the latest headlines: at least 17 people have been shot dead at a high school in florida. a 19—year—old former student — who'd been expelled and was not supposed to be allowed back on site — has been arrested. president trump tweeted that no one should ever feel unsafe in an american school. south africa's governing anc has welcomed president jacob zuma's announcement that he's resigning. he said he was stepping down to prevent any violence being perpetrated in his name. he's faced allegations of corruption. the anc‘s new leader, cyril ramaphosa, is likely to be voted in as his successor. morgan tsvangarai, zimbabwe's main opposition leader, has died. the 65 year—old former prime minister had been suffering from cancer. mr tsvangirai and the party he founded, the movement for democratic change, repeatedly challenged robert mugabe during the ex—president‘s long grip on power. now on bbc news, here's hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk, i'm stephen sackur.
the israeli defence force sees itself as an institution which binds the nation together. most young israelis serve in its ranks after leaving school. it claims to combine defence of the state with a sense of moral purpose. my guest today served in the idf but he sees an institution in denial, corroded and corrupted by the military occupation of palestinian communities over a 50 year span. avner gvaryahu and like—minded soldiers turned dissidents say they are breaking the silence. are they patriots or traitors? avner gvaryahu, welcome to hardtalk.
thank you. i think it's fair to say, the idf is probably the most sacrosanct institution in all of israel. was it hard for you to cross a line, to break the taboo and speak out against what the idf is doing? breaking the silence, i think, in any context isn't easy. definitely in the israeli society, it's not a natural thing in that sense, to break that kind of silence. but i think that myself, like over 1000 soldiers, are a part of breaking the silence, former soldiers. it was much more difficult for me to keep my silence than to break it, and it's true that there are prices. but the truth of the matter is, i care too much for my country and my society to keep silent. and although there are push backs, we will persevere.
you broke the silence after you'd put your uniform away and left the idf. were you silent while you were a serving soldier? well, i didn't feel that i was silent. i remember occasions where i brought up what i was doing in the nights in nablus and jenin when i was back home. i thought i wasn't silent when i asked my soldiers what they thought about these operations. but it actually took me a while after my service where i actually thought that i could put my military service behind me, to realise that i, myself, was also silent. that i, myself, was also not really frank when i was looking myself in the mirror. so you were, to use that phrase, a good soldier, you followed orders and you did things, which... and i'm now asking, rather than stating. i'm guessing you did things
which your moral conscience told you you should not be doing, but you did them anyway and did not speak out against them. that's true. i mean, i was the sergeant of a snipers team, and one of the team missions we carried out in nablus, injenin or in the surrounding areas of those two cities was a mission that we call the straw widow. straw widow is when you take over a palestinian home, every house in the west bank actually has a number. each and every house has a number, so we would open up the maps and look at the specific house that looked into the right place that we had to enter, a city centre or a road. and after, we would verify that the house has the best parameters, windows and geographical area, we made sure the people in the house were innocent. so we would enter the house of an innocent palestinian home in the middle of the night. the first mission that i carried out, the adrenaline was pumping. the second, the third, the fourth, when it started to calm down,
i realised i was sitting in someone‘s living room, bedroom, children's room, that was when it started to break. and you are dealing with people in fear? constant fear. but i had to say the fear is two sided. i was also full of fear. but i would say that what motivated me eventually to break my silence was the piercing eyes of young palestinians, when i was barging into their house in the middle of the night, i could always justify it to myself. but those eyes, the anger, their fear was what eventually helped me overcome that. a house of a physician in nablus, for example, that i entered in the middle of the night, taking him, his wife and his daughter, and pushing them in a room. if they wanted to use their bathroom or their kitchen, or use their phone, they needed permission from me. that specific house in nablus stayed
with me for a while because that physician himself was kind enough and generous enough to sit down and explain to me what it means to be a palestinian. and that experience, when i was sitting there in a house in nablus made me realise what i'm actually doing as a soldier, to millions and millions of people, me, myself, not someone else, not a different unit. a veneer, and i thought i was a good moral soldier, but i was actually helping entrench the occupation in that sense. i just want to be clear, are you saying that the very act of going into the house of an innocent palestinian family, to you, was and is totally unacceptable, and corrosive, and doing serious damage to the sort of moral values of israel's army and, indeed, the nation state? or are you saying that that's just the tip of an iceberg of behaviour, much of which is much worse than that? yeah, i would say that when you look at the past 50 years, entering the 51st year,
look at the past 13 years that we've been collecting testimonies from soldiers, and you have different kinds of testimonies. so like the straw widow that i just talked about, i could talk about the flying checkpoint or entering houses for searching, or checkpoints, or making our presence felt, instilling fear into the palestinian population. or the actual order‘s war, instilling a sense that they're being chased, showing there's a new sheriff in town. there's a constant system... it's the imposition of a basic power dynamic. the message being, "we're in control, we're in charge of you and your lives, and we, in essence, can do what we want." that's true. and i would say, in that, you have mundane routine operations ofjust having... you know, standing in a checkpoint, or walking through a city centre or village, and you can have cases in this military occupation of violence, destruction of poverty, of humiliations of palestinians. we've collected dozens of these testimonies.
