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Israeli soldiers speak out – why not Americans too?

I read a comic recently, called Palestine . Actually, ‘comic’ doesn’t describe it properly; the author Joe Sacco is described as a ‘graphic journalist’, and that’s what ‘Palestine’ is – a graphic documentary on life in Palestine around 1990. He manages to render the atmosphere of resentment, resignation and simmering hatred very well.

One story that stuck in my mind is that of a lady whose son was shot in the head after Israelis raided the area in Rafah where she lived;

after seven hours, and being sent from one place to the next, they got to an Israeli hospital. He died about a day later, having had no treatment. Later, another teenage son was shot five times – perhaps after throwing stones, perhaps not.

He had been taken to a military hospital in Israel; after delays it was too late to take him to a better hospital in Jerusalem. He died too.

Each time, they were only allowed to bury the bodies in the middle of the night, guarded by soldiers.

At the wake for the second son to die, soldiers came to try to take away her third son – he was beaten, but the crowd prevented them from taking him away.

And seven months later, her husband died: he had a heart problem, and didn’t receive permission to go to Egypt until it was too late.

(The man speaking in the last picture is the translator)
Depressing. But it is the grinding reality for millions in Gaza and the Occupied Territories.

You may say it’s biased against Israelis, etc. And you may have a point – I’ve never been there, I can only know what I get through the media. But take a look at Breaking the Silence. It’s a disturbing collection of “testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifadah.” (Breaking the Silence).

Here’s a couple of examples:
Unit: 50th battalion, Nahal
Place of incident: Hebron
An outpost in the heart of a Palestinian neighborhood, a whole floor in a Palestinian house.
In the post are a commander, two soldiers from the Hebron troop and two snipers.
During a reconnaissance of the Border Police 3 policemen arrived at the post and out of boredom shoot 3 gas grenades aimlessly into the town. ((Source))

Rank: Staff sergeant
Unit: Armored forces
Place of incident: Daharia junction
Description: Daharia junction. South Daharia. Palestinians pass through that roadblock on their way to work in Be’er-Sheva. They have to pass; some on foot. Tens of Palestinians a day. One of the officers wanted to keep the order, wanted them to stand in a straight line – like a ruler. He ran beside them and made them straighten up. They didn’t do it well enough, so the first person he saw at the beginning – about 50 years old with an 8-year-old kid or something similar, a little boy – the officer shot in the air and they straightened up. And on another occasion…

To straighten up the line?

To straighten up the line. And on another occasion he just beat the hell out of a person… He hit the man’s face with the handle of