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Text testimonies Guys, cheer up. That's how it is
catalog number: 1615
Rank: Captain
Unit: Shaldag Reconnaissance Unit
Area: Ramallah and al-Bireh area
20,971  views    7  comments
Guys, cheer up. That's how it is
Rank: Captain
Unit: Shaldag Reconnaissance Unit
Area: Ramallah and al-Bireh area

I think that… the reason I'm sitting here and talking to you, well, lots of things made me sit and talk to you. It's not one specific event, but I think the first case that really turned some warning on in my mind… It wasn't the first, but was relatively the first in my time as an officer, a commander, but now, while I sit here and think about it, I realize there were earlier instances that made me understand I'm doing things that are wrong. I think the first case that got me thinking, or rather, the straw that broke the camel's back, happened in the Binyamin district. Yes, it was there and actually our mission was to secure the settler access roads from terrorist attacks, shootings, laying explosive charges, all that stuff, which sounds legitimate to me, which is legitimate as far as I'm concerned. As long as Israeli citizens live out there we have to protect them, and if it's the most… some weak spot, I did the job willingly. These were lengthy ambushes along the roads, tying to detect any movement there, or armed militants reaching the roads and getting set up or laying charges, all of that. These are things that I know are being done and a lot, and it's important. In that same situation, there really was a shooting incident on one of the roads, which I didn't manage to lay our hands on in time. I mean, they came from some area that we couldn't cover, and they really hit the trunk of a car, the edge of it, and we were very upset. I mean, how could this happen, how could we not see it? We got there very fast to the site, and that's it, we stood there and waited. The scouts arrived. There were no tracks and no idea where the guy had run off too, but the scouts were there and said they had seen. I don't know, perhaps they are very competent, or they tried to prove it, or perhaps they really saw something. They said the tracks led to… tracks that really weren't there, but led to the closest village. Essentially that made sense. We really did come a long way. And we went in… We got to the edge of the village, there were two houses and we took out the people there and began to question them. No, I mean what happened was that I told my soldiers to cover and we asked the father and the adults there to go outside and they were interrogated. This was still legitimate, and we had a common language because the scouts spoke Arabic [scouts in the IDF are Bedouin]. and they really did question the people and it was carried out… It was relatively reasonable. I mean, there was an attack, these houses were on the periphery, perhaps they saw something. No doubt they didn't. I mean, no shooting could be heard, in our position we were closer to the incident than the village was, and they really said, "We heard nothing, saw nothing, knew nothing." That's not necessarily true, but it could be. And, still, it was legitimate. I mean, to take people out of the peripheral houses and interrogate them. Perhaps someone saw or heard something. So nothing was found, and we find ourselves walking on in those streets, very aggressively. I mean, not casually walking down, but flaunting our presence. It's important to note that it was about 1:30 a.m., if not 2, in the morning. Wee hours of the night. And we find ourselves in the middle of that village, at its main junction. Lots of our forces were already there. There were Border Patrol troops and the regional forces and our own unit and others. An extremely large show of armed soldiers in the middle of the village. Then the battalion commander arrives and says words that I'll never forget, I can quote him. I mean, I remember it with full certainty. He says, "Okay, guys, enter the houses so they'll understand. Make them understand." These were the two phrases uttered, this was the order. To my utter amazement, this was the order. Forces take off immediately, as if they know what… I don't know, to me this order sounded very bizarre. I mean, to do what? I find myself actually yelling, "Wait a minute! I don't really understand the order. What? To do what? Enter a house? Not enter a house? Take people out? Not take them out?" He tells me, "No, no, make them understand." He was very determined and angry, and said, "Make them understand." So I say, "What, am I supposed to take people out?" and he does not answer me. I say, "I don't have to take people out. I mean, my point is to make them understand that they can't do this, if they were, they can't give terrorists shelter". He says, "Yes, yes. Go on. Go." I find myself going, I mean areas were designated and each force went out to… There were forces that had already gone ahead, they didn't wait one moment. This didn't sound strange to them. I had half a Border Patrol force under my command, I mean I wasn't really their commanding officer but the battalion commander somehow told me,"You take charge of them", because of my experience or maturity or something. In fact I go out and say, "Okay, you take this part of the street and I'll take that row of buildings of this street". And then I began to realize what's happening as soon as I enter the home of the first family. I go in there and suddenly see myself there with a gang of thugs, when I say "thugs", I mean these are excellent, obedient soldiers standing behind me all wrapped up in bullet-proof vests and masses of mud on our feet. Incredible. The staircase is already full of mud, to say nothing of the carpets. I enter the apartment and begin to use mime so they'll understand. I mean, I want them to understand what's happened and I can't manage to communicate with them. I don't speak Arabic. No one spoke Arabic, no one understood Arabic. So I don't understand what they want. I sense their panic. I sense my own panic, because I have to be aggressive, and I am. I have to watch out for myself and I do. On the other hand, they are scared. And I think to myself, for heaven's sake, what am I doing? I don't explain, I'm not functioning properly, I don't know what to do, and I am very aggressive, I dirty up their place, and it's two o'clock in the morning. I decide to leave the family.

I assume that one of the things that made you function properly were your soldiers. You were in charge of how many there?What made me function properly was the way I was trained - I had excellent training as a soldier - and the soldiers behind me. I was there with a group of twelve men. I mean, the forces were split up.

So how many soldiers were your subordinates?Officially, fifteen men at the time.

