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Home » Soldiers »

Testimony - "You disrupt their daily life"

 

Name: Anonymous
Rank: First Sergeant
Unit: 188 Armored Corps
Location: Zayta, West Bank
Date: 2017

An Israeli soldier provides a testimony to Breaking the Silence explaining why he chose to break his silence and speak out. "There's a story [which] in my eyes is the weirdest, the most messed up and reflects the reality of ruling over civilians for the sake of ruling."

Soldier: "There's a story [which] in my eyes is the weirdest, the most messed up and reflects the reality of ruling over civilians for the sake of ruling. Now, I say 'stop' for a second. The army doesn't do it out of an evil will to control human beings. It's just that in order to maintain that situation (military rule in the territories), it's what has to be done.

We would enter villages, for example we would enter Zayta. Zayta is a small village without many people. We enter the village, the village center, set up a flying checkpoint. Traffic spikes. A few vehicles, we drive up a small hill, provide cover. What we do is check vehicles. What is checking vehicles? To look in the trunk, to check their IDs, and let them drive away. Now, I don't really know what I'm checking [for]. They told me [to] check IDs, but they didn't give the number of a suspect in the village. And even if Ahmed Yassin was there, I wasn’t told about it. Nothing. "Check them, check their vehicle."

Now, what exactly am I supposed to check in his vehicle? He's driving in his own village. Even if there were knives there it’s, you know, it’s like, farmers can also work with them. It’s not... They’re not even in Israel. So you enter the village, you check them, I don't even know what I'm checking. You cause a traffic jam in a village of about 200-300 residents. You disrupt their daily life. After two hours you just pack up and leave."

Interviewer: "So what do you check?"

Soldier: "Nothing. I don't know what I'm checking at all. As a commander I'm telling you, as the person responsible for the situation, I had no idea what I was doing."

Interviewer: "What were you told was the purpose of the mission?"

Soldier: "Security check."

Interviewer: "The purpose of which, was?"

Soldier: "I don't know, and also on this particular matter I asked for clarifications, I asked to understand what I'm doing. What for? What’s the goal? Am I looking for someone? Am I looking for some terrorist?"

Interviewer: "And how do you understand the purpose of the mission?"

Soldier: "I think it was just to show them that ours is bigger. In other words, that here we are entering the village and we'll check whomever we want. We'll now enter the village, and everyone will get in line in their cars, and they'll pass through when I tell them to. And that's the gist of it. And as a soldier you don't think about it. The truth is, I only thought about it afterwards. And you know what? I did enter their village, check them, and I didn't have any computer for me to type their ID numbers and check if he, if he's a suspicious person."

Interviewer: "Whose a suspicious person?"

Soldier: "Honestly, listen, I don't even know what to tell you, I’ll tell you the truth. I don't know what a suspicious person is inside their own village. It's just people driving around their village. I can pass on [their information] to the operations room, and they'll, like [check], and see if he's a suspicious person or something like that, but generally..."

Interviewer: "Who would you pass on to the operations room?"

Soldier: "A young man, a beard would increase the chances, any person who seemed to fit the stereotype of a terrorist, [I would say to myself], "Fine, okay, check his number with the operations room." I, specifically, wouldn't do it as much, but others who were with me did it, like, freely. Not too much though, because ultimately your goal is to get back to the post and chill."

Interviewer: "So what do you check with the operations room?"

Soldier: "Listen, I take the ID, I don't, I don't even check with the operations room. I look at the ID, make a face like someone who's in the know, and hand him back the ID."

Interviewer: "And what do you see in the ID?"

Soldier: "Nothing, there's no point."

Interviewer: "So you just look at the ID, return it to him, and ...?"

Soldier: "Open the trunk, open that," I look in the trunk and make a face like someone who's in the know."

Interviewer: "Every vehicle like that?"

Soldier: "When there were serious checkposts, yes, pretty much every vehicle."

Interviewer: "Did you ever find anything?"

Soldiers: "No, the truth is, we didn't?"

"I remember being on the border between Kibbutz Metzer and Qaffin (a Palestinian village in the northern West Bank). And I would think to myself: seriously, they don't have the slightest idea what's happening a meter from their back, like, it's amazing. You step one meter away and you're in a completely different reality, and people don't know about it. While doing patrols, there was this spot where we would stop and make coffee. Suddenly some guys from Metzer came to sit with us, and I said to myself: seriously, they have like no idea. They've been living here all their lives and they don't understand what's going on here at all. There’s this reality here, which is sometimes, you know, kind of surreal. Where an 18-year-old boy checks, and de-facto controls the morning of 200 people, adults, children, old women, not so old women. And nobody knows this, people don't understand what's happening right next to them, in the territories. And people [soldiers] who are in the territories do things out of habit, it's their daily routine, it's what they do. And sometimes for soldiers, for me too, it took me some time before what was really problematic about my service hit me. At first I didn't think about all these stories I told you about the deputy battalion commander, and the platoon commander who beat someone, but really that's all nonsense, get it? What’s really problematic [is that] you don't understand [what you're doing] because you're doing it as a soldier and not doing it as a thinking human being."
 
Interviewer: "And what's problematic?"
 
Soldier: "It’s problematic that I, as a 19-20 year old kid, control the lives of so many people, and that I have disproportional authority. And honestly, I'll tell you the truth, I also have no idea what to do with it. I would check people without knowing why I'm doing it. And this whole situation where people are, every day, under this military rule, and their day-to-day lives are determined by it. That's what's problematic. That's it, at large. That's what bothers me in the conflict, that's what bothers me in the territories. As far as I'm concerned I don't care what they do, what solution there will be, whether we divide Jerusalem or divide Hadera, as long as we don't rule these people."