Even if you didn’t know who had taken the pictures, it would be a remarkable exhibition. A record of two short periods in Hebron, the images linger obstinately in the mind’s eye long after you have turned away: the comradely group portrait of the smiling, hopeful, young men, 18 and 19 mostly, in an Israeli army unit; the Palestinians blindfolded by the side of a deserted street at night; the grim-faced Jewish settler with a Galil assault rifle slung casually over his shoulder; the stone memorial to Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old baby killed in a shooting attack in March 2001 by Palestinian militants, with an epitaph that reads: “Here the innocent baby Shalhevet was murdered. God will avenge her blood”; the white-painted sign scrawled on a wall which says – in English – “Arabs to the gas chambers”; the Palestinian children playing a game in which one pair are Israeli soldiers lining the others up against a wall, just as they have seen their fathers and brothers lined up.
But what makes the exhibition Breaking the Silence, on show at a college in Tel Aviv, so out of the ordinary is that it is the work not of professional photographers but of soldiers. It is a work that has stirred concerns and drawn admiration at the highest levels of Israeli society.
Yesterday military police raided the exhibition, confiscating items from it. An army spokesman insisted that the raid was not to stop the exhibition or to punish the soldiers for going public, but to see if there is a case for court-martialling soldiers who mistreated Arabs.
On Sunday the exhibition will move to the Knesset at the invitation of Ilan Shalgi, chairman of the parliamentary education and culture committee. Forty photographs will be on show there, with full approval by the parliamentary authorities, until 5 July.
The pictures were taken by young Israeli conscripts as they conducted daily, dangerous patrols of Hebron. Five hundred Jewish settlers, some of the most extreme in the West Bank, live in three enclaves in the city, surrounded by 130,000 Palestinians in a relationship of mutual hatred and frequent violence. They look to the army for protection…