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Israeli soldiers talk about the occupied territories
  
October 13, 2015

We Won’t Be Silenced

by RON ZAYDEL

On 19.9 an article was published in Haaretz by an anonymous soldier who served as a combatant in the Occupied Territories, in which he criticizes the organization, Breaking the Silence. His central argument directed toward me and my friends at Breaking the Silence is that we are working against the IDF and its soldiers, instead of trying to fix whatever needs fixing (and he agrees that there is a need for repairs). The soldier directs us “to work quietly with the IDF” to correct specific deficiencies, as he understands that “Breaking the Silence collects and publishes testimonies in order to combat unethical practices within the IDF.”

This argument reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the goal we work toward, and I’m glad for the opportunity to set the record straight.

The fundamental reason that we are not “working with the IDF,” is that according to our perspective, the IDF is not the problem, and therefore it cannot be the solution. The problem is the political mission that we were sent to execute – enforcing a military regime over millions of civilians deprived of human rights and basic civil liberties. When the task is immoral, the tools to carry it out are inevitably immoral.

The soldier mentions the procedure of “mapping” in his article – entry into innocent civilians’ homes and registration of their inhabitants – and outlines it as “unnecessary and immoral,” a mission designed to “create deterrence among the civilian population and maintain competency among combatants.” He believes that deterrence can also be created in less harmful ways. However, the question that needs to be asked, and that is completely absent from his article, is deterrence toward what end? What is the IDF, that is, we, the citizens who sent the IDF to carry out missions, attempting to achieve in trying to “create a sense of persecution” (as is articulated in IDF lingo) among the Palestinian population? What operational benefits are gleaned from constraining millions of people through a constant sense of fear? There’s only one answer – control.

This control is a key element, required by the mission that we sent the army to carry out: the preservation of the military occupation in the territories. In order for us to maintain the occupation, it’s on us to constantly operate elaborate systems of violence and intimidation, more or less, to preemptively prevent any attempt to challenge the status quo.

These arrangements include a wide range of tasks given to us soldiers. From mappings, whose goal was well described by the soldier; to patrols, intended to make the presence of the army felt on the ground; to flying checkpoints aimed at “disrupting the daily life of the Palestinian population” (as is written in the briefing I received as a soldier); through randomly entering homes to “search” (what exactly we were looking for has never been explained to me); to “mock arrests,” that is, the arrest of an innocent person for the purpose of training and exercising soldiers. The purpose of these routine tasks, and many others for which space is limited to detail, is to achieve the same “deterrence,” that is, control, which has allowed the State of Israel to keep the Palestinians under military rule for 48 years to date.

We argue, as the soldier himself claims, that military control over a civilian population requires a broad spectrum of military activities aimed at the suppression of the occupied population. Therefore, an occupying army can never be a moral army, and it’s up to the society that sends its sons to carry out the missions of occupation to understand and internalize that. Like other regimes of military occupation, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is also required to perform tasks that aim to intimidate, or “burn into the consciousness” in the words of the Minister of Defense, and enable their prolonged control over the territory and population. These tasks will always require the violation of the most basic rights of the occupied population and will require the population of the occupying state to pay a heavy moral price.

The publication of testimonies from male and female soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories is intended to open a window for Israeli society, through which it may look at the reality that takes place so close geographically, though so far in terms of its consciousness. The testimonies allow Israeli citizens to hear firsthand descriptions of daily life that takes place under the prolonged occupation. As soldiers sent by Israeli society to serve in the territories and to ensure prolonged military control, we return to those who sent us to carry out the task, and ask, or rather demand, from the same public, to take responsibility for the tasks we carried out in its name.

Unfortunately, the anonymous soldier, like many other members of the Israeli public, falls into the demagogic trap placed by right-wingers who claim that Breaking the Silence’s work is essentially directed toward foreign audiences. This is a blatant lie. Most of our activities, the hundreds of tours and lectures that we conduct annually that are attended by thousands of Israelis, are intended, first and foremost, to break the Israeli silence surrounding the occupation.

This silence is expressed most clearly in the fact that the anonymous soldier managed to write 773 words about the IDF’s activities in the territories without once mentioning the explicit word “occupation.” More than anything else, the article represents the erasure of the occupation and the military regime that Israel operates in the territories, from the language and consciousness of the majority of Israelis. We know how to talk about “riotous demonstrations,” and “stone throwing,” about “settlements” and “political processes,” but we’re incapable of conceiving of the simple word that describes the reality as it is.

Our appeal to the Israeli public is derived from the understanding that, in a democratic country, the public citizenry is responsible for the policies and actions of their state, and it’s the same public’s responsibility to change the path along which it chooses to walk. We at Breaking the Silence, have acted, and will continue to act, in order to raise public awareness about what takes place in the territories, in hopes that awareness and recognition of what is happening in our name, will lead to public demand for an immediate end to the Occupation.

 

The writer served as a sergeant of the sniper platoon of Nahal Battalion 931, and today he is the director of Breaking the Silence’s research department.

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