Founded in 2004 by IDF veterans, Breaking the Silence aims to expose the supposed wrongdoings of the Israeli military in the West Bank. In her recent Hebrew-language book Who Do You Think You Are?, Yuli Novak, who served as the group’s director until 2017, reflects on the internal turmoil she has experienced in the ensuing years and explains how she came to reject Zionism altogether. Einat Wilf finds the book cliché-ridden and solipsistic, while the author comes across as a “petulant child.” Moreover, writes Wilf, Novak’s argument rests on false premises:
The first is that Jewish citizens of Israel do not know what is involved in exercising military control over Palestinians in the West Bank. . . . If they knew, they would end it. Therefore, there is a need to “break the silence” surrounding the “occupation. This is a tantalizing idea. It appeals to the human desire to uncover dark secrets lurking beneath the surface. . . . It also confers a halo of martyrdom on those willing to break the so-called silence.
If only. The last thing surrounding Israel’s military control of the West Bank since 1967 is silence. From the moment Israel’s military has come to control the West Bank area captured from the kingdom of Jordan, following King Hussein’s ill-fated decision to follow the charismatic Nasser into that disastrous war, there has been nothing but noise about it. Articles, interviews, reports, commentaries, documentaries, photos, video footage, movies, political debates, UN resolutions, international pronouncements, NGOs, movements, posts, tweets, memes. . . . There is no silence to be broken.
Almost all of those who serve or have served in Israel’s military had to contribute to maintaining that military control, from intelligence gathering to incarceration to boots on the ground. Israelis who serve in the military talk. Israeli Jews (and Arabs) are not known for their reticence in the use of words.
Worse, the entire book centers around the author’s feelings about morality. She felt “Breaking the Silence” was the moral thing to do. And then “it didn’t work out anymore,” “it was too difficult,” “it was in my head,” “something was broken inside me and I didn’t know what,” “I couldn’t anymore,” “It was too much responsibility,” “too much fear,” “too much loneliness.” It just didn’t “feel” right.