Testimony - "And then I arrived in the territories and saw what's actually being done there."
|| First Sergeant
|| Nahal, Reconnaissance Unit
|| Hebron, West Bank
An Israeli soldier provides a testimony to Breaking the Silence explaining why he chose to speak out. "I went through a process in the army×´ I came from a place, thinking that we couldn×³t be doing anything wrong. And then I arrived to the territories, and saw what’s actually being done there."
Soldier: "Those times that they [the settlers in Hebron] come and talk to you and are nice to you and offer you food and drink and invite you over, that's when you feel the hypocrisy issue. On the one hand they offer you food and drink and show you how much they care about you and how grateful they are, but the moment you get in their way, they won't give a damn about you, and they'll push you, "Don't get in my way.""
Interviewer: "Did you encounter such cases?"
Soldier: "Yes, near the Tomb [of the Patriarchs] there are many Arab stores that have been closed since the Intifada. Once they were open, and today they're not allowed to open them. And a group of adult settlers, 30, 40 or older, simply set up a plastic table with food and drink. They simply sat opposite an Arab store that was allowed to open, and waited there. At first I didn't understand what the story was there, they're sitting with a plastic table with food and drink, and they offered us food, and were really nice and talked to us. I didn't understand that they were having a demonstration in front of the store. The moment the Palestinian came and opened his store, they began to riot, began to attack. We tried to stop them and they pushed a Givati soldier to the ground. One of the soldiers tried to use his body to stop one of the settlers, whom we had been talking to about three minutes earlier, and we had a really good conversation, and it was nice, and we smiled and talked amicably, and suddenly he [the settler] had an aggressive expression: get out of here, don't get in my way."
Interviewer: "What did they want?"
Soldier: "They simply wanted to cause a commotion about the Palestinian being allowed to open his store there. There were also babies there, and pregnant settler women."
Interviewer: "What did you do about it?"
Soldier: "We tried to stop the riot. After that, the Givati platoon commander sort of quipped: they always do that, bring babies and pregnant women, to make it harder for us to deal with them so that we won’t apply too much force. They always use that filthy trick. That's what he said."
Interviewer: So how are you supposed to handle such an incident? You now see the settlers attacking the Palestinian storeowner – what are you supposed to do in such a situation?"
Soldier: "Listen, when there's an officer [there] and a company commander as well, he naturally wants us to try and stop it, not to let it happen."
Interviewer: "In this case how did you try to stop it?"
Soldier: "We simply blocked them with our bodies, nothing more than that, because ultimately the soldiers are afraid because these settlers come to you all the time and say: I'll submit a complaint about you, you're not allowed to touch me. Stuff like that. And the army says so as well. You're told such things in briefings before heading out for patrols or guard duty. Usually the company commander wants you to try and prevent things like that but tells you: be careful, there are these limitations."
Interviewer: "And how do you feel in such a situation?"
Soldier: You're mostly angry with them. I come and protect you and risk my life, I do hard work, dirty work, all in order to protect you, and there’s this enormous crazy apparatus here with many resources just to protect a handful of people, and they do whatever they want. So you’re irritated both by the level of hypocrisy and the fact that they don't give a damn about you.
I went through a process in the army. I came from a place, thinking that we couldn’t be doing anything wrong. Like, what, we're the state of Israel, we're doing something bad? It doesn't make sense. And then I arrived to the territories, and saw what’s actually being done there. I asked myself if what we're actually doing here is defending civilians, defending the state of Israel. And it didn't feel that way, it simply felt like there are settlers there, and we're defending them, [but] it feels like a completely different entity. They behave differently, they don't feel any belonging to the government and the law, they feel that they belong to this thing called greater Israel and stuff like that, and that's what interests them, and it simply feels wrong. You also see what happens in the territories as far as the Palestinians are concerned, what happens to them."
Interviewer: "What happens to them?"
Soldier: "I now have to leave my home in my neighborhood and pass through a crossing, wait for two hours knowing that I might not pass through. And really, if I have to get to work? I could get up in the morning and wait for two or three hours, and most likely can't get to work, and can't bring money home. When they enter my home in the middle of the night - and it's not a pleasant situation when someone enters your house in the middle of the night - and suddenly your kids start crying and they're scared, and everybody’s scared, and they simply turn your house upside down. Little by little you understand that something isn’t right there. There isn’t really something there that makes you feel that now you're protecting the state of Israel, the security of the state of Israel."
Interviewer: "And how can talking about it help?"
Soldier: "First of all it’s the sort of thing that needs time, I think, [until] eventually people will really understand what's going on. It's simply a matter of raising awareness, I'm optimistic about it, I really believe that it will happen someday, that we'll get out of there. But it comes with the simple need to raise awareness, especially soldiers who will speak out about what they experienced there, even if it seems wrong to them, they should speak about these things. So that [people] will understand what’s truly happening, and then as a society we can decide if what we're doing there is fine and acceptable for us, or if it's wrong and unacceptable for us. That's the issue."