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April 23, 2008
WAWA Blog April 23, 2008:  What follows my report is one published in The Independent regarding Breaking the Silence


A force for justice

Breaking the Silence was formed four years ago by a group of ex-Israeli soldiers, most had served in combat units in Hebron. So far, some 500 testimonies from former soldiers have been published. Breaking the Silence's first exposure was with an exhibition of photographs by soldiers serving in Hebron and they receive funding from groups as diverse as the Jewish philanthropic Moriah Fund, the New Israel Fund, the British embassy in Tel Aviv and the EU.

 

 




"There is a very clear and powerful connection between how much time you serve in the territories and how F&$#%D in the head you get." -Former Israeli Soldier


[East Jerusalem, Occupied Territory, 27 July 2007] On the last day of my fifth trip to Israel Palestine, a religious Jew and former Infantry Lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF who served six years in the occupied territories of Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Jenin and the Gaza Strip addressed over forty youth and a few committed middle aged and elderly supporters attending Sabeel's http://sabeel.org 2nd International Conference: 40 Years in the Wilderness...40 Years of Occupation...

Mikhael Manekin, discharged from the IDF in 2002 is now the Foreign Relations Manager of Breaking the Silence www.breakingthesilence.org.il  which documents former IDF soldiers testimonies about the occupation and oppression of Palestinians, "I am a practicing Jew and in two weeks we go into the month of repentance; which requires acknowledging our sins. We cannot change things until we acknowledge our culpability.

"The problem is government policy that is implemented by young soldiers and whenever religion is involved, we will have fundamentalism. The Israeli peace and justice activists are less than 1% of Israeli society and anybody who is an activist is an optimist. You cannot do anything if you do not believe you can do something to change the situation. We have to remind ourselves that we are the minority; [it appears that] we are loosing, but we remind ourselves we are right!

"Everybody in Israel knows somebody who has served in the occupied territories. The situation in 2007 is worse than 2006 and it looks worse for 2008, but more and more activists-like Anarchists Against the Wall and Tayoush are actively working with Palestinians against the occupation, they are not afraid to travel in the occupied territories and are learning Arabic. Two, three years ago you wouldn't have heard anything; but now every week Israelis are getting arrested for fighting the occupation.

"A few years ago, the soldiers you have encountered at the checkpoints would have been me. Soldiers like myself who served during the second intifada, got our education on the job. You all have visited more places [the past nine days] than most Israelis ever have. Israeli's have no idea what is happening in the occupied territories. But, so far in 2007 we have given more Israeli's a tour through Hebron than we did in 2005 and 2006 combined. Hebron is a ghost town, the settlers are unbearable and every soldier who is stationed there understands the 600 settlers there are psychotic; insane. 

"I became very opinionated while in the army, but I kept it all to myself. Nobody talks about it in the army and I was the commander and did not know until after I got out that one of the other soldiers in my unit was feeling the same way, until he gave his testimony. Israeli society wants you to believe you are a bad apple for speaking out because unless you trust the system, it will fall apart. Most Israelis who get out of the army leave the country and are probably all drugged out. They suffer post traumatic syndrome but we are the victimizers. My age group is getting the hell out of here or walling themselves off from society and are not involved in anything.

"Over 450 former soldiers have now given their testimonies and we don't publish any stories without the corroboration coming from another former soldier and the testimonies are kept anonymous.

"You have to understand you must preach to your own people; we want to shake up the comfortable people who may agree with us in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but are not activists yet."




 What Breaking the Silence does is break down this barrier of denial and they began with stories from Hebron, the most painful place I have ever been and one time through Hebron will last me my lifetime...



In June 2005, my guide was Jerry Levin, full-time volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) who had once been CNN's Middle East bureau chief in the 1980's. Jerry was a secular Jew married to Sis, a Christian, and since his miraculous escape from captivity he and Sis have dedicated their lives to the Palestinian cause for human rights.


Jerry was captured and held hostage in Lebanon by the Hezbollah for nearly a year, and experienced a mystical Christmas Eve, and was never the same. Jerry is lightly built and sprouts bilateral hearing aids and he told me, "Every time I get ready to return to Palestine, everyone asks me, 'Aren't you afraid?' I reply, Of what, the Palestinians? No way! But when it comes to the Israelis soldiers, you bet I am!"


