Inside: Lone Soldiers from Breaking the Silence Israel tour America
In this more-divisive-by-the-day world, do you keep your thoughts to yourself now more than ever? Your words matter.
In Providence, panelists representing Breaking the Silence Israel left us with a challenge:
“We’ve broken our silence. Will you break yours?”
First, I’ve got a confession
I want to be a pilgrim.
Bear with me for a minute. This does have something to do with our topic at hand, sort of.
Working at the living history sites in Plymouth is my retirement plan.
But three weeks ago, I got an email from Breaking the Silence Israel telling about their upcoming speaking engagement in Providence. Since it didn’t seem a coincidence to cross paths with the group again so soon, I had a sneaking suspicion I’d be in attendance and feel the nudge to write about that instead.
After listening to the ex-soldiers, I sat in my prayer chair and wondered with God. That’s what I do before I write a post. Something comes and I can’t seem to write about anything else even if I try.
Our words matter.
While I mentioned my experience in Hebron in other posts, I realized I didn’t answer the questions you posed at the end of A Little Perspective on the Volatile Conflict You Need to Know.
My tour with Breaking the Silence
Frima Bubis a.k.a. Merphie a petite Israeli with a cool haircut and striking hazel eyes glanced out from the entrance of the Jerusalem Hotel. Sitting across the street, I mistook her for another joining the tour and tried to direct her to the bus as the driver had asked me to do. She told me she was the guide.
I left it to her and jumped on that bus with a group of American Quakers who’d been working in Ramallah. En route to Hebron, their leader gave a running commentary, helping us decipher the difference between Israeli settlements and Palestinian communities.
“The Palestinian villages,” he said, “have water tanks on their flat roofs because their water is only turned on two days a week.”
I remembered that from when I lived in Jericho. Settlements have water all the time.
“When you see red tile,” he said, “it’s usually a settlement but not always.”
But not always . . . definitely a thing in Israel.
Merphie answered our questions beginning with those about this sign. Yes, they’d experienced resistance, not only from settlers but also from the government.
Hebron is unique because it has a settlement inside the city. Less than 1000 settlers who are protected by almost as many soldiers and surrounded by a quarter of a million Palestinians. The people groups live closely and they clash.
It wasn’t long before we had our own experience with a settler who rolled down her window and yelled, “If they [the Palestinians] could act like normal people, they could have their own street!”
Seriously, my thought was, you mean like you’re acting?
“If you just ignore them,” Merphie said as herded us to the side of the road, “they’ll go away.”
Inside a Palestinian home, we climbed the stairs to the roof where the owner served us coffee and tea while his grandchildren worked hard to steal our attention.
Merphie explained that settlers believe they’re the chosen people and God is leading them to remove everybody else from the land. I thought of how the Israelites came to the Holy Land in biblical times. They were told to fight for the land, not to intermingle.
“That’s the way the settlers see it,” Merphie said. “They don’t need a document because they have a word from God.”
Huh, I believe the Old Testament. Do I believe this?
Since your words matter, I ambushed Merphie with your questions en route to the next stop.
- How long do Israelis serve in the army? Women serve two years and men three. About 50% opt-out for one reason or another. Arab Israelis don’t.
- What advice would you give a new recruit that was about to man the checkpoint? She doesn’t give advice, only shares stories. She lets others take what she says and do with her words as they wish. At the panel in Rhode Island, another rep said he’d tell a new recruit, “Inform yourself. Make an educated decision. Many come with a belief that they can join the army and be the moral soldier. It’s not about being a moral soldier, it’s about the checkpoint. You won’t have the ability to change the system.”
- Do soldiers have the opportunity to develop relationships with Palestinians? Many Israelis do not have relationships with Palestinians. With the wall, there aren’t opportunities in the West Bank except at the checkpoints, and those aren’t friendships.
A friend had said to me, “This program can bring healing to soldiers. All of them should get to speak out!”
I agree. Their words matter so I asked:
- Is PTSD lower in Israel? Merphie smiled, said she didn’t have PTSD, but someone who did would need more help. At the same time, she affirmed that being able to speak is a good thing.
In the questions and comments of my previous post, Gordon commented:
“You are so right about how expanding our circle of relationship changes our perspective . . . and also complicates our current world view. It exposes the shallowness of ‘pat’ answers and often puts us in conflict with people near and dear to us. But Truth is seldom comfortable. It also emphasizes the importance of aligning with heaven’s perspective and joining God to see ourselves and others through His lenses.”Then he asked:
- “What is one thing the ex-soldiers would like the outside world to understand? Do they have hope? How would they enlist our help?” Merphie has hope. That’s why she does these tours. She suggests that we use our influence on our government, ask our politicians to stop funding the occupation, and in that way, be part of a solution, end an occupation that’s not good for anyone.
I thought again how we’re all puzzle pieces. We each have perspective and story. And when we connect and do what we feel nudged to do, the picture gets bigger.
So when I ask this question, I’m not just focusing on this topic.
Since your words matter, where would you like to speak out?
Breaking the Silence (BTS) Israel
. . . started in 2004 after the Second Intifada. Now BTS has 1200 testifiers speaking out because they feel their government and their parents don’t look the Palestinians in the face as they do. Others need to know what’s going on and take responsibility.
Soldiers are commanded to serve in the military and don’t have much choice, but some refuse to work in the West Bank.
Merphie said she didn’t mind doing “other military work” like soldiers in other countries do, but she didn’t like doing this.
