JERUSALEM (JTA) – Israel has formally complained to the Swiss government over its funding for an exhibit by an Israeli NGO that alleges misconduct by Israeli soldiers in their dealings with Palestinians.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry gave some $16,000 to the Breaking the Silence exhibit that opened in Zurich on Thursday, the French news agency AFP reported. Other funding came from the Zurich municipality and church groups.
Swiss government officials defended the ministry’s funding of the exhibit.
“We thought long and hard before giving this money,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Patrick Pons told AFP, calling the exhibit “very balanced” and saying it would increase dialogue about human rights.
Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, was quoted as saying in the Jerusalem Post, “We cannot accept a situation whereby an organization whose entire purpose is to sully the names and reputations of IDF soldiers is operating internationally in order to cause serious damage to the State of Israel’s image. The Foreign Ministry will continue its extensive activity against those elements working against Israel both at home and abroad.”
Founded in Israel in 2004, Breaking the Silence uses testimonies, mostly anonymous, by Israeli soldiers who recount their experiences serving in the West Bank and their interactions with the Arab population there as well as in eastern Jerusalem, Lebanon and Gaza. Its founders have said they wish to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
A report issued by the group last month, citing testimonies from over 60 Israeli soldiers who fought in last summer’s Gaza conflict, said that “permissive” rules of engagement led to indiscriminate artillery fire that caused unnecessary damage to Palestinian civilians.
Breaking the Silence said Thursday in a Facebook post: “We are proud to present the exhibition in Zurich after having showcased it dozens of times throughout Israel (including in the Israeli Knesset) in order to encourage an open and honest debate on the occupation.
“We are proud to give the international public the opportunity to meet former soldiers who care about human rights, and work to bring about justice and equality for Israelis and Palestinians. The debate that we are trying to facilitate is not a simple one, yet we prefer to engage in it rather than to perpetuate the silence.”