Monday, August 12, 2013

A Crossing and a very interesting Conversation..

It might seem inconsequential to write about a crossing such as this, a large part of our time spent waiting for the ferry to arrive, walking up and down the not so busy street and slipping into a cafe to have some apple tea. The ferry is late.  We keep a watchful eye .
Most of our co-passengers have settled down into chairs. It is a cold grey day. The winds are relentless, the sea an indifferent blue.

As the warmth of the tea tickles and teases my throat we talk. All the others on the bus are from Australia, save the two of us. We talk about Gallipoli, the place we have left behind.
Our friends tell us it's the single most important event in Australian history.
Coming from a country like India where history is older than itself, where we learn about kings and queens, ancient civilizations, warriors and writers, administrators,  Colonialism, The war of ideas, the triumph of what is good and decent through Gandhi and his non violent struggle against British rule, we listen amazed at the singularity of   this particular event.
The conversation drifts to the education system. My friend tells me about the focus Australian focus on sport and we in turn tell her about the Indian obsession with learning and degrees.

Finally we spy the ferry approaching. We pay up and walk down to the bus. We  get into the bus and we are driven into the ferry. Our driver sits flipping over a newspaper and we wait. 

I have always found the act of crossing a river fascinating. As we leave one bank, our large boat whips the waters frothy white. People, and buildings shift and emerge as we bob up and down and the horizon spits and crackles. White clouds watch from up above, unconcerned with the events unfolding beneath their roofs.  Seagulls hover, settle on the deck and take off on a whim. We talk...
And this is about one such conversation.

We talk some more. Some friends of ours on the back have just been to Israel. Their daughter works there and they tell us about what they have seen.
They hand us a little book and it is here that we hear of for the first time.

Quoting from the site itself,
"Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life.

Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still explained as extreme and unique cases. Our testimonies portray a different, and much grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of  Israel's security. While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that what is done in its name. Discharged soldiers returning to civilian life discover the gap between the reality they encountered in the Territories, and the silence about this reality they encounter at home. In order to become civilians again, soldiers are forced to ignore what they have seen and done. We strive to make heard the voices of these soldiers, pushing Israeli society to face the reality whose creation it has enabled.
We collect and publish testimonies from soldiers who, like us, have served in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem since September 2000, and hold lectures, house meetings, and other public events which bring to light the reality in the Territories through the voice of former combatants. We also conduct tours in Hebron and the South Hebron Hills region, with the aim of giving the Israeli public access to the reality which exists minutes from their own homes, yet is rarely portrayed in the media.
Founded in March 2004 by a group of soldiers who served in Hebron, Breaking the Silence has since acquired a special standing in the eyes of the Israeli public and in the media, as it is unique in giving voice to the experience of soldiers. To date, the organization has collected more than 700 testimonies from soldiers who represent all strata of Israeli society and cover nearly all units that operate in the Territories. All the testimonies we publish are meticulously researched, and all facts are cross-checked with additional eye-witnesses and/or the archives of other human rights organizations also active in the field. Every soldier who gives a testimony to Breaking the Silence knows the aims of the organization and the interview. Most soldiers choose to remain anonymous, due to various pressures from official military persons and society at large. Our first priority is to the soldiers who choose to testify to the public about their service. "
The book they give us, has fascinating accounts of Israeli soldiers who have been on duty and what they did or saw others do as part of serving in Palestine. The book is disturbing and leaves us deep in thought.  But the honesty and insight each one of these accounts has brings with them a glimmer of world in an otherwise bleak world that bandies around mundane words like world peace.
There are lessons in it for every country, countries such as mine (India) where strife is a part of life whether its in Kashmir, or the North East or the Maoist uprising caused due to the displacement of people in the relentless quest to corporotize (if there is such a word) every natural resource available. It seems that as long as we have well developed roads and figures to back development, the state machinery can absolve itself of murder!

We get across to the other shore and our bus is driven out of the ferry. In that one crossing, we really did feel like we crossed an ocean of thought. I really do hope everyone reading this piece takes some time to have a look at the site Breaking The Silence and think about what they have to say. It would definitely help Break the Silence!


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