Hebron is where a few hundred Israeli settlers/colonists/squatters have disposed the indigenous Palestinians and are surrounded by three thousand IDF. The eighteen- to twenty-one-year-old soldiers patrol the streets with their weapons at the ready and turned Jerry and I away at the first checkpoint we came to. Jerry smiled as he told me, "Most of the soldiers don't like the CPTs. Whenever they won't let us through, we just go another way, and always, eventually, get where we want to go."

The narrow, winding stone streets of Hebron are centuries old, but in the 21st century, one side is Palestinian and the other Israeli, but their only connection to the other is a thick, deeply sagging netting strung above ones head that catches the huge rocks, shovels, electronic equipment, furniture, and all manner of debris that have been flung onto it by the settlers/colonists/squatters.

I asked Jerry if it ever gave way and hit Palestinians on the head and he responded, "That's the intention, but it gets cleaned out about every year or so. Come back in a few months, and this netting will be much closer to your head. The settlers just throw whatever they want onto the netting; they do what ever they want and get away with it. The CPT's run interference by nonviolent resistance; we get the children and woman to where they need to be going and back again. Sometimes, the settlers curse and stone us all; it keeps it interesting."

Jerry pointed out all the formerly Palestinian homes that the settlers have painted graffiti, such as "GAS THE ARABS" and Stars of David upon.  The oppression affected me viscerally and I was nauseous all day and threw up all that night. I felt as if I had entered into every movie set and photograph of the Jewish ghettos before the Holocaust.

Ever since my first journey to Israel Palestine in June 2005, I have tried to break the silence about the undemocratic state of Israel -and my governments aiding and abetting of it-on the world wide web.


My target audience has always been the mis-and uninformed and apathetic Christians, for as Mikkael said, we must preach to our own, even when our own will not listen.

The former Israeli soldiers in solidarity with Breaking the Silence who are trying to wake up their fellow citizens wrote:

"Since our discharge from the army, we all feel that we have become different. We feel that service in the occupied territories and the incidents we faced have distorted and harmed the moral values on which we grew up.


"We all agree that as long as Israeli society keeps sending its best people to military combat service in the occupied territories, it is extremely important that all of us, Israeli citizens, know the price which the generation who is fighting in the territories is paying, the impossible situations it is facing, the insanity it is confronting everyday, and the heavy burden it bears after being discharged from the IDF, a heavy burden that hasn't left us.

"That's why we decided to break the silence, because it's time to tell. Time to tell about everything that goes on there each and every day.

"We all served in the territories. Some served in Gaza, some in Hebron, some in Bethlehem and the rest served in other places. We all manned checkpoints, participated in patrols and arrests and took part in the war against terror. We all realized that the daily struggle against terror and the daily interaction with the civilian population has left us helpless. Our sense of justice was distorted, and so were our morality and emotions.

"The reality we experienced was made of: Innocent civilians being hurt, Kids not going to school because of the curfew, and parents who can�t bring food home because they can�t go to work.


"This reality has stayed us and will not go away. After discharge from the army, we decided that we shouldn't go on. We shouldn't forget what we ourselves did and what we witnessed. We decided to break the silence."


One of those who has testified also said, "There is a very clear and powerful connection between how much time you serve in the territories and how fucked in the head you get."

http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/about_e.asp


LEARN MORE:

http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/evidence_interview_e.asp




Our reign of terror, by the Israeli army

In shocking testimonies that reveal abductions, beatings and torture, Israeli soldiers confess the horror they have visited on Hebron

NAYEF HASHLAMOUN/REUTERS/CORBIS

PHOTOS:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/our-reign-of-terror-by-the-israeli-army-811769.html

By Donald Macintyre in Jerusalem
Saturday, 19 April 2008

The dark-haired 22-year-old in black T-shirt, blue jeans and red Crocs is understandably hesitant as he sits at a picnic table in the incongruous setting of a beauty spot somewhere in Israel. We know his name and if we used it he would face a criminal investigation and a probable prison sentence.