How many were your subordinates but not from your own unit?Another twenty, approximately. At my command. I must reiterate this was not all so clear-cut. It was somehow… I was told I'd be in charge of them. In short, I decided to get out. I realized I was not fulfilling my mission as I should and decided to get out. Without taking people out. Without I don't know what. And as I was going out, I saw Border Patrolmen banging at someone's door and yelling violently, terrible banging. With soldiers who… This was two o'clock at night, people don't just open their door straight away. It's not like you knock on a door and immediately someone's going to open it for you. After all, two a.m. So I run over to them, I leave my soldiers behind, telling them to cover me. I run over to those guys and say, "Wait a minute…" No, before I run over there, there is horrible banging on the door and yelling, "Come on, move it! Move it!" The door was not opened very fast. So a soldier was already running –without being ordered to, things I'm really not used to – and shattered a window. I run over and shout, "Who's the commander here? Hey, what's going on here?" And one of them says, "I am!" Another guy says, "I am the commander." Suddenly there are three commanders there. I say, "Who's really the commander? I want to talk to the commander". Another guy arrives. I say, "Hey, take it easy. Slow down. Let them open their door, let them… No one is firing at us." and he says, "No, no, no" and the havoc continues. The soldiers get people out of their houses in their underwear, and I am registering this… When I say a 'house", I don't mean a house where three people live. It's a building with three families and everyone's outside, and the soldiers are conducting searches. I yell, "Wait, explain to them. Let them know what happened, so they'll understand", and I realize no one is listening. Suddenly I look back and notice I still have these soldiers of mine to take care of. So I said, okay, my own soldiers and my own assignment are more important to me, and one moment before I leave I also see a little soldier, looking like he'd just gotten sworn-in today, with this long weapon, jumping up and down and yelling, "Action, action, action!" pointing his rifle at the people. I was stunned. So were my soldiers. I saw them stunned. They were right across the street, they saw it all. I go back and explain to the soldiers, "Guys, we have a mission. We need to carry it out. Like the battalion commander defined it for me – to explain to the people. We'll go in and clear things up.", and I continue to enter house after house. All in all, we went over five houses, or buildings rather. Later when I asked, "How many buildings did you do?" there were people there who had managed five times four, so that was twenty buildings, and woke everyone up. Actually, the entire village woke up. And the other scene there was at the same time, we got to another house and I … there was a sequence of events there and I must retell them. That was the night that broke the camel's back. The straw that broke the camel's back. I enter a house, there's a woman there. Again, I'm covered with mud, and I really, I look… I can imagine I looked really scary. I go in and there's this old woman and I ask her, "Where is the man of the house?" No one understands anyone. Then I see some mattress covered with a blanket. The blanket is moving as if in some earthquake, and I… I don't know, maybe he's hiding in there. I ask my soldier, "Go quickly, see what's under that bed" and he tries to pull the blanket, and no, it's… finally he grabs that blanket. I realize… I counted eight on one double mattress, eight children held together in some… dying of fright. Looking at us as if the next moment I'm going to do I don't know what. Each hiding behind the other's back. Like little cubs hiding… One behind the other, the other exposed so he scurries over and they all move… And I say, God almighty. I try to talk, I say, "Does anyone here understand Hebrew?", and with the Arabic… I don't speak Arabic but I manage to say a few broken words, and they say "No, no…" And my soldier asks me, "Listen, maybe we should search" and I feel there's nothing to search here but still I tell him, "You know what? Let's search". We're used to conducting searches in houses where we really search, so this one is… He began to search really thoroughly, knock on walls, check the place out for some hidden partitions. Finally I tell him, "Come on, they've understood. I hope they've understood". I know they haven't. Once more I go out. I come out of there in shock. I feel I lost this one. I'm defeated and the army is defeated. I mean, it's not I who lost. There's a whole village here that woke up at two o'clock in the morning. I think 90% of them didn't know why. I felt we did just the opposite here. All the looks I got were enough for me to understand that I did just the opposite. Regarding the Border Patrolmen, do you think that what you saw was… That's just the point. I know what you're going to ask me, so let me continue. We were stunned. I get inside the vehicle, an armored truck was brought on the spot, two of them. We were so many troops in the village. So I get on and a soldier, a commander, too, but not wearing his ranks, see that I'm rather stunned. I look at my mates, who are looking just as stunned as I am. So a soldier catches the two of us and says, "Guys, get used to it. This is how it is. That's it."

What soldier?A commander. Some sergeant from the Army, not Border Patrol, the regional brigade. He says to me, "Guys, cheer up. That's how it is. Nothing you can do about it. That's how it's done. That's what needs to be done." We returned, feeling very upset and said this was not right, what we'd done. We said this to our commander. We said what we felt, and I realized how unreasonable the situation was. I smoked my first cigarette after this event.

And you hadn't killed a terrorist?And I hadn't even killed a terrorist. I fired at people often before that, but here I felt the army had not done the right thing.

What is "often"? Had you been on combat duty?I was on combat duty. Lots of it. I had killed terrorists. But…

But smoked your first cigarette after that night? Yes. It was one of the worst nights. … On our way (to the village) I was not with him, but a friend of mine was, and the battalion commander was very agitated. He suddenly stopped his jeep, caught a (Palestinian) transit van, told the driver, "Show me your IDs". The guy handed him the IDs. "What's this, why are you driving around at such an hour?" and all. He began to rip the whole upholstery inside the car. He trashed the vehicle, found nothing, let him go.

A lieutenant-colonel. A lieutenant-colonel in the Israeli army. A battalion commander, responsible for hundreds of soldiers.Yes.