When Avihai Stollar was 19, he served as a first seargent in the Israeli military. He was sent to watch over Palestinians during the first four years of the Second Intifada, which lasted from 2000-05. Reflecting on the recent stabbings of Israelis by Palestinian youths, he told me, "some from this generation of Palestinian youths, who have been engaging in violence over the last few weeks, are the same 7-year-old kids in front of whom their daddy was humiliated by us when we were soldiers 13 years ago.”
Stollar is one of a minority of Israeli soldiers who are deployed in combat positions to the West Bank and Gaza. In the last few years, he and a group of Israeli combat veterans, who call themselves "Breaking the Silence," have spoken out against the occupation. They entered compulsory military service at 18 believing that they were serving and protecting their country. But, as they explained to me, they soon found that their mission was very different, and possibly even illegal. It was, as they told me, to “perpetuate control over the Palestinians territories and its civilian population."
Since ending their military service, the veterans of "Breaking the Silence" have fought to end Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. To achieve this, they have spent more than a decade collecting hundreds of testimonies from soldiers who served in the occupied Palestinian Territories. They hope to shed light on “the inevitable moral degradation involved in maintaining control over all aspects of a civilian population”: life, death, and everything inbetween.
Unsurprisingly, the group has been sharply criticized and even threatened. To protect the identities of those who speak out, the group shares the testimonies anonymously. But that, in turn, has elicited accusations that the stories are fabricated, even though the group says it uses a rigorous investigative method to corrobate all claims.
This photo series shows a few, who in defiance, have decided to give their words a face.
VIOLETA MOURA is a photojournalist from Portugal. Her work includes photo essays and written pieces on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as of Portugal's economic crisis.
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