israel and has also met Omar Barghuti, a leader of BDS campaigns.
  • Held an October 21, 2013 presentation at the virulently anti-Israel and antisemitic UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People, at which the Palestinian deputy representative to the UN asked BtS “to do more speaking engagements, particularly in the United States.” The presentation first aired in the official Iranian TV channel under the title “Israeli War Crimes”.
  • South Africa – In 2013, BtS representative participated in an event with the NGO “Open Shuada Street“, a well-known BDS supporter. In 2016, Open Shuhada Street stressed that it is still supports the BDS campaign, exactly as in the past.

Amounts based on NGO annual reports (amounts in NIS)

2018-2019  amounts based on NGO annual financial reports; 2020-2021 amounts based on quarterly financial reports submitted to the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits.

Donor2021202020192018
European Union581,791452,980647,187
Trocaire (Ireland)118,350119,087108,669
DanChurch Aid(Denmark)79,336236,921276,789269,622
Broederlijk Delen(Belgium)65,264140,752160,927164,762
Switzerland 842,268402,538292,418
Denmark1,670,994920,226731,380
Netherlands796,768
CCFD (France)37,80042,771
NGO Development Center (NDC)1,601,0261,289,812
Medico International (Germany)56,53558,25662,520
Misereor (Germany)194,955390,500389,415445,885
AECID (Spain)56,26598,987135,745
SIVMO (Netherlands)34,65557,735
CAFOD (United Kingdom)90,33889,71094,40292,587
Zivik (Germany)215,206
Sigrid Rausing Trust418,095417,986
Rockefeller Brothers Fund213,204213,960
Open Society Institute705,030
Foundation for Middle East Peace (FMEP)35,28934,702
UNDP232,294716,783516,480
Oxfam79,344

Map of International Activities

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Further Reading