21/7/10 - 3/8/10 104 °F
7/25 - Day 5 –Breaking the Silence and Bethlehem
Our visit with a Breaking the Silence soldier was very moving, very interesting, and VERY VERY awful. He and the others who speak out publicly are quite courageous (he said that most of the soldiers who serve in the West Bank don't believe in what they do there - but for me, the fact that they don't speak out negates their sad feelings. "Shooting and crying", Israelis' favorite excuse, just doesn't cut it with me, and less now than before). And yes, I understand the price. People pay that price here – not only soldiers, but the soldier Aaron told us of a civilian friend of his, who, after she realized what was being done in her name, could no longer bear to be around the racist conversations, and one by one, lost all of her friends.
Breaking the Silence () is an organization of Israeli soldiers who served in the Palestine during the Second Intifada. They collect testimonies of soldiers who served there and they now have more than 800 testimonies. What we heard from this young man would chill your blood. I doubt they are much different from the horror stories American soldiers tell from Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan. But because nearly every young person serves in the Army and primarily in Palestine, and because Israel is a very small country, more of the people there are aware of what their soldiers do than is the case in the United States. Each of them takes their stories home - some talk about them, some don’t, but they all mature into adults that know very well what happened there. And each of these soldiers then becomes one of the “ordinary Israelis”: teacher, doctor, waiter, lawyer, clerk, …and they know…
Breaking the Silence is in the tradition of Yesh Gvul and the Refuseniks from the First Intifada. Our speaker was Aaron, who served from 2004 to 2008 in Hebron and whose grandfather was a member of LEHI, one of the terrorist groups fighting to establish Israel as a Jewish State (this group and the Irgun carried out the massacres at Deir Yassin and other Palestinian villages in 1948).
He said that during the First Intifada, soldiers were not allowed to serve in Hebron for more than four months, “for mental health reasons”. During the Second Intifada, that time grew to one year, two months.
Aaron's realization of the horror of what he was doing in the Army and the crimes he was committing – and his determination to speak out about them - cost him not only his friends, but literally his family. His father was a vice Police Chief – I think of Jerusalem – and his mother a high-ranking military intelligence officer. They disowned him when he joined with Breaking the Silence. His girlfriend served four months in prison for refusing to serve and is now ineligible for all the perks of service: jobs, permit to study, most social services. She too has lost her family for her principle.
Aaron emphasized that the job of the army is to protect the settlers, and that soldiers intervening to protect Palestinians from settlers are most often punished. He himself was stoned by a group of settler children for attempting to intervene on behalf of a Palestinian victim, and was officially punished for this act.
Some of the things Aaron told us:
- about returning home one day, tired and hot, getting on a bus inside Israel. There was no where to sit, so he was standing, when a very old woman stood up and said “Please, sit.” He took the old woman’s seat because, he, said, he was “a soldier, and I’m entitled to sit”. He said this is a common attitude among Israeli soldiers.
- 15 Settler women – 15 to 30 yrs old – entering the Palestinian area with sticks and iron bars. When the soldiers got to them, they were breaking everything they could break. Soldiers stood by while three of them, each carrying a baby, beat an old man with their weapons. He said the role of the soldiers there was to “protect the women”. He said that when he (Aaron) tried to grab one of the girls beating the old man, she screamed “oh my god! You can’t touch me! I’m a woman, you’re a man!”. He said the soldiers are not allowed to arrest Settlers, so they tried to push them back and one woman spat in his face. Because they couldn’t arrest them, they called the Police, who could. All were released.
- settler children on a rampage through Hebron, carrying iron and wooden bars, beating Palestinians, breaking windows – the particular group he was describing were 15-16 year old girls. The Army arrested Palestinians who attempted to stop them.
- all people arrested, including women and children, are blindfolded and handcuffed, and often hooded.
- a young boy arrested for breaking a curfew. He was blindfolded and handcuffed for 16 hours before being released without charges.
- soldiers routinely raid homes in the very early morning hours, breaking down the doors, blindfolding the men and dragging them out for beatings in front of their children. Sometimes they are taken to Army quarters and beaten again before being released without charges. Aaron told us that they sometimes go into the kitchens during these raids, grab a handful of knives and come out saying “he had weapons”. They would then blindfold and handcuff a man in the house and drive around for several hours, then push the man out of the van.
- they practice how to make an arrest by arresting Palestinians at random, hold them for however much of the procedure they need to practice, and then release him without charges.
- soldiers do not arrest militants – that job is for the special forces, but the job of the army was to keep Palestinians terrorized, and unable to predict what the Army would do next, or when they or a family member would be arrested and beaten.
- they routinely went on “mapping” patrols – again entering homes in the middle of the night, terrorizing the family, making them all go outside where they sometimes beat the men in front of the children. The commanding officer will then order one of the soldiers to “map” the house so that they would know every exit, every hiding place “in case they have to go back for someone”. One night Aaron forgot to turn his map in, and no one asked him for it.
By then he was beginning to understand what the real job of the army was and was troubled by it. He tried an experiment. For many, many nights, he mapped a house as ordered, but never turned any of them in. That confirmed to him that the exercise was solely to terrorize and to practice harrassment, not to gather information.
- His superior officer told him “you have to instill in them the feeling they’re being chased off, that someone is after them. Keep them afraid, all the time.”
– one of his superior officers told him “the most dangerous people in Hebron are the people in the Red Hats”. He also said that soldiers are dangerous to CPT because they are fed lies about CPT”.
- soldiers are very angry about internationals taking pictures and videos.
- About tear gas – “you think you can’t breathe, but if you smell an onion it will shock you and cause you to take a deep breath. Then you realize you can breathe.”.
He said “there is no way of being a soldier in the Occupied Territories and being a good person”. These realizations finally pushed him to give testimony to Breaking the Silence. He now speaks on their behalf.