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US rabbinic group, Breaking the Silence team up for West Bank tours

Partnership aims to ’empower more American Jews to meet both Palestinians and IDF veterans who have served in the territories’

Rabbinical students visit Hebron 2014 in a trip organized by T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (Facebook)
Rabbinical students visit Hebron 2014 in a trip organized by T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights (Facebook)

A North American human rights rabbinic group has teamed up with the Breaking the Silence NGO to arrange West Bank tours that will be guided by former Israeli soldiers and include meetings with Palestinians.

In a joint partnership, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and Breaking the Silence will organize day trips to the West Bank for synagogues and other Jewish groups touring in Israel.

The aim is to “empower more American Jews to meet both Palestinians and IDF veterans who have served in the territories, to listen deeply to their narratives, and to bring these perspectives into working toward a better future for Israelis and Palestinians,” according to a news release Wednesday.

“Former combat soldiers from Breaking the Silence will share their perspective of how the occupation affects Israelis. T’ruah will facilitate the group’s reflection during and after the program,” according to T’ruah.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah, said “of the thousands of American Jews who travel to Israel each year, only a tiny number visit Palestinian areas of the West Bank or hear from Palestinians.”

T’ruah, a group of 1,800 rabbis and their communities, is a multi-denominational program that aims to instill in a new generation of Jewish clergy the values of human rights and social justice.

T’ruah and Breaking the Silence have worked together in the past, taking groups to Hebron and the surrounding areas. “Over the past few years, T’ruah has helped Breaking the Silence allow North American Jews to see with their own eyes the reality of military rule in the West Bank as experienced by Israeli soldiers,” said Breaking the Silence’s executive director, Yuli Novak.

Breaking the Silence provides a platform for military veterans to describe what they say were disturbing aspects of their service and alleged abuses of Palestinians. Founded in 2004 by army veterans, Breaking the Silence has come under heavy criticism from the government and other groups for its anonymous testimony and efforts to exert international pressure on Israel.

The government has attempted to force Breaking the Silence to reveal the names of its informants, arguing that anonymous testimony makes it impossible to investigate alleged abuses.

Last December, former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon banned Breaking the Silence from all events involving soldiers, saying “it became clear that this is an organization operating with malicious motives” that is primarily concerned with vilifying the IDF abroad. A week later, Education Minister Naftali Bennett banned its members from speaking to high school students.

In June, the president of Ben-Gurion University canceled a decision to award a prize to Breaking the Silence, arguing the group is too far beyond the national consensus.

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