“Dare to Dream” is this year’s Eurovision slogan.
“Dare to Dream of Freedom” is what visitors coming to attend the contest can read on a huge poster outside Ben Gurion National Airport.
One half of the billboard a picturesque Tel Aviv beach; the other half, a watchtower overlooking the separation barrier that cuts Israel from the Palestinian territories.
"See the full picture – join our tour," the billboard reads.
“We were very happy with the victory of the Israeli singer Netta Barzilai a year ago,” says Avnar Gvaryahu, Executive Director of Breaking the Silence, a group of ex-Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers which put up the billboard.
“We quickly realised that alongside the celebrations of the Eurovision here in Israel, it is important not to ignore other parts of the reality that the Israeli government is trying to hide.”
Breaking the Silence tries to “shed a light on the reality that we were part of”, says Gvaryahu. “Taking responsibility for our actions, but also trying to create change, to start a conversation.”
This week, the group organised tours to the city of Hebron aimed at Eurovision fans.
“Basically it is to show people what’s beyond that barrier and what a 52-year military occupation looks like,” says Gvaryahu. “It’s not about asking people not to come. But it is telling people who are already here to use their responsibility to see the full picture."
The tours last about six hours. Interested people are picked up in Tel Aviv, then driven to Hebron, the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, "and the only Palestinian place where in the heart of the city you’ll find an Israeli settlement”, says Gvaryahu.
Hebron has a population of about 200,000 Palestinians. In its centre, 750 Israeli settlers live under the protection of some 650 Israeli soldiers.
Breaking the Silence 'lies'
But during the tours, visitors will see other slogans.
“Breaking the Silence Lies,” reads one, put up by Im Tirtzu-Building the Zionist Dream, a right-wing NGO that sees Hebron as “the first capital of Israel.”
“They take tourists down to one single street called King David Street in Hebron,” Eytan Meir, Director of External Relations for the group told RFI.
“They say look, the Israelis kicked out all the Palestinian Arabs and this is what they are doing to Hebron. But the true story is that it is one street in the entire Hebron. It was closed because of all the terrorist attacks.”
He points out that “Jews are only about 3 percent of the city”.
Breaking the Silence is undeterred by the criticism. “It’s like an ‘occupation in a nutshell’ tour,” says Gvaryahu.
During the tour, the ex-IDF soldiers give tourists “historical background, political content and up-to-date analysis” and after six hours the bus is back, in time to for the tourists to enjoy the Eurovision celebrations in Tel Aviv. And, Gvaryahu hopes, with “another layer of understanding of this place”.
Israel has taken part in Eurovision Song Contests since 1973. It has won four times (1978, 1979, 1998 and 2018), finished second twice, and third three times.
This year, Israel’s candidate is former IDF soldier Kobi Marimi, of Iraqi-Jewish descent, with the song “Home”. As host country, Israel automatically qualifies for the finals on Saturday.