The birds are singing as he describes in detail some of what he did and saw others do as an enlisted soldier in Hebron. And they are certainly criminal: the incidents in which Palestinian vehicles are stopped for no good reason, the windows smashed and the occupants beaten up for talking back for saying, for example, they are on the way to hospital; the theft of tobacco from a Palestinian shopkeeper who is then beaten "to a pulp" when he complains; the throwing of stun grenades through the windows of mosques as people prayed. And worse.

The young man left the army only at the end of last year, and his decision to speak is part of a concerted effort to expose the moral price paid by young Israeli conscripts in what is probably the most problematic posting there is in the occupied territories. Not least because Hebron is the only Palestinian city whose centre is directly controlled by the military, 24/7, to protect the notably hardline Jewish settlers there. He says firmly that he now regrets what repeatedly took place during his tour of duty.

But his frequent, if nervous, grins and giggles occasionally show just a hint of the bravado he might have displayed if boasting of his exploits to his mates in a bar. Repeatedly he turns to the older former soldier who has persuaded him to speak to us, and says as if seeking reassurance: "You know how it is in Hebron."

The older ex-soldier is Yehuda Shaul, who does indeed "know how it is in Hebron", having served in the city in a combat unit at the peak of the intifada, and is a founder of Shovrim Shtika, or Breaking the Silence, which will publish tomorrow the disturbing testimonies of 39 Israelis including this young man who served in the army in Hebron between 2005 and 2007. They cover a range of experiences, from anger and powerlessness in the face of often violent abuse of Arabs by hardline Jewish settlers, through petty harassment by soldiers, to soldiers beating up Palestinian residents without provocation, looting homes and shops, and opening fire on unarmed demonstrators.

The maltreatment of civilians under occupation is common to many armies in the world including Britain's, from Northern Ireland to Iraq.

But, paradoxically, few if any countries apart from Israel have an NGO like Breaking the Silence, which seeks through the experiences of the soldiers themselves as its website puts it "to force Israeli society to address the reality which it created" in the occupied territories.

The Israeli public was given an unflattering glimpse of military life in Hebron this year when a young lieutenant in the Kfir Brigade called Yaakov Gigi was given a 15-month jail sentence for taking five soldiers with him to hijack a Palestinian taxi, conduct what the Israeli media called a "rampage" in which one of the soldiers shot and wounded a Palestinian civilian who just happened to be in the wrong place, and then tried to lie his way out of it.

In a confessional interview with the Israeli Channel Two investigative programme Uvda, Gigi, who had previously been in many ways a model soldier, talked of "losing the human condition" in Hebron. Asked what he meant, he replied: "To lose the human condition is to become an animal."

The Israeli military did not prosecute the soldier who had fired on the Palestinian, as opposed to Gigi. But the military insists "that the events that occurred within the Kfir Brigade are highly unusual".

But as the 22-year-old soldier, also in the Kfir Brigade, confirms in his testimony to Breaking the Silence, it seems that the event may not have been exceptional. Certainly, our interview tells us, he was "many times" in groups that commandeered taxis, seated the driver in the back, and told him to direct them to places "where they hate the Jews" in order to "make a balagan" Hebrew for "big mess".

Then there is the inter- clan Palestinian fight: "We were told to go over there and find out what was happening. Our [platoon] commander was a bit screwed in the head. So anyway, we would locate houses, and he'd tell us: 'OK, anyone you see armed with stones or whatever, I don't care what shoot.' Everyone would think it's the clan fight..." Did the company commander know? "No one knew. Platoon's private initiative, these actions."

Did you hit them? "Sure, not just them. Anyone who came close ... Particularly legs and arms. Some people also sustained abdominal hits ... I think at some point they realised it was soldiers, but they were not sure. Because they could not believe soldiers would do this, you know."

Or using a 10-year-old child to locate and punish a 15-year-old stone-thrower: "So we got hold of just some Palestinian kid nearby, we knew that he knew who it had been. Let's say we beat him a little, to put it mildly, until he told us. You know, the way it goes when your mind's already screwed up, and you have no more patience for Hebron and Arabs and Jews there.