that's not the problem of occupation, it's a symptom. the problem is the idea of controlling millions of people by force indefinitely. and that's where the state of israel is going. that's where the government is actually taking us, and indefinite military occupation. but this, in the end, what you're outlining as your critique of what is happening in israel, and that the idf as the agent of occupation is doing is essentially political. i mean, you're saying, if i understand you correctly, that the very act and policy of occupation is corroding israel's value and must end. but the truth is, time after time, after time, the israeli public votes in elections for parties which sustain and believe in that occupation. that's true, but when you look at this democracy, it's basically a democracy that is controlling and ruling millions of people that don't have a right or say in that democracy. so between the river and the seat,
you have about 13 million people, where half of them do not go and elect anyone. so a big part of our mission, and that's where we spend, as breaking the silence, the vast majority of our energy and time, speaking to our fellow citizens. all across israel, we're actually the leading organisation in the anti—occupation camp in the sheer numbers were not houses of israelis, and the occupation is not an internal israeli issue, it's an issue that affects millions of palestinians. and obviously, the international community is involved as will. —— well. and i want to come back to the politics of this in some detail, butjust to stick, for now, with testimony, because breaking the silence is all about gathering together the voices of soldiers, former soldiers, who are no longer prepared to be silent about what they've seen. i just want you to be very clear with me about some of the other behaviours, because you've talked about the day—to—day goal
routines of occupation, but the other behaviours, like for example, testimony about looting, stealing, israeli soldiers stealing from inside palestinian family homes. 0ther testimony about deliberate acts of violence, striking youths, striking people in their own homes, beating them. also, firing rubber bullets, transgressing the limits that are supposed to be imposed on the firing of those bullets and undoing the packaging, so they do more damage. all of these aren't just about the routines of occupation, they suggest to me an army that has, within it, significant numbers of soldiers, who want to do bad things. i mean, you can choose to look at it like that. i think it's more complex. but isn't it important to be honest that there are israeli soldiers, if this testimony is true, many say it's not, but if it's true, there are people in the idf doing very bad things. yeah, i could say more than that.
i was one of those soldiers doing very bad things. i saw it with my own eyes. i was part of it. i was violent. and i think, in that sense, it's not about pinpointing a specific soldier individual, and i don't think there are israeli generals waking up in the morning, saying, "how can i make the lives of palestinians miserable? " but there is a system that for now, 51 years, is constantly thinking, how can we maintain the status quo? or i would say , let's take it a step further, how can we entrench it? the israeli—occupation, i think, has built in the mindset of the israeli society. the that basically says it's a zero—sum game. it's either us or them. and in order for us to feel secure, they have do feel insecure. and when you have an entire army or a vast majority of the israeli army, which is in charge of maintaining that military control, so the mission is control. the symptom is exactly what you talked about. now, those symptoms will not disappear until we end occupation. but the problem is not only how
you act once you enter a house, that's exactly why i mentioned the straw widow. because for me, the issue is the fact that you can enter any house. it's not how you smile or treat the palestinian in the checkpoint, but the fact that you can control the lives of millions and control these checkpoints and pass permits. can you afford the luxury of this delicate conscience of yours, when there is, what ever you say, there is a struggle, a struggle which involves violence on both sides between israel and the palestinians. most definitely. i'm not a pacifist. and i was shocked at, friends of mine were injured, soldiers of mine were injured, good friends of mine were killed as well. it's not about being naive, it's about looking forward and understanding, from our personal experience, that in every house, in every checkpoint, in every land grab, in every
unauthorised settlement that was just approved, for example, by our minister of defence just recently, we are dooming us and our neighbouring palestinians, who are not going anywhere, to another cycle of this. and in that sense, i'lljust say one thing, i think that there is a very important distinction between a long—lasting conflict, the israeli—palestinian conflict definitely has two sides to it and a lot of bad blood. but in the israeli—palestinian conflict, there's one issue, the israeli occupation, that is one—sided. and it's our responsibility in sense to want to end it, and to end dit.. but the point is, you are politicising the idf, you are quite plain that you believe as a political objective, deep occupation must be ended. and yet, day—to—day, the idf has to be people by soldiers, who are not political, but who loyally follow the orders of their commanders. and the chief of staff, gadi eisenkot, said back in may,
26 in, he said, "the idf soldiers must know beyond a shadow of doubt that the whole nation supports them and stands behind them, even when there are differences of political opinion." -- 2016. yeah, i mean, i'm not here to criticise the idf. well, that's exactly what you do. so i'll tell you why i don't think that's what i do. what i do is i criticise the mission the idf got to carry out. and in that sense, the problem that soldiers are facing has to do with the decisions of the government. you can be a right wing soldier or a left—wing soldier, but you're carrying out a mission of the most right wing, messianic, religious government... but you can't be an effective soldier if you look at your comrades just down the line and you know that his political views might lead him to say he won't do certain things, because it's against his moral principles.
