Testimony: "The first candle of Hanukkah"
An Israeli soldier provides a testimony to Breaking the Silence in which he describes how his Unit would celebrate Hanukkah with drums close to where Palestinian child detainees were tied and blindfolded.
Soldier: It was Hanukkah, we were lighting the first candle (on the first day of the holiday) at the company, and there were two kids who had been throwing stones on Route 60, on the road, and then they were caught and taken to the base. They were brought in and put outside the company’s operations room. It was just before we lit the first candle (on the first night of Hanukkah), in the evening, and they were blindfolded and cuffed at the front, with those tick-tack zip ties. They were about… they looked small, but they were about 14 and 16, something like that. Not more than 16 and not less than 12.
Now, they were sitting like outside the operations room, but inside like this sort of structure that was right next to the center of the company area, where we would all gather and do various company chores, like cleaning and… and that’s where we did the first candle lighting. Now, [it’s the] first candle lighting, so when you do it at home it’s nice and pleasant and you sing and all that, but when you’re in the army and it’s all guys, then you shout and make noise and use drums for some reason, like 'darbuking' (playing the darbuka drums), which is like a company vibe where you come and sing about the company and about how good the company is and how much the other companies are not as good compared to us, and all sorts of swearwords are put in, to, I don’t know, somehow boost the morale.
Anyway, so there are these kids there aged like 13, whose heads are covered, and [next to them] we’re singing these songs and beating the drums really loudly. They probably don’t understand Hebrew, [but] these swearwords are swearwords that they can understand. Like “sharmutot” [the plural of an Arabic word also used by Israelis meaning “slut”] and words they can understand from Arabic. And how would they know we’re not talking about them? They must think they’re going to be cooked alive in a second. It’s a situation which is ugly.
The next day there was a kind of agreement that it wasn’t really okay what happened there. I don’t know if everybody [agreed], but it felt to me like a kind of hypocrisy. That they didn’t want to say anything [when it was happening] because they didn’t want to like disrespect the company 'darbuking', which is something really sacred, but a day later suddenly they do think that it was not so okay. It was a slap in the face, like, for me, because I thought that in our unit we handle the events according to the rules and we’re really… And even more than that, we’re good people. And even there a whole company can sing and know that something is not right, and still not say anything. Zero.
So it reminded me of the Stanford prison. The Stanford prison experiment, where you enter a situation, you enter a system… It’s like I’m in basic training, on the first day I saw weapons and was scared. I heard shots, I was scared. After a bit of time you get used to it. The habit puts you into this frame of mind that makes these situations possible. And then you lose your benchmark for a situation that is further away.
Interviewer: Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think you’re trying to say that somehow your moral judgment was a bit… like, your conscience somehow…
Soldier: Yes, but it’s not like we go crazy or something like that. It’s just… it’s normal people, it’s good people. We just enter a situation like in the Stanford prison. We enter a situation, we enter the social context and behave in the same way. It’s not… like behavior according to the rules dictated in society. And I’m saying, like, before the army I would see a weapon, I would be scared. Someone pointed a weapon, I’d be scared. After this, as far as I’m concerned it’s a stick, it’s not… Like, I’m so used to it. I know how to use it, I know how to clean it, I know everything.
Say we’re in training and we’re shooting and all that: if someone had shown up, a civilian arriving from outside and watching, for him it would be extreme. But for us it’s routine. So that’s the reason I kind of think that in that situation nobody said anything, because they knew like – “okay, we’re now darbuking, singing for the company, so…,” and we’re used to having detainees in that room because we always arrest people and put them there, and we’re used to the fact that there is darbuking. That’s how it is. But they (the arrested teens) are there. Like, we’re doing our job. And it’s insensitive, it’s lack of awareness mixed with the military context that created this situation.