Interview with Avner Gvaryahu and Avihai Stollar, directors of Breaking the Silence




Following a roundtable discussion at the University of Coimbra on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel regarding the perspectives and activity of the organisation Breaking the Silence, the journal Estudos do Século XX [20th Century Studies], published periodically by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of the University of Coimbra, deemed this interview worthy of inclusion. This first conversation aims therefore to allow the two ex-soldiers and directors of Breaking the Silence to respond to questions posed by four researches from Group 1 – History, Memory, and Public Policy, of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies of the University of Coimbra.

            Unlike sections such as the “Thematic File”, ‘Interdisciplinary Dialogue” and “Critical Reviews”, which are aimed at publishing humanistic, artistic, scientific or technological texts, the “Interviews” section proposes to share civic-minded or memorialistic responses to questions regarding current but relevant issues in broader intellectual and social terms. Such is the intention, whether by bringing more civilian narratives into an academic journal, or simply noting correlations between humanistic, artistic, scientific or technological knowledge and civic intervention.

            This interview was documented, on the one hand, due to the ethical and geostrategic importance of the ongoing situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Israel; and, on the other hand, to highlight the main features and discursive strategy of Breaking the Silence. It is important to remember that this organisation is made up solely of Israeli citizens who have carried out mandatory military service in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; and that their discursive strategy prioritises characterising and contextualising/comparing specific situations in order to explain value judgements and suggestions for how to bring about drastic change.

            We value the existence of such an organisation within Israeli society that, in view of the grave problems in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, explicitly assumes the status of an association of ex-perpetrators. From this standpoint, Breaking the Silence defends: a) that Israeli soldiers describing in their own words what is really happening is one way of contributing to ending the ongoing systematic violation of human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories; b) that victims and ex-perpetrators are entitled to support, should they so wish, in their efforts to overcome the effects of the mass violence that has occurred.

            Avner Gvaryahu and Avihai Stollar’s answers are especially poignant. Whether consciously or not, their respective intellectual rigour and ethical self-expectations seem to correlate somehow with the likes of Benedict de Spinosa and Hannah Arendt. The options set forth are also important owing to both the complexity and lengthy duration of the Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, and from the contradictions experienced in Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and in neighbouring countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Syria. Also considered were the verifiable connections with the overall mindset of the Cold War and the Post-Cold-War period, as well as phenomena such as the Jewish diaspora, anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

            As researchers, we try above all to recreate and analyse, to contextualise and compare how communities handle and manage situations in which human rights are violated systematically, even when those responsible for such processes of mass violence are countries under liberal-democratic or democratic regimes. As citizens, we also recognise how important it is to highlight the individual (or small group) behaviour of those notable for their profound intellectual rigour and heightened self-expectations. As has sometimes happened in the past, we hope that, both now and in the future, the example set by the fairer minority will be followed by the majority; a majority composed of perpetrators and those who are indifferent to such events.


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