armies don't work like that. no, you're right. you're right. but i think, more importantly, democracies don't work in a way where they control other people by force for so many years... well, democracies generally get governments voted by a majority of the people. you have to live with the fact that your government in israel, includes within it, people like senior minister avigdor lieberman, who has said of you and your group breaking the silence, "they are no different from," and he quoted, ehud adiv or mordechai vanunu, some of the most famous traitors in israel's history. how do you feel about senior government ministers labelling you a traitor? i think it's absurd, especially when you look at the military record of avigdor lieberman per se. but i had to say that i always ask myself the question, what was the moment i became a traitor? was it the moment i was standing in a house in nablus, and i had a question pop into my head
if i was doing the right thing? was it on my way back to the base, when i was reading a book and saying, "wow, this is actually questioning what i'm doing right now"? or was it the discussion that i had, as a soldier, with my family? this moment when former soldiers turn into traitors is just unacceptable, because the truth of the matter is that breaking the silence is not a group of people that served in the past, but there are people that are serving today that will be our testifiers. so in that sense, avigdor lieberman is calling his own soldiers traitors. there are soldiers who don't agree with his policies... but only a very tiny minority are influenced by you. the vast majority are not. you have, perhaps, a thousand voices gathered in breaking the silence, of the many tens and tens of thousands of israelis, who, over that span of time, have served in the idf. it comes to the point made by another minister, deputy minister of foreign affairs, tzipi hotovely, who says, "a subversive organisation" — that is her description of you — "a subversive organisation based on lies that is actively trying to besmirch
israel's good name and that of the idf." so i would say, and this is where i think hotovely is the best example — hotovely is basically calling for a de facto one state that will become an apartheid. and hotovely is supporting not the state of israel or its soldiers, but the occupation. and what we're trying to besmirch, and we are trying to besmirch something, is not israel, but the occupation itself. but the point is, as a citizen of israel, you've every right to whatever political opinion you want to hold, but what critics of your organisation see is a group that actually tries to win recruits from the serving idf, and which undermines the coherence, the unity of israel's most important institution. just this last week, we published a book of testimonies. i have it here. and we published an entire collection of soldiers that choose to explain why they broke their silence.
for the past two years, there's been a smear campaign led from the highest echelons of the israeli government, and still, soldiers choose to speak to us... ok, let's get real, then. let's make this personal. you have a younger brother. he, i believe, is serving in the idf today. that is true. is he a member of your organisation? no, he's not. he's a serving soldier. we can have arguments around the table, but he is not a member of breaking the silence. your brother, i don't know which unit he's in, where he is serving today, but if he's in the west bank, he's probably doing the sort of work you did — going into innocent people's houses, setting up roadblocks. one could say, doing everything that the occupation represents in terms of imposing power on the palestinian people. is your message to him that, as a man of conscience, he shouldn't be doing that? my message to him, and this is what i told him before he served, is that he has a responsibility to know. my dad was a paratrooper.
i was a paratrooper. my younger brother, who you mentioned is, today, a paratrooper. in that sense, the mission of breaking the silence is not about talking about an individual decision. it's about the governmental decision. and at the end of the day, they'll continue to be brothers, sisters and members of the israeli society that will continue to go and maintain this occupation, unless there is an overall political decision in that sense. to break the chain, you had to rely on individuals to act with their conscience. what do your brother and yourfather think of your stand and your message? i'm glad and proud that they support me... what about your cousins, who live, i believe, in jewish settlements on occupied land in the west bank? but like every other family, we have arguments, including relatives of mine, which i love dearly and we disagree. you've been called a traitor, you've been called all sorts of things. have you received threats? i have. how do you cope with that?
i think that the way i cope is by looking around my fellows, men and women, who are part of breaking the silence. many of them have also been threatened. there was actually an individual who was caught with about 20 gallons of gasoline, trying to burn our offices. there were people that actively tried to attack us in demonstrations. private phone numbers of members of our family were published online. it's not easy to be a breaking the silence member these days. but with that said, there is unbelievable support within the israeli society. it's true, we're not in the heart of the israeli consensus to say the least. no, you're not. you're a fringe, you're an extreme, and it gets down to your relationship with your own country. your country has repeatedly voted for governments which sustain the occupation.
