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Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories
February 23, 2014

Israel’s greatest danger is its role as occupier


I HAVE been following the discussion in Australia regarding the recent program aired on ABC’s Four Corners, for which I was interviewed. I served as a combat soldier in the Occupied Territories from 2001 to 2004, and after finishing my service, my comrades and I founded Breaking the Silence. Our mission has been to provide current and former combat soldiers a platform by which to share the reality they witnessed in the Occupied Territories.

I believe that most of the people involved in this Australian discussion sincerely seek what is best for Israel. However, the only way to actually do what is best for Israel is first of all to learn the facts, however unpleasant they may be.

For close to five decades now, Israel has been engaged in the systematic military control of millions of Palestinians. Try to imagine this: 46 years of living under the continuous occupation of a foreign nation’s army. What does this situation do to us, the Israelis? And to Palestinians?

When The Australian’s reporter John Lyons turned to me – as a former soldier who served in the territories – and asked me to describe the treatment of children there, I found myself at a loss for words. When my mission as a soldier was to control a civilian population in an ever-restrictive fashion, I lost the ability to differentiate between an innocent civilian and an enemy. Likewise, I saw no difference between children and adults.

For a soldier, every Palestinian child who throws a stone (even if not a real threat) is a potential terrorist. Every Palestinian civilian is considered as dangerous as the combatants of Hezbollah and Hamas. Recognising this fact is the only way to understand Israel’s conduct towards Palestinian children as accurately portrayed in Four Corners.

But one can find countless examples other than violations of childrens’ rights among the hundreds of soldier testimonies published on Breaking the Silence’s website.

Settlements are another component that enable Israeli control over Palestinians. Israel can continue her talk of dismantling the current settlements and not building new ones, but the reality on the ground tells a different story. It’s enough to glance at a map of the West Bank, entirely riddled with settlements and outposts, to understand the devastating consequences of settlement policy.

I am no lawyer, so I choose to stay out of debates about whether settlements are legal or not under international law. Rather, I am an Israeli and a former combat soldier. As such, I am familiar with the reality in the territories and the consequences of the occupation. Everyone who supports Israel should ask themselves where this policy – of occupation, of military control, and of settlement – is leading us?

As a soldier, I know that Israel is not engaged in easing the lives of Palestinians, but rather in strengthening our control over them. This is the security imperative that defines the Israel Defence Forces. The tightening of the day-to-day control over Palestinian lives and the incessant growth of the settlements leads to solely one outcome. Israel is deepening her long-term grip over the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

This is the real issue supporters of Israel should debate: what does the future of the Israel look like if it maintains the settlements and the occupation?

It is up to the Jewish community in Australia, like other supporters of Israel the world over, to realise that the real danger to Israel’s existence today is not anti-Semitism (which exists throughout the world, including in Australia) but its control over millions of Palestinians deprived of their rights and freedom. I understand the suspicion that every critique of Israel is in fact anti-Semitism in disguise. But it is first and foremost the occupation – not Israel’s existence as a Jewish state – that delegitimises Israel in the eyes of the world. Instead of busying ourselves with rationalising policies of settlement and control, the way to stand by Israel today is to actively lobby for an end to the occupation.

Israel will never be able to be the country we wish it to be so long as generations of soldiers, like me, are sent to protect settlers and intimidate Palestinians. There can be no peace within a reality of occupation and oppression. I call on the Australian community to stand with us, the IDF soldiers, and to support us in transforming Israel into the model state we so dearly want to be proud of.

First published on The Australian.

YEHUDA SHAUL Yehuda Shaul served as a combat soldier in the IDF, reaching the rank of commander and platoon sergeant. He is the founder of Breaking the Silence.
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