Anti-occupation group seeks higher UK profile

At the Limmud "Settling the debate" panel discussion. From left to right: Yisrael Medad, moderator Sara Hirschhorn, Miri Eisen and Avner Gvaryahu

At the Limmud "Settling the debate" panel discussion. From left to right: Yisrael Medad, moderator Sara Hirschhorn, Miri Eisen and Avner Gvaryahu

An organisation comprising former IDF soldiers opposed to Israeli occupation in the West Bank hopes to raise its profile in the UK.

Avner Gvaryahu, diaspora activities co-ordinator for Breaking the Silence, revealed its ambition for a stronger presence here after his appearance in a heated roundtable discussion on the Israeli settlements at the Limmud conference today.

Other panellists at the discussion included Yisrael Medad of the Yesha settler organisation and Miri Eisin, a former spokesperson for the IDF and media adviser to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Mr Gvaryahu said that while nothing concrete had been organised as yet, the group was looking to bring to London its flagship photography exhibition, which depicts the “day to day reality of [Israeli military] service in Hebron.” After being first shown in Tel Aviv in 2004, it has since travelled across the US and Europe.

Asked why the organisation had not previously organised activities in the UK, Mr. Gvaryahu said: "The debate is so polarised in England that to be honest, we were scared. I have an Israeli far-left anarchist friend who was heckled at a talk she gave at a British university because she used the word ‘Israel’ and not ‘Zionist entity.’”

Despite this, Mr Gvaryahu pointed out that Breaking the Silence has led a number of tours to Palestinian towns such as Hebron together with mainstream religious and Zionist youth movements such as the Reform RSY-Netzer and the centrist FZY (Federation of Zionist Youth).

Mr Gvaryahu said of such visits were "not easy for anyone... it’s like a punch to the stomach. These kids see first-hand what they’ve only heard about.”

During the Limmud panel debate, Mr Gvaryahu and Mr Medad at times traded strong words on the prospects for the peace process and other topics.

Mr Medad was largely pessimistic about the future resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, describing any possible agreement as a “non-starter” and saying that throughout history the PA and the PLO always rejected Israeli attempts to make peace.

Ms Eisen, a former senior public relations expert for the Israeli government and military, said she was also wary of conceding too much to the Palestinian side. “The more sovereignty we give to the Palestinians, the less security I get as an Israeli.

Asked by the debate moderator what compromise she envisaged for the future, she said: “it would be a muted semi-state.”

    Last updated: 3:29pm, December 26 2013