Brandeis’s chapter of J Street U hosted Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli Defense Forces veterans sharing their stories about serving in the West Bank, in a lecture on Monday. Merphie Bubis, an IDF veteran who served in the West Bank from January 2013 to March 2015, was the headlining speaker of the event.

Breaking the Silence formed after the Second Intifada in an effort to raise awareness about violence going on in the West Bank, especially abuse against Palestinians. The Second Intifada arose in 2000 from the breakdown of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. By the time the Second Intifada ended in 2005, 3,200 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis had been killed, according to a May 12, 2018, Vox article

According to Bubis, Breaking the Silence strives to share testimonies of Israeli veterans, “even if they’re ugly, even if they’re things we don’t want to face ourselves.” Bubis pointed out, “As Israelis, I think we have a moral duty to speak out against these things that we took part in, and to show that there are Israelis who do believe that we can do without the occupation, and we must.”

Bubis served in the Israeli civil administration in the West Bank. The civil administration, or, as Bubis put it, “the government that the Palestinians did not choose,” is the bureaucracy that deals with security, infrastructure, water, electricity, movement permits for Palestinians and other aspects of everyday life in the West Bank. 

According to Bubis, many soldiers enter the Israeli Defence Force expecting to defend Israeli settlers. “Oftentimes soldiers find themselves in situations where the contrary is happening, where they’re actually trying to defend Palestinians from violence coming from Israeli civilians,” she said.

Bubis described her repeated experience involving “price tag attacks,” or terrorist attacks that Israeli settlers commit against Palestinians and IDF soldiers. According to the “Historical Dictionary of the Arab-Israeli Conflict” by P. R. Kumaraswamy, “these attacks are ‘the price’ extracted from the Palestinians and the IDF for working against the development of settlements.” 

Bubis said that the fact that the violence was carried out by Israelis made “price tag attacks” difficult to handle. According to Bubis, IDF soldiers are instructed only to enforce the law when Palestinians are breaking it, so when settlers are the perpetrators, there is little that soldiers can do. 

A testimony on Breaking the Silence’s website from a sergeant stationed in the West Bank in 2014 said, “The instructions we receive are that we’re not supposed to deal with settlers. The police are supposed to, the blue uniforms. [The instruction is that] if there’s friction with settlers, you immediately call the police or the border police sometimes, but we’re not supposed to deal with them. It’s not supposed to happen at all.”

Bubis detailed one instance of a “price tag attack,” when after several minutes of waiting for law enforcement, IDF soldiers called in to report that the Israeli perpetrators of the attack had apologized and the soldiers had sent them home with no further consequences. According to Bubis, had the attackers been Palestinian and not Israeli, they “could easily find themselves … [in] the military court system, and [could] also potentially sit for a few months in military prison.”

This was just one of several stories Bubis told about Israeli settlers getting away with violence against Palestinians under the watch of the IDF. “There’s no actual law enforcement [in the West Bank]. There’s no concrete response from the authorities … What [IDF soldiers in the West Bank] know as a fact is that they’re supposed to enforce military law on Palestinians, and not anything else.”

Bubis also discussed the means by which the civil administration controlled “every aspect of Palestinians’ daily lives” through bureaucratic permits. She explained, “It’s not that we’re allowing Palestinians to get healthcare. It’s that by default, we don’t allow them to, and only if you submit a request and … go through months of bureaucracy, and if you’re not on any blacklists, which many Palestinians are, then you can get that permit, you can get that basic human or civil right.”

Bubis described how she felt when observing how valuable a travel permit was to Palestinians, contrasting with her own ability to move freely around Israel. “This piece of paper for them means so much,” she said of the permits. “Something that you and I could maybe even just forget on a table … but for Palestinians this is gold.”

At the end of her talk, Bubis called for policy changes and an end to the occupation. “The occupation is first of all destroying us as a community and as a people, but of course, and perhaps the more important thing, it’s daily oppression over millions of other people who did not choose to be in this situation,” she said.

Sivan Ben-Hayun ’19, a Northeast regional co-chair for J Street U, concluded the event with a prepared statement. “As students living in the United States, we have to change the way we talk about Israel and Palestine in order to use our power and our privilege to work towards an end to the occupation,” Ben-Hayun said.