“The deputy brigade commander then decided that instead of just being aggressive, he’d also remind him who’s the boss, who’s the Jew and who’s the Arab . . . Of course I reported it as well, it didn’t lead to anything.”
The widespread notion in Israeli society that control of the Palistinian Territories is exclusively aimed at protecting citizens is incompatible with the information conveyed by hundreds of Israeli Defence Force soldiers.
Settler violence against Palestinians is not treated as an infraction of the law. It is instead one more way in which Israel exercises its control in the Territories.
Contrary to the impression the Israeli government prefers to give, in which Israel is slowly withdrawing from the Territories securely and with caution, the soldiers portray a tireless effort to tighten the country’s hold on both the land and on the Palestinian population.
ISRAEL HAS NO HISTORY, ONLY A CRIMINAL RECORD.
BREAKING THE SILENCE, one of Israel’s most internationally lauded non-government organisations, was established in Jerusalem in 2004 by Israel Defense Forces veterans to document the testimonies of Israeli soldiers who have served in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In June 2004, some sixty veteran soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces presented an exhibition of written testimonies and photographs from their military service in Hebron in the Occupied West Bank. The exhibition led to the founding of Breaking the Silence, an organization that is dedicated to exposing the day-to-day reality of military service in the Occupied Territories through testimonies by the soldiers entrusted with carrying it out. The organization interviews men and women who have served in Israel’s security forces since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000 and distributes their testimonies online, in print, and through the media. Breaking the Silence also holds events and lectures and conducts tours in the West Bank, with the aim of shedding light on Israel’s operational methods in the Territories and encouraging debate about the true nature of the Occupation.
This volume contains 145 testimonies and is representative of the material collected by the organization (through more than 700 interviews) since its inception. The witnesses represent all strata of Israeli society and nearly all IDF units engaged in the Occupied Territories. They include commanders and officers as well as the rank and file, and both men and women.
All the testimonies published by Breaking the Silence, including those in this book, have been collected by military veterans and verified prior to publication. Unless noted otherwise, they were reported by eyewitnesses and are published verbatim, with only minor alterations to the language to remove identifying details and clarify military terms. The organization keeps the identities of witnesses confidential; without anonymity, it would be impossible to make the information published here public.
Although the soldiers’ descriptions are limited to their personal experiences, the cumulative body of their testimony allows a broad view, not only of the IDF’s primary methods of operation but also of the principles shaping Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories.
Breaking the Silence considers exposing the truth of those policies a moral obligation and a necessary condition for a more just society. For Israelis to ignore clear and unambiguous firsthand accounts of the Occupation means surrendering a fundamental right of citizens, the right to know the truth about their actions and the actions of those who operate in their name. Breaking the Silence demands accountability regarding Israel’s military actions in the Occupied Territories, which are perpetrated by its citizens and in their names.
In this book, readers will find themselves immersed in the ordinary speech of Israeli soldiers, which is dense with jargon, idiom, and a frame of reference specific to their particular experience. The testimonies in the original Hebrew are transcribed verbatim, preserving the words of the testifying soldier as he or she spoke them. The English translation has stayed as faithful as possible to the original, only adding clarification where it is critically necessary for understanding.
Our Harsh Logic was edited in Hebrew by Mikhael Manekin, Avichai Sharon, Yanay Israeli, Oded Naaman, and Levi Spectre.
The publication of Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies, 2000-2010, the report on which this book is based, marked a decade since the outbreak of the Second Palestinian Intifada. Drawing on the firsthand accounts of hundreds of men and women soldiers interviewed by Breaking the Silence, the report exposed the operational methods of the Israeli military in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the impact of those methods on the people who must live with them, the Palestinians, the settlers, and the soldiers themselves. Moreover, the IDF troops, who are charged with carrying out the country’s mission in the Territories, revealed in unprecedented detail the principles and consequences of Israel’s policies, and their descriptions gave clarity to the underlying logic of Israeli operations overall.
The testimonies left no room for doubt: while the security apparatus has indeed had to respond to concrete threats during the past decade, including terrorist attacks on citizens, Israel’s actions are not solely defensive. Rather, they have systematically led to the de facto annexation of large sections of the West Bank through the dispossession of Palestinian residents and by tightening control over the civilian population and instilling fear. The widespread notion in Israeli society that control of the Territories is exclusively aimed at protecting citizens is incompatible with the information conveyed by hundreds of IDF soldiers.