currently, your prime minister says he doesn't believe in a two—state solution negotiated with the palestinians. at what point are you going to say, "i can no longer live in this country, where most of the people seem to be so far removed from my own view of what is the right, proper and just solution to the conflict with the palestinians"? never. i'm an israeli patriot. i love my country, and i will fight to make it a better place. the fact is that although there is a campaign against us, led by this current administration, there are thousands of israelis who support us, including former heads of secret service, including high—ranking military generals, opinion makers, artists. in that sense, we are in the middle of a struggle. we're in the struggle for the essence of the state of israel. isn't the essence... just one more point. i think in that sense, the fact
is that the israeli opposition, and the israeli political sphere has refrained from taking a hard line against the occupation. and that's part of the reason that organisations like breaking the silence have become de facto, one of the only opposition is to the occupation. in the end, you and your case are not winning the argument in israel. i just wonder why you think that is. why is it? because most israelis serve in the military. you say, "oh, they're in denial, they don't want to see, they don't want to confront the reality." they know the reality. their sons serve, they probably served themselves in the occupation. they do know the reality, but they don't agree with you. no, but i would say this — that even though i'm a minority voice, my responsibility is to speak out. breaking the silence is difficult exactly because it's against the stream. a deadly because it's not easy. we knew from the get go. we knew from the moment that
each and every one of us broke the silence and spoke out, they would not be easy to accept. but in that sense, when you look around, and when you look at the israeli leadership today, the only path they're leading us is to a destruction of the state of israel. and in that sense, we might be a minority, but you cannot, you cannot accept to hear voices, and target them or ban them as legitimate or illegitimate, because the amount of people who support them, but because of the essence of the claim. and the essence of the claim of breaking the silence is that we are in the 51st year of control over people who do not want to be controlled by us. that means that our future is just more rounds of violence. and in that sense, we're actually actively fighting for there not to be a solution. tzipi hotovely, who you mentioned, avigdor lieberman, who you mentioned, who is a settler himself, by the way, neta nyahu is actively
trying to make sure that there'll never be palestinian freedom. there will never be any ability for palestinians to do exactly what my ancestors did — create a homeland for themselves. in your heart, do you accept this is a battle you're not going to win? you can fight it, and you're determined to, but you're not going to win. i think we'll have to wait and see. we'll end there. avner gvaryahu, thank you very much for being on hardtalk. thank you. thanks forjoining me. time we updated you on the weather prospects for the whole of the british isles for the next few days or so. wednesday started in a pretty wild and woolly way across the north—western
quarter of scotland. as ever, our weather watchers were there to capture the evidence for us, but things improved dramatically. come a little further south, not far really, troon beach and ayrshire. the difference, you had to get rid of this big old weather front which really made a difference. started dry enough across the eastern side of the british isles, but, as that moved in from the west, it brought quite a bit of cloud and rain. thankfully, that's moved away. thursday starts on a brighter note for many, a drier note, no, not necessarily, because certainly across western spots, particularly the north—western quarter of the british isles, there will be showers. elsewhere, bright enough and breezy sort of day. quite a few isobars on that chart, and it makes a difference whether you're in the northern half of the british isles or the south, because further north, you're in the circulation of the big area of low pressure — there's quite a bit of wind, and it's got a bit of northerly in it, which makes it feel that much cooler. come a little bit further south, and a little ridge of high pressure is trying to calm things down.
still breezy. there's a lot of isobars on that chart. the wind an ever—present right across the british isles. but i think the bulk of the activity found across the north, so if you're spending the day across southern parts, and here, i'm showing you the real detail — it's almost like, if you need reading glasses, we've just put them on to see exactly where those showers are, and you can see them peppering through western scotland and northern ireland. yes, we know there are words on that page, but we take those glasses off and we get the overall sense of what's going on. here are those temperatures. 5, 6, 7 in the north, 10, 11, possibly 12 in the south. taking you out of thursday, pushing on towards friday, not a great deal changes, save perhaps a greater influence from this little ridge of high pressure coming across the southern half of the british isles, killing off what showers there may have been on thursday. less breeze, but there's just not enough influence from that ridge of high pressure to keep rain away from the western side of scotland, maybe later on into the fringes
of northern ireland, but the temperature differential just beginning to ease up here — 7 or 8 in the north, 10 or 11 in the south. the weekend? starts off none too badly. not wall—to—wall sunshine, but keep that little area of low pressure in mind, because it may on sunday give some parts a little bit of rain. otherwise, not a bad weekend. this is the briefing. i'm samantha simmonds. our top story: a former student is arrested after teachers and pupils are gunned down at a high school in florida. some kids froze, some kids were on their phones, a lot of them were on their phones just trying to snap chat everything, because they thought it was a joke, and it wasn't. south africa's governing anc welcomes president zuma's resignation. he says he wants to prevent violence being committed in his name. ‘choose france!‘ president macron woos global investors by pushing through key labour reforms and cutting corporation tax.