"The kid was really scared, realising we were on to him. We had a commander with us who was a bit of a fanatic. We gave the boy over to this commander, and he really beat the shit out of him ... He showed him all kinds of holes in the ground along the way, asking him: 'Is it here you want to die? Or here?' The kid goes, 'No, no!'

"Anyway, the kid was stood up, and couldn't stay standing on his own two feet. He was already crying ... And the commander continues, 'Don't pretend' and kicks him some more. And then [name withheld], who always had a hard time with such things, went in, caught the squad commander and said, 'Don't touch him any more, that's it.' The commander goes, 'You've become a leftie, what?' And he answers, 'No, I just don't want to see such things.'

"We were right next to this, but did nothing. We were indifferent, you know. OK. Only after the fact you start thinking. Not right away. We were doing such things every day ... It had become a habit...

"And the parents saw it. The commander ordered [the mother], 'Don't get any closer.' He cocked his weapon, already had a bullet inside. She was frightened. He put his weapon literally inside the kid's mouth. 'Anyone gets close, I kill him. Don't bug me. I kill. I have no mercy.' So the father ... got hold of the mother and said, 'Calm down, let them be, so they'll leave him alone.'"

Not every soldier serving in Hebron becomes an "animal". Iftach Arbel, 23, from an upper-middle class, left-of-centre home in Herzylia, served in Hebron as a commander just before the withdrawal from Gaza, when he thinks the army wanted to show it could be tough with settlers, too. And many of the testimonies, including Mr Arbel's, describe how the settlers educate children as young as four to throw stones at Palestinians, attack their homes and even steal their possessions. To Mr Arbel, the Hebron settlers are "pure evil" and the only solution is "to remove the settlers".

He believes it would be possible even within these constraints to treat Palestinians better. He adds: "We did night activity. Choose a house at random, on the aerial photo, so as to practise combat routine and all, which is instructive for the soldiers, I mean, I'm all for it. But then at midnight you wake someone up and turn his whole house upside down with everyone sleeping on the mattresses and all."

But Mr Arbel says that most soldiers are some way between his own extreme and that of the most violent. From just two of his fellow testifiers, you can see what he means.

As one said: "We did all kinds of experiments to see who could do the best split in Abu Snena. We would put [Palestinians] against the wall, make like we were checking them, and ask them to spread their legs. Spread, spread, spread, it was a game to see who could do it best. Or we would check who can hold his breath for longest.

"Choke them. One guy would come, make like he was checking them, and suddenly start yelling like they said something and choke them ... Block their airways; you have to press the adams apple. It's not pleasant. Look at the watch as you're doing it, until he passes out. The one who takes longest to faint wins."

And theft as well as violence. "There's this car accessory shop there. Every time, soldiers would take a tape-disc player, other stuff. This guy, if you go ask him, will tell you plenty of things that soldiers did to him.

"A whole scroll-full ... They would raid his shop regularly. 'Listen, if you tell on us, we'll confiscate your whole store, we'll break everything.' You know, he was afraid to tell. He was already making deals, 'Listen guys, you're damaging me financially.' I personally never took a thing, but I'm telling you, people used to take speakers from him, whole sound systems.

"He'd go, 'Please, give me 500 shekels, I'm losing money here.' 'Listen, if you go on we'll pick up your whole shop.' 'OK, OK, take it, but listen, don't take more than 10 systems a month.' Something like this.

"'I'm already going bankrupt.' He was so miserable. Guys in our unit used to sell these things back home, make deals with people. People are so stupid."

The military said that Israeli Defence Forces soldiers operate according to "a strict set of moral guidelines" and that their expected adherence to them only "increases wherever and whenever IDF soldiers come in contact with civilians". It added that "if evidence supporting the allegations is uncovered, steps are taken to hold those involved to the level of highest judicial severity". It also said: "The Military Advocate General has issued a number of indictments against soldiers due to allegations of criminal behaviour ... Soldiers found guilty were punished severely by the Military Court, in proportion to the committed offence." It had not by last night quantified such indictments.



   
 
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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

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If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
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Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
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