Stories from an occupation: the Israelis who broke silence
A group called Breaking the Silence has spent 10 years collecting accounts from Israeli soldiers who served in the Palestinian territories. To mark the milestone, 10 hours' worth of testimony was read to an audience in Tel Aviv.
On June 6, 2014, soldiers from the Israel Defence Forces recited first-hand soldiers' accounts for 10 hours straight in Habima Square, all of them collected by the Israeli NGO "Breaking the Silence".
In great detail, the tens of thousands of words narrated on Friday told of the humdrum and the terrible: the humiliating* treatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, shootings and random* assaults. Over the years the Israeli military's response has been that these stories are the exceptions, not the rule, accounts of a few bad apples' actions.
"What we wanted to show by reading for 10 hours is that the things described in the testimonies we have collected are not exceptional, rather they are unexceptional," says Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of the group and a former soldier himself.
Here are five extracts from the 10-hour reading:
1. SERGEANT T. W.
2006-09, Oketz (canine special forces*), Nablus
Standing at the roadblock for eight hours a day puts everyone under this endless pressure. Everyone's constantly yelling, constantly nervous, impatient … venting* on the first Palestinian to cross your path. If a Palestinian annoys one of the soldiers, one of the things they'd do is throw him in the Jora, which is a small cell, like a clothing store dressing room. They close the metal door on him and that would be his punishment for annoying, for being bad.
Within all the pressure and the stress of the roadblock, the Palestinian would often be forgotten there. No one would remember that he put a Palestinian there, further emphasising the irrelevance and insignificance of the reason he was put there in the first place. Sometimes it was only after hours that they'd suddenly remember to let him out and continue the inspection at the roadblock.
2. SERGEANT A. G.
2004-07 Orev (special anti-tank unit), Nablus
It was when I was a sergeant, after we had finished training. 200 [the number of the commander] said to us unequivocally*: "That's how you're ranked. With Xs. Every night I want you to be looking for 'contact' [an exchange of fire] and that's how you'll be ranked."
At some point I realised that someone who wants to succeed has to bring him dead people. There's no point in bringing him arrests. [The message was:] "Arrests are routine, the battalions are making arrests. You're the spearhead, the army has invested years in you, now I want you to bring me dead terrorists."
And that's what pushed us, I believe. What we'd do was go out night after night, drawing fire*, go into alleys that we knew were dangerous. There were arrests, there were all kinds of arrests. But the high point of the night was drawing fire, creating a situation where they fired at us.
It's a situation, totally insane, you're in it, it's hard to explain. You're looking through the binoculars and searching for someone to kill. That's what you want to do. And you want to kill him. But do you want to kill him? But that's your job.
And you're still looking through the binoculars and you're starting to get confused. Do I want to? Don't I want to? Maybe I actually want them to miss.
3. G. H.
2001-03, Sachlav (military police), Hebron
On my first or second day in Hebron, my commanders asked me to go on a "doll", a foot patrol that we conduct in the casbah and Jewish settlement. I agreed, it seemed cool. It was my first time in the field, come on, let's do it. We went on patrol, into the casbah, and I think that was the first time I sensed the existential fear of living under constant threat.
We started the doll and I started feeling bad. The first time in the field is not simple. One of my commanders, the veteran among them, took an old Palestinian man, just took him aside to some alley and started beating him up. And I … it wasfine by all the others … I sort of looked at them and said: "What is he doing? Why is he doing that? What happened? Did he do anything? Is he a threat? A terrorist? Did we find something?" So they said: "No, it's OK." I then approached my commander, the [one] who trained me, and asked: "What are you doing?" He said: "Gil, stop it."
And that really scared me. I was scared of their reactions, of the situation we were in. I felt bad with what went on there, but I kept quiet. I mean, what can I do? My commander told me to shut up. We left there and went back to the company and I went to my commander and said: "What are you doing? Why did you do that?" So he said: "That's the way it is. It's either him or me and it's me and …"
They took him aside and just beat him up. They beat him up, they punched him. And slapped him, all for no reason. I mean, he just happened to walk by there, by mistake.
4. SERGEANT N. B.
2007-10, Nachal Brigade, 50th Battalion, Hebron
During patrols inside the casbah we'd do many "mappings". Mappings mean going into a house we have no intelligence on. We go in to see what's inside, who lives there. We didn't search for weapons or things like that. The mappings were designed to make the Palestinians feel that we are there all the time.
We go in, walk around, look around. The commander takes a piece of paper and … makes a drawing of the house, what it looks like inside, and I had a camera. I was told to bring it. They said: "You take all the people, stand them against the wall and take their picture." Then [the pictures are] transferred to, I don't know, the General Security Service, the battalion or brigade intelligence unit, so they have information on what the people look like. What the residents look like. I'm a young soldier, I do as they say. I take their pictures, a horrible experience in itself, because taking people's pictures at 3am, I … it humiliated them, I just can't describe it.
And the interesting thing? I had the pictures for around a month. No one came to get them. No commander asked about them, no intelligence officer took them. I realised it was all for nothing. It was just to be there. It was like a game.
5. SERGEANT, ANONYMOUS
Paratrooper, 2002, Nablus
We took over a central house, set up positions, and one of the sharpshooters identified a man on a roof, two roofs away, I think he was between 50 and 70 metres away, not armed. I looked at the man through the night vision – he wasn't armed. It was two in the morning. A man without arms, walking on the roof, just walking around. We reported it to the company commander. The company commander said: "Take him down." [The sharpshooter] fired, took him down. The company commander basically ordered, decided via radio, the death sentence for that man. A man who wasn't armed.
I saw with my own eyes that the guy wasn't armed. The report also said: "A man without arms on the roof." The company commander declared him a lookout, meaning he understood that the guy was no threat to us, and he gave the order to kill him and we shot him. I myself didn't shoot, my friend shot and killed him. And basically you think, you see in the United States there's the death penalty, for every death sentence there are like a thousand appeals and convictions, and they take it very seriously, and there are judges and learned people, and there are protests and whatever. And here a 26-year-old guy, my company commander, sentenced an unarmed man to death.
c. 1170 words
Source: The Guardian of June 8, 2014
* humiliating - erniedrigend
* random - beliebig, wahllos
* canine special forces - Hundestaffeln
* to vent on sb. - sich an jdm. abreagieren
* unequivocally - unmißverständlich
* to draw a fire - einen Beschuß auf sich ziehen
1. Summarize in 3 to 4 sentences each what the sergeants' experiences were.
2. What do these five accounts have in common?
3. From what you know about Israel's and Palestine's history, was the 6-day war in 1967 justified?
4. Taking into account the Jewish settlements in the occupied areas (West Bank, Gaza Strip etc.), do you think there will be a compromise and eventually a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians?