Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli army veterans dedicated to public education about the effect of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, is hosting exhibitions this month in Philadelphia and Boston of images photographed by Israeli soldiers during active duty in the West Bank.
While the group takes no political stand on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it solicits testimony from former active-duty soldiers about their military service and the impact it has had on them and Palestinians. The current exhibitions consist of 100 photographs, a video loop of recorded statements from soldiers and written testimony about their experiences. Unlike a typical photo exhibition, there will be two guides available to answer questions from members of the viewing public.
Mikhael Manekin, a co-founder of the Israeli group who served as a lieutenant in the Golani Brigade, says the group wants to “challenge critics to listen and converse” about the occupation. He emphasizes the group’s willingness to talk to anyone no matter what their point of view.
The group is not without critics. Last year, the Union of Progressive Zionists sponsored a speaking tour of the United States for Breaking the Silence members, which caused the Zionist Organization of American to protest UPZ’s inclusion in a national Jewish campus coalition. And last year, Yediot Aharanot reported that Israel’s Los Angeles consul general, Ehud Danoch, wrote a bristling report for the foreign ministry accusing Breaking the Silence and similar veterans’ groups of being “bankrolled by Palestinian groups.” It urged the government to take unspecified action against such groups’ members to stop their “negative effect on Israel’s image” abroad.
Manekin calls those charges “ridiculous,” arguing that “presenting Israel as a perfect Disneyland actually hurts the nation’s image among impressionable youth” on college campuses, who will see through such manipulation. He claims that a more balanced, mature approach would actually resonate better with such an audience.
Among the groups co-sponsoring the exhibition are Americans for Peace Now, Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, Hashomer Hatzair, the Union of Progressive Zionists, the Open Society Institute and the Foundation for Middle East Peace. It has been on view at the Rotunda in Philadelphia and will be next seen at the Harvard University Hillel from March 1 to 16.