British anti-occupation activists have criticised the arrest of Israeli counterparts as a “worrying sign of Israel’s crackdown on dissenting voices”/
The executive director of Breaking the Silence was detained by Israeli Border Police Friday along with two other activists.
The arrested activists — Avner Gvaryahu, the group’s executive director; Achiya Shatz, its communications director; and human rights attorney Michael Sfard — were detained next to a settlement outpost in the southern West Bank, near Hebron, according to Haaretz. They were released after three hours of questioning.
Breaking the Silence is a group of Israeli combat veterans who oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. The group is controversial in Israel, and Israel’s right-wing government has made efforts to limit its activity. Most recently, Israel passed a law barring activists from the group and others like it from entering schools.
British group Yachads’ director, Hannah Weisfeld, criticised actions as a “worrying sign of Israel’s crackdown on dissenting voices.”
“They were arrested while visiting the location of a brutal attack on anti-occupation activists just a week ago in a continuation of the IDF’s total surrender in the face of rising violence from settler groups. It’s troubling that the Israeli government embraces those who break the law and rewards the residents of the illegal outpost Mitzpe Yair while sending the IDF to punish law-abiding citizens like Gvaryahu, Schatz and Sfrad. We stand in solidarity with our partners and friends who will carry on their fight for a just and democratic Israel.”
The activists were in the West Bank, where Border Police detained the activists for illegally entering a closed military zone, but Haaretz reported that the area was closed specifically to prevent a Breaking the Silence tour there, and that settlers regularly enter such zones without facing arrest.”
Left-wing activists from another group were allegedly attacked by settlers in the same area last week.”
In a Facebook post, Breaking the Silence said the detentions were “directly connected to the settler violence we have experienced in recent months, and the total capitulation of [Israeli] security forces to that phenomenon.” The group added that the detentions “should concern any citizen who desires democracy in Israel.”
Liberal groups in Israel and abroad condemned the incident. Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund, which funds Breaking the Silence and a range of left-wing Israeli groups, criticised the Israeli government for “endangering the physical safety of citizens who stand up for human rights.” T’ruah, a liberal rabbinic human rights group that partners with Breaking the Silence, called for an investigation into the detentions.
Also on Friday, a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered an art gallery to close after hosting a lecture by Breaking the Silence last year, according to Haaretz. The city, which owns the gallery space, as well as Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev, had sought to close the gallery following the lecture.