Event Featuring Ex-Israeli Soldier Seeks To "Break Silence" at Hillel

Former Israeli soldier Avner M. Gvaryahu alleged the poor treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli Defense Forces and called for an end to the current occupation of West Bank during a speech at Harvard Hillel Tuesday evening.

Gvaryahu, who served for three years in the West Bank, spoke on behalf of Breaking the Silence, an organization that aims to generate public debate on the costs of military occupation by publicizing the testimonies of soldiers. During his hour-long talk, Gvaryahu drew from the accounts of soldiers compiled by Breaking the Silence in a recently published book, entitled “Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies From the Occupied Territories.”

“We want to stop martial law--military presence over millions of people,” said Gvaryahu.

Gvaryahu shared testimonies that described soldiers’ experiences breaking and entering homes in the middle of the night, looting, and engaging in other harmful behavior.

“The first time I met a Palestinian face to face was when I was barging into a house in the middle of the night,” said Gvaryahu.

These military actions were not isolated events, according to Gvaryahu, but rather the experience of most soldiers. Gvaryahu said that these actions were a result of leadership which not only failed to prevent such actions but, at times, promoted them.

“While I served for three years in the West Bank, I slowly realized that there was a huge gap between what my family and friends thought I was asked to do…and what I was asked to do,” said Gvaryahu.

Gvaryahu said that it is this gap in understanding that motivates him and Breaking the Silence to share personal stories in an effort to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Nicole S. Simon, a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Education who helped organize the event, said that it was her trip to Israel in 2008 that led her to become a supporter of Breaking the Silence and its mission.

“I saw people who looked like me and looked like the community I grew up in behaving in a way that was totally antithetical to the values that our community professed,” Simon said.

“If you care about Israel, you can’t let this go on,” said Joshua B. Lipson ’14, a Crimson editorial writer and president of the J Street U, which co-sponsored the event along with the Progressive Jewish Alliance, Friends of Breaking the Silence, and the New Israel Fund.

Rabbi Jonah C. Steinberg, the executive director of Harvard Hillel, emphasized the need for further discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying, “I hope that people come away from this event proud of [an Israel] in which this discourse is possible.”

“It’s never easy to break a silence,” said Gvaryahu. “We need to keep this discussion on the table."

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