In the media, in internal discussions, and in military briefings, the security forces and government bodies consistently refer to four components of Israeli policy: “prevention of terrorism,” or “prevention of hostile terrorist activity” (sikkul); “separation,” that is, Israel remaining separate from the Palestinian population (hafradah); preserving the Palestinian “fabric of life” (mirkam hayyim); and “enforcing the law” in the Territories (akifat hok). But these terms convey a partial, even distorted, portrayal of the policies that they represent. Although they were originally descriptive, these four terms quickly became code words for activities unrelated to their original meaning. This book lays bare the aspects of those policies that the state’s institutions do not make public. The soldiers who have testified are an especially reliable source of information: they are not merely witnesses; they have been entrusted with the task of carrying out those policies, and are, explicitly or implicitly, asked to conceal them as well.
The testimonies in this book are organized in four parts, each corresponding to one of the policy terms: “prevention,” “separation,” “fabric of life,” and “law enforcement.”
In the first part, “Prevention,” the testimonies show that almost every use of military force in the Territories is considered preventive. Behind this sweeping interpretation of the term lies the assumption that every Palestinian, man and woman, is suspect, constituting a threat to Israeli citizens and soldiers; consequently, deterring the Palestinian population as a whole, through intimidation, will reduce the possibility of opposition and thereby prevent terrorist activity. In this light, abusing Palestinians at checkpoints, confiscating property, imposing collective punishment, changing and obstructing access to free movement (by setting up transient checkpoints, for example), even making arbitrary changes to the rules (according to the whim of a commander at a checkpoint, for instance), these can all be justified as preventive activities. And if the term “preventive” applies to almost every military operation, the difference between offensive and defensive actions gradually disappears. Thus most military acts directed at Palestinians can be viewed as justifiably defensive.
Part Two covers the second policy term, “Separation.” On its face, the principle of “separation” seems to involve the defense of Israelis in Israel proper by driving a wedge between them and the Palestinian population in the Territories. However, the testimonies in this part show that the policy does not only mean separating the two populations, but also separating Palestinian communities from each other. The policy allows Israel to control the Palestinian population: Palestinian movement is channeled to Israel’s monitoring mechanisms, which establish new borders on the ground. The many permits and permissions Palestinians need to move around the West Bank also serve to limit their freedom of movement and internally divide their communities. The often arbitrary regulations and endless bureaucratic mazes are no less effective than physical barriers. The policy of separation is exposed as a means to divide and conquer.
The soldiers’ testimonies also reveal a third effect, which is the separation of Palestinians from their land. The Israeli settlements and surrounding areas are themselves a barrier. Palestinians are forbidden to enter these territories, which often include their own agricultural land. The location of these multiple barriers does not appear to be determined solely by defensive considerations based on where Palestinians live, but rather on offensive calculations governed by Israel’s desire to incorporate certain areas into its jurisdiction. In the West Bank, checkpoints, roads closed to Palestinian traffic, and prohibition against Palestinian movement from one place to another are measures that effectively push Palestinians off their land and allow the expansion of Israeli sovereignty. The soldiers’ testimonies in this part make clear that “separation” is not aimed at withdrawal from the Occupied Territories, but is rather a means of control, dispossession, and annexation.
The reality of Palestinian life under Israeli occupation is the subject of Part Three, “The Fabric of Life.” Israeli spokespeople emphasize that Palestinians in the Territories receive all basic necessities and are not subjected to a humanitarian crisis, and that Israel even ensures the maintenance of a proper “fabric of life.” Such claims, along with assertions of economic prosperity in the West Bank, suggest that life under foreign occupation can be tolerable, and even good. On the basis of these claims, those who support Israeli policy argue that the occupation is a justifiable means of defense, and if harm is regrettably suffered by the population, the damage is “proportionate” to the security of Israeli civilians. But, as the testimonies in Part Three confirm, the fact that Palestinians require Israel’s good grace to lead their lives shows the extent to which they are dependent on Israel. If Israel is able to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, when considered necessary, then Israel also has the power to create one.