As we stood on a solitary road in Hebron, she showed us this picture:
It was the same road back in 1994 when it bustled with business. Now the buildings are sealed. Few people live there.
Up the road, a man from a Palestinian organization called Youth Against Settlements explained to us that before the settlers came, there were Israelis and Palestinians living side by side peacefully.
Just then, an older Palestinian man stopped and invited us in for coffee.
After the tour
I considered two others to compare experiences. Both put on by the Abraham Hostel, Duel Hebron traveled on local transport and offered the opportunity to meet with a settler. The Nablus and Jenin tour is given by a Palestinian Christian.
“Should I go?” I prayed.
I didn’t tell anyone I was talking to God about this but two friends sent me the exact amount of money that covered the cost of the tours. So I went.
Related Post: A Glimpse Behind-the-Scenes of the West Bank
At the Breaking the Silence event in Providence
Another of your questions got answered:
- Is there one moment a soldier experiences that pierces his or her heart and mind? The lone soldier, second to the left in the picture below, who always knew he’d make Aliyah and immigrate to Israel, told of his experience of guarding a blind-folded Palestinian. Taking his job seriously, he escorted the man safely to the delivery point. Then the other soldiers beat him. The memory haunts him.
I loved hearing these Israelis’ desire for equal rights between the [Jordan] River and the sea and how they hoped for more Israeli/Palestinian interaction with projects that start dialogues.
In a 12-minute documentary about Breaking the Silence, one woman said:
“I don’t necessarily agree with Breaking the Silence, but I want to hear what they have to say and I want to understand where they’re coming from and what they’re arguing about.”
Again, we all have our beliefs and our biases . . . your words matter!
I’m not Jewish. I’m a Christian and I think of myself as pro-Israel, but that term is like “open and affirming.” It means more than it says, probably even different things to different people.
There it is again, the “but not always.“
These days, everyone’s so black and white, like with certain terms. They assume if you say one thing, you mean more than that . . . and it’s not always the case.
As I write, I feel pressure to be clear, but there’s not enough room in one post to cover everything.
This stuff is super hard to unravel, especially if you’ve never been to Israel. There are lots of people who’ve never been but have strong feelings about the place without really understanding.
The settlers are right-wing religious Jews and the soldiers are liberal, but maybe not always.
I thought I felt one way until my return this summer. Since then, I’ve been struggling to explain it all to myself, realizing there’s a lot I don’t understand.
So I find myself smack dab in the middle. Yes, I believe the Old Testament, but that was pre-Christ. Not that God doesn’t love Jews anymore, but as a Christian, I bet He loves Palestinians who now profess Christ.
God tells us to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. I love that, but how does that look to God?
I believe Israel has a right to exist, but not at the expense of the Palestinians, so I’m grateful to hear the Breaking the Silence reps acknowledge:
- We’re controlling a population we have no right to control.
- In each of our testimonies, there’s a Palestinian involved. We’re missing their side of the story. (Oooh, can I document them. Please?)
- Israel’s freedom is not dependent on the lack of Palestine’s freedom.
Giving voice to the voiceless makes me jump up and down
Maybe I identify with the silent people because I haven’t always used my voice.
Don’t forget your words matter.
But something is scary about speaking out in this world. As I said, I’d rather ostrich, talk to you about Thanksgiving, but maybe those of us who struggle to share and don’t want conflict, but feel a nudge, have something to say that needs to be heard?
A few years ago, I visited a friend. A woman came by canvassing for an upcoming election.
My friend is the definition of grace. I’m not; maybe that’s why I haven’t always spoken out.
As the stranger raved about her candidate, my friend stopped her and ever-so-kindly said, “Oh honey, I could never vote for someone who does that.”
As a writer, I’ve been trained to include details, like what it was my friend couldn’t vote for, but I’ve forgotten that because her expression of kindness is what impressed me.
You should have seen the look on the stranger’s face. It was obvious she hadn’t been as well-received by others who disagreed with her.
Have we forgotten how to be kind to those who believe differently than we do?
The morning after the panel
A friend’s husband texted me another viewpoint. His friend, who served in Israel, encouraged me not to believe everything Breaking the Silence says. He said they amplify incidents and make it sound as if they’re the norm.
He admitted that every now and then a soldier breaks the rule, but said those are isolated incidents rather than policy. Those soldiers are sentenced to jail.
Because of that text and the additional conflict I sensed from it, I was tempted to write about Thanksgiving again. And yes, his words matter, too.
But I need to write the way I feel led or I don’t think I should write at all.
We all have something to say
Let’s not be afraid to say it. Our words matter.
So, let’s listen to the viewpoints that differ from our own, respect the people who pass through our lives, and ask God what to do. He’ll show us. We’ll have peace to follow a nudge and the lack of it if we don’t.
That’s the silence I’m asking you to break and offering you space to practice. Your words matter!
Speaking out can be scary, and that’s another reason I appreciate these soldiers sharing their experiences.
Honestly, I hate politics. It’s the last topic I’d choose to talk about. So even as I speak out and enCOURAGE you to do the same, I ask for grace.
We’re all coming from our own experiences, beliefs, and understandings, from where we are at one particular moment.
And when it comes to loving people who believe differently than we do–I think we need more grace to disagree respectfully.
So this is me breaking my silence.
What does breaking your silence look like? Your words matter!
Related Post: What Can You Do to Make a Big Difference?