Israel’s claim to allow the maintenance of the “fabric of life” in the West Bank reveals the absolute control that it has over the Palestinian people. On a daily basis, the Israeli authorities decide which goods may be transferred from city to city, which businesses may open, who can pass through checkpoints and through security barrier crossings, who may send their children to school, who will be able to reach the universities, and who will receive the medical treatment they need. Israel also continues to hold the private property of tens of thousands of Palestinians. Sometimes property is held for supposed security considerations, other times for the purpose of expropriating land. In a significant number of cases, the decision to confiscate property appears completely arbitrary. Houses, agricultural land, motor vehicles, electronic goods, farm animals, any and all of these can be taken at the discretion of a regional commander or a soldier in the field. Sometimes IDF soldiers even “confiscate” people for use during a training exercise: to practice arrest procedures, troops might burst into a house in the dead of night, arrest one of the residents, and release him later. Thus, as this part shows, the Palestinian fabric of life itself is arbitrary and changing.
In Part Four, which covers the “dual regime,” the soldiers’ testimonies show how, in the name of enforcing the law, Israel maintains two legal systems: in one, Palestinians are governed by military rule that is enforced by soldiers and subject to frequent change; in the other, Israeli settlers are subject to predominantly civil law that is passed by a democratically elected legislature and enforced by police. The Israeli legal authority in the Territories does not represent Palestinians and their interests. Rather, they are subordinate to a system through compliance with threats that reinforce Israel’s overall military superiority.
The testimonies in this part also reveal the active role played by settlers in imposing Israel’s military rule. Settlers serve in public positions and are partners in military deliberations and decisions that control the lives of the Palestinians who live in their area of settlement. Settlers often work in the Ministry of Defense as security coordinator for their settlement, in which case they influence all kinds of details affecting the area, such as transportation, road access, and security patrols, and even participate in soldiers’ briefings.
The security forces do not see the settlers as civilians subject to law enforcement but as a powerful body that shares common goals. Even when the wishes of the settlers and the military are at odds, they still ultimately consider each other as partners in a shared struggle and settle their conflict through compromise. As a consequence, the security forces usually acquiesce in the settlers’ goals, if only partially. Thus settler violence against Palestinians is not treated as an infraction of the law. It is instead one more way in which Israel exercises its control in the Territories.
It is sometimes claimed that the failure to enforce the law among the settlers is due to the weakness of the Israeli police force. The testimonies in this section strongly suggest otherwise: that the law is not enforced because security forces do not treat settlers as regular citizens but as partners. In the process, the security forces also serve the settlers’ political aspirations: annexation of large portions of the Occupied Territories for their use.
“Prevention,” “separation,” “fabric of life,” and “law enforcement” are some of the terms the Israeli authorities use to signify elements of their policy in the Territories. But rather than explaining the policy, these terms conceal it under the cover of defensive terminology whose connection to reality is weak at best. The accounts of the IDF soldiers cited here show that the effect of Israel’s activities in the Territories is not to preserve the political status quo but to change it. While Israel expropriates more and more territory, its military superiority allows it to control all strata of Palestinian life. Contrary to the impression the government prefers to give, in which Israel is slowly withdrawing from the Territories securely and with caution, the soldiers portray a tireless effort to tighten the country’s hold on both the land and on the Palestinian population.
Despite its scope, this book is limited to the information brought to light in the soldiers’ testimonies. It does not describe all the means by which the State of Israel controls the Territories and should not be read as an attempt to address every aspect of the Occupation. The full picture is missing the activities carried out by the General Security Services (Shabak) and other intelligence agencies, as well as the military courts, which constitute an important component of military rule, and additional facets of the military administration.
Rather, the purpose of this book is to replace the code words that sterilize public discussion with a more accurate description of Israel’s policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The facts are clear and accessible; the testimonies oblige us to look directly at Israel’s actions and ask whether they reflect the values of a humane, democratic society.
Prevention: Intimidating the Palestinian Population
Since the outbreak of the Second Intifada in September 2000, more than one thousand Israelis and six thousand Palestinians have been killed. The considerable escalation in violence between Palestinians and Israelis both in the Occupied Territories and within Israel prompted the security system to develop new, more aggressive methods of action, which were intended to quash Palestinian opposition and prevent attempted attacks on Israeli civilians and soldiers on both sides of the Green Line.
The testimonies in Part One address the DPS offensive and proactive military action in the Occupied Territories during the past decade. Although the security forces claim they are “preventing terror,” the soldiers’ testimonies reveal how broadly the term “prevention” is applied: it has become a code word that signifies all offensive action in the Territories. As the testimonies here attest, a significant portion of offensive actions are intended not to prevent a specific act of terrorism, but rather to punish, deter, or tighten control over the Palestinian population. But the term “prevention of terror” gives the stamp of approval to any action in the Territories, obscuring the distinction between using force against terrorists and using force against civilians. In this way, the IDF is able to justify methods that serve to intimidate and oppress the population overall. These testimonies also show the serious implications of blurring this distinction for the lives, dignity, and property of Palestinians.
The actions described include arrest, assassination, and occupation of homes, among others. Also revealed here are the principles and considerations that guide decision makers to take those actions, both in the field and at high levels of command. Early in the Second Intifada, the IDF established the principle behind its methods, calling it a “searing of consciousness.” The assumption is that resistance will fade once Palestinians as a whole see that opposition is useless. In practice, as the testimonies show, “searing of consciousness” translates into intimidation and indiscriminate punishment. In other words, violence against a civilian population and collective punishment are justified by the “searing of consciousness” policy, and they have become cornerstones of IDF strategy.
One particular action identified with the IDF’s efforts at prevention is targeted assassinations. The IDF has claimed repeatedly that assassinations are used as a last resort, as a defensive measure against people who plan and carry out terrorist attacks. However, the soldiers’ testimonies reveal that the military’s undertakings in the last decade are not consistent with statements made in the media and in the courts. More than once, a unit was sent to carry out an assassination when other options, such as arrest, were at its disposal. Also, it becomes clear in this part that at least some of the assassinations are aimed at revenge or punishment, not necessarily to prevent a terrorist attack. One testimony describes the assassination of unarmed Palestinian police officers who were under no suspicion of terror. According to the soldier testifying, the killing was done as revenge for the murder of soldiers the day before by Palestinian militants from the same area. Other testimonies describe a policy of making Palestinians “pay the price” of opposition: missions whose goals are, to quote one of the commanders, to “bring in the bodies.”
Arrests are another instrument of the effort to “prevent terror.” During the last decade, tens of thousands of Palestinians were arrested in almost nightly operations conducted deep in Palestinian territory. According to testimonies, arrests are frequently accompanied by the abuse of bound detainees, who are beaten or humiliated by soldiers and commanders. Arrests are used to accomplish a variety of aims, and in many cases, the reason is unclear to those being arrested. For example, during IDF invasions of some Palestinian cities and villages, all the men were detained in a specific place, although the army knew of no connection to any misdeeds and had no intelligence about their intentions; they were held, bound and blindfolded, sometimes for hours. Thus, under the guise of “prevention of terror,” mass arrests are used to instill fear in the population and tighten Israeli military control.
Arrests are often accompanied by destruction or confiscation of Palestinian property and infrastructure. The testimonies demonstrate that destruction is often the result of a mistake or occurs in the course of operational need, but it may also be inflicted intentionally by soldiers and commanders in the field, or by orders coming from higher up. In every case, destruction is an additional avenue for control of the population.
Invading and taking control of Palestinians’ private domains has also become common in the last ten years. Nearly every night, IDF forces invade families’ homes, often taking up posts there for days or even weeks. This action, known as creating a “straw widow,” is aimed at better controlling the territory by capturing positions and creating hidden lookouts. As reveaIed in the testimonies, though, the aim of taking control of a house is often not to prevent conflict but to cause it. Testimonies in this chapter describe “decoy” missions, whose goal is to force armed Palestinians out of hiding and into the streets in order to strike at them.
In addition to assassination, arrest, and destruction, the testimonies describe a method of intimidation and punishment called “demonstrating a presence,” one of the DPS primary means of instilling fear. A conspicuous expression of “demonstrating a presence” is the army’s night patrol in Palestinian cities and villages. Soldiers are sent to patrol the alleys and streets of a town, and they “demonstrate their presence” in a variety of ways: shooting into the air, throwing sound bombs, shooting flares or tear gas, conducting random house invasions and takeovers, and interrogating passersby. Field-level commanders call these “violent patrols,” “harassment activity,” or “disruption of normalcy.” According to the soldiers’ testimonies, “demonstrating a presence” is done on a frequent and ongoing basis, and it is not dependent on intelligence about a specific terrorist activity. Missions to “demonstrate a presence” prove that the IDF sees all Palestinians, whether or not they are engaged in opposition, as targets for intimidation and harassment.
“Mock operations” are another example of a “disruption of normalcy.” In the course of drilling and training, military forces invade homes and arrest Palestinians: they take over villages as a drill in preparation for war or to train for combat in an urban setting. Although the Palestinians affected might experience these incursions as real, the testimonies show that they are not carried out in order to make an arrest or prevent an attack but are explicitly defined as drilling and training activities.
Finally, the term “prevention” is also used to suppress nonviolent opposition to the Occupation. During the past few years, a number of grassroots Palestinian protest movements have developed in the Territories, often with the cooperation of Israeli and international activists. These movements rely on demonstrations, publications, and legal action to make their protest, all forms of nonviolence. Yet IDF “prevention” extends to using violence against protesters, arresting political activists, and imposing curfews on villages in which political activity takes place.
The different objectives and methods revealed here form part of the logic of IDF activity in the Territories over the last decade. Underlying the reasoning governing this activity is the assumption that distinguishing between enemy civilians and enemy combatants is not necessary. “Demonstrating a presence” and the “searing of consciousness” express this logic best: systematic harm to Palestinians as a whole makes the population more obedient and easier to control.
1. Stun grenades at three in the morning
UNIT: PARATROOPERS, LOCATION: NABLUS DISTRICT, YEAR: 2003
We did all kinds of very sketchy work in Area A*. That could mean, for example, going into Tubas on a Friday, when the market is packed, to set up a surprise checkpoint in the middle of the village. One time, we arrived to set up a checkpoint like that on Friday morning, and we started to spread out: inspecting vehicles and every car that passed. Three hundred meters from us some kids start a small demonstration. They throw rocks at us, but they come maybe ten meters and don’t hit us. They start cursing us and everything. At the same time, a crowd of people gathers. Of course, this was followed by aiming our weapons at the kids-you can call it self-defense.
* Territory in which, according to the terms of the 1995 Washington Agreement, securityrelated and civilian issues are under control of the Palestinian Authority; in Area B, the Palestinian Authority controls only civilian affairs; Area C, which includes the Israeli settlements, the Jordan Valley, buffer zones, and bypass and access roads, a majority of the land remains exclusively under Israeli control
What was the purpose of the checkpoint?
Just to show our presence, to get into a firefight, we didn’t know whether that would happen or not. In the end we got out without a scratch, without anything happening, but the company commander lost it. He asked one of the grenade launchers to fire a riot control grenade toward the demonstrators, the children. The grenade launcher refused, and afterward he was treated terribly by the company commander. He wasn’t punished, because the company commander knew he’d given an illegal order, but he was treated really disgustingly by the staff. That’s what happened. Another time we went into Tubas at three in the morning in a Safari and threw stun grenades in the street. For no reason, just to wake people up.
What was the point?
To say, “We’re here. The IDF is here.” In general, they told us that if some terrorist heard the IDF in the village, then maybe he’d come outside to fight. No one ever came out. It seems that the goal was just to show the local population that the IDF is here, and it’s a common policy: “The IDF is here, in the Territories, and we’ll make your life bitter until you decide to stop the terror.” The IDF has no problem doing it. But we didn’t understand why we were throwing grenades. We threw a grenade. We heard a “boom,” and we saw people waking up. When we got back they’d say, “Great operation,” but we didn’t understand why. This happened every day, a different force from the company did it each time, it was just part of the routine, part of our lives.
2. To stop the village from sleeping
UNIT: ARTILLERY, LOCATION: GUSH ETZION, YEAR: 2004
Normally, the point of “Happy Purim” is to stop people from sleeping [On the Purim holiday, Israeli children celebrate by making tremendous noise and creating chaos in the streets]. It means going into a village in the middle of the night, going around throwing stun grenades and making noise. Not all night long, but at some specific time. It doesn’t matter how long you do it, they don’t set an end time. They say, “Okay, they threw stones at you today in Husan, so do a Happy Purim there.” There weren’t that many of those.
Is that what’s called “demonstrating a presence”?
I’m sure you’ve heard the term Happy Purim before. If not, you’ll hear it. Yes, demonstrating a presence. Sometimes we got instructions from the battalion to do something like that. . . . It’s part of the activities that happen before. . .
What’s the rationale behind that kind of operation?
If the village initiates an operation, then you’re going to initiate a lack of sleep. I never checked how much this kind of operation actually stops people from sleeping, because you aren’t in the village for four hours throwing stun grenades every ten minutes, if we did that three times the IDF would run out of stun grenades. These are operations that happen at a specific time, and if you throw a single stun grenade at point X in Nahalin, it probably won’t make much noise a hundred or two hundred meters away. In general, maybe this creates the impression that the IDF is in the village at night, without having to do too much, but I don’t think it’s more than that.
3. They came to a house and just demolished it
UNIT: KFIR BRIGADE, LOCATION: NABLUS DISTRICT, YEAR: 2009
During your service in the Territories, what shook you up the most?
The searches we did in Hares, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. They said there are sixty houses that have to be searched. I said that there had to have been some warning from intelligence. I tried to justify it to myself.
Was this during the day or at night?
You went out as a patrol?
No, the whole division. It was a battalion operation, they spread out over the whole village, took control of the school, smashed the locks, the classrooms. One room was used as the investigation room for the Shin Bet, one room for detainees, one room for the soldiers to rest [“Shin Bet” and “Shabak” are used interchangeably. Both names are acronyms for Sherut Bitachon Clali, or General Security Services, which is responsible for internal intelligence]. I remember it particularly annoyed me that they chose a school. We went house by house, knocking at two in the morning on the family’s door. They’re scared to death, girls peeing in their pants with fear. We bang on the doors, there’s a feeling of “We’ll show them,” it’s fanatical. We go into the house and turn everything upside down.
What’s the procedure?
Gather the family in one room, put a guard there, tell the guard to keep his gun on them, and then search the whole house.
We received another order that everyone born after 1980 until . . . everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine, doesn’t matter who, bring him in cuffed and blindfolded. They yelled at old people, one of them had an epileptic seizure. They carried on yelling at him. He doesn’t speak Hebrew and they continue yelling at him. The medic treated him. We did the rounds. Every house we went into, they took everyone between sixteen and twenty-nine and brought them to the school. They sat tied up in the schoolyard.
Did they tell you the purpose of all this?
To locate weapons. But we didn’t find any weapons in the end. They confiscated kitchen knives. What shocked me the most was that there was also stealing. One person took twenty Shekels. People went into the houses and looked for things to steal. This was a very poor village. At one point, guys were saying, “What a bummer, there’s nothing to steal.” “I took some markers just so I could say that I stole something.”
That was said in a conversation among the soldiers?
Among the soldiers, after the action. There was a lot of joy at peopIe’s misery, guys were happy taIking about it. There was a moment where someone they knew was mentally ill yelled at the soldiers, but one soldier decided that he was going to beat him up anyway, so they smashed him. They hit him in the head with the butt of a gun, he was bleeding, and they brought him to the school along with everyone else. There were a pile of arrest orders signed by the battalion commander, ready, with one area left blank. They’d fill in that the person was detained on suspicion of disturbing the peace. They just filled in the name and the reason for arrest. I remember there were people with plastic handcuffs that had been put on really tight, and I’d cut them off and put on looser ones. I got to speak with people there. There was one who worked thirteen hours a day, and another one a settler had brought into Israel to work for him, after two months he didn’t pay him and handed him over to the police [It is illegal for Palestinians from the Territories to work within Israel without a permit].
All the people came from that one village?
Anything else you remember from that evening?
That bothered me? A small thing, but it bothered me. There was one house that they just demolished. There’s a dog that can find weapons but they didn’t bring him, they just destroyed the house. The mother watched from the side and cried, the kids sat with her and stroked her. I see how my mom puts so much effort into every corner of our house, and suddenly they come and destroy it.
What do you mean, that they just destroyed a house?
They smash the floors, turn over sofas, throw plants and pictures, turn over beds, smash the closets, the tiles. There were other, smaller things, but this really bothered me. The look on the people whose house you’ve gone into. It really hurt me to see this. And after all that, they left them for hours tied up and blindfolded in the school. The order came to free them at four in the afternoon. So that was more than twelve hours. There were investigators from the security services who sat there and interrogated them one by one.
During an army operation near Jenin, this teenaged boy wandered into the area. When the soldiers discovered that he was related to a man they were looking for, they took him back to their post (seen here) to deliver him to the Shin Bet for interrogation.
Had there been an earlier terrorist attack in the area?
No. We didn’t even find any weapons. The brigade commander claimed that the Shin Bet did find some intelligence, and that there are a lot of guys there who throw stones, and that now we’d be able to catch them . . . Things from the operation in Hares are always surfacing in my mind.
The way they looked at us, what was going through their minds, their children’s minds. How you can take a woman’s son in the middle of the night and put him in handcuffs and a blindfold.
4. The deputy brigade commander beat up a restrained detainee
UNIT: GENERAL STAFF RECONNAISSANCE UNIT, LOCATION: NABLUS AREA, YEAR: 2000
It was in Kfar Tal, we went to look for a few suspects, a Nassar Asaida and his brother Osama Asaida. And we were at a house where Osama was supposed to be, we surrounded the house and closed in. The procedure is that you yell and make noise . . . and if that doesn’t do it, you throw a stone at the door so they’ll wake up, and if that doesn’t work, then you shoot in the air or at the walls . . . In the end you throw bombs on the roof, but the procedure is clear that you start the . . . the action with . . .
Not with shooting?
Not with shooting but . . . really at the end . . . there was fire from a machine gun, maybe a Negev, I don’t remember what there was, at the wall. A burst of fire, you know five, six times: rat-tat-tat-tat, like that . . . like they fired a lot and again, it was against procedure and against . . .
So what then happened to the suspect?
The suspect came out . . . and we interrogated him, and it really was him, and they restrained him with his hands behind his back and blindfolded him, I don’t remember what we put on him, um . . . and I took him to the northeastern corner of the courtyard and some kind of, they sent some kind of armored jeep from the deputy brigade commander, the brigade commander at that time was –, but he wasn’t there. I don’t know who the deputy brigade commander was. He arrived with a driver and a radio man or some other guy, and when I took [the detainee] I certainly wasn’t rough but I also wasn’t gentle, I was very assertive. I took him and made things clear, so it was totally clear who’s the boss in this situation, but when I got to the deputy brigade commander, then he decided that instead of just being aggressive, he’d also remind him who’s the boss, who’s the Jew and who’s the Arab, who’s the prisoner, and he gave him some two, three, four blows, elbow to the ribs, a kick to the ass, all kinds of . . .
The deputy brigade commander himself?
The deputy brigade commander himself. It wasn’t just “See who’s the boss,” which, say, would mean hitting him once to show him. I don’t understand it, it could just be the guy, just a way of releasing tension. The deputy brigade commander letting off tension with the . . . this son of a bitch who probably sent suicide bombers . . . In that situation it was me standing between these two people, the terrorist or the suspected terrorist, and the deputy brigade commander, so that he wouldn’t . . . to prevent abuse of the detainee. I also found myself threatening the . . . two or three times I threatened the driver and the radioman, when they put him into the back of the jeep or whatever it was, that if I heard that something happened to him, I would personally take care of them. I don’t know where he is, and how this ended. But I remember that afterward I thought that as a soldier who’s there to protect the State of Israel, in the end I found myself wondering, what’s the difference between the deputy brigade commander abusing a . . . a Palestinian detainee who, it doesn’t matter what he did, who is now restrained and blindfolded? Of course I reported it as well, it didn’t lead to anything.
5. They kicked a cuffed man in his stomach and head
UNIT: ARMORED CORPS, LOCATION: GENERAL, YEAR: 2000
There’s some law that it’s forbidden to hit a Palestinian when he’s handcuffed, when his hands are tied. When the Shabak guys take people from their homes in the middle of the night, they’d blindfold them and kick them in the stomach while they’re handcuffed. Three in the morning, they open the door, burst into the house. The mother’s hysterical, the whole family’s hysterical . . . the Shabak sends someone in to check, it’s not always a terrorist, but they grab him, they bring him out, you can’t imagine what’s going through the guy’s head, he’s blindfolded, there’s two soldiers holding him from behind, and other soldiers follow. These are standing army, fifteen people in the company who’re a problem, a minority. And they just, here’s this man handcuffed, and they kick him in the stomach and the head . . .those guys really liked doing it.
Was it reported to the staff?
This was an officer! A serious officer, part of the staff! During your regular service, you don’t understand what’s going . . . If this guy wasn’t allowed to do it, he wouldn’t do it! It’s just because that’s how it is. It’s the Wild West and everyone . . . does whatever they want.
And most of the soldiers, they just take it as given?
. . . The truth is, when I think about it, I should have done something. I really should have stopped it . . . but you don’t think like that . . . You say that’s the reality, it doesn’t have to be that way, they’re shits for doing it . . . but you don’t really know what to do. You don’t feel like there’s anyone to turn to.
You go back home. Did you tell your mother and father?
Are you kidding? You suppress it.
Your parents knew nothing at all?
What are you . . . ? You’re part of it. Really, there isn’t much you can do. Especially when they’re officers and you’re in the Tank Corps who they wouldn’t even piss on, so what? You’re going to fight? You’re going to stop it? You can’t start messing with company loyalty or the group like that, you can’t start fighting with people in the middle of it all. It wouldn’t happen now. I wouldn’t let it happen, but that’s not saying much because I’m in the reserves.
6. He’s hitting an Arab, and I’m doing nothing
UNIT: NAHAL, LOCATION: HEBRON, YEAR: 2009
The forward command team . . . kept telling us they hit Arabs for laughs all the time. On patrols and . . . they always hit them, but there was one time that was my main event . . . One day we got an alert. We jumped up, began to gear up, me and the medic were getting the gear for the jeep, and the company commander opened his office door, came out, and said: “Scram everybody, only me and . . are going.” He told me to leave my gear and come as I am. He wasn’t wearing his bulletproof vest or anything, just his uniform and weapon. We drove to the Pharmacy checkpoint. There were two or three kids there who wouldn’t go through the metal detector. We stopped the jeep, he got off, took a boy to the alley.
One of the kids who wouldn’t go through the machine?
Yeah. And then he did what he did.
He . . . I can see it, like a film. First he faced the kid, the kid was close to the wall, he faced him, looked at him for a second, and then choked him with the . . . held him like this with his elbow.
Against the wall?
Choked him up against the wall. The kid went wild, and the company commander was screaming at him, in Hebrew, not in Arabic. Then he let him go. The kid raised his hands to wipe his eyes, and the commander gave him a blow. The kid dropped his hands and stopped wiping his eyes, he left his hands at his side, and then the slapping started. More and more slaps. Blows. And yelling the whole time. The kid began to scream, it was scary, and people started coming around the checkpoint to look in the alley. Then I remember the commander coming out and telling them “It’s okay, everything’s okay.” He yelled at the kid: “Stay here, don’t go anywhere.” He came out, said everything was okay, called over the squad commander from the checkpoint, stood facing the kid and told the squad commander, “That’s how you deal with them.” Then he gave the kid another two slaps and let him go.
It’s a crazy story, I remember sitting in the vehicle, looking on, and telling myself: I’ve been waiting for a situation like this for three years. From the minute I enlisted, I wanted to stop things like this, and here I am doing nothing, choosing to do nothing, is that okay? I remember answering myself: Yes, it’s okay. He’s hitting an Arab, and I’m doing nothing. I was really aware of doing nothing because I was scared of the company commander, and what could I do? Jump off the jeep and tell him to stop, because it’s stupid, what he’s doing?
How old was the boy?
A teenager. Not eighteen. More like thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years old.
How long did it go on? The beating? I don’t remember.
Ten minutes? An hour?
It wasn’t . . . Something like ten minutes of hitting. Then he called over the squad commander.
The squad commander at the checkpoint? Ten, fifteen minutes, then he got into his vehicle and drove off.
The kid stayed in the alley?
Yeah. In the alley. You know the one I’m talking about? The alley in front of Pharmacy checkpoint.
When you’re coming from Gross?
On the left?
On the right. There’s the checkpoint, the entrance to old Abu Sneina.
Tell me, did you talk about this with anyone, another officer, someone else, friends?
I remember returning to the post, getting off the vehicle, I was like . . . I got off and went into the room where the rest of the platoon was, and said: “Listen, you can’t imagine the insane thing that just happened, he came along and beat him up.” That’s it.
. . .
OUR HARSH LOGIC. Israeli soldiers’ testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 – Breaking the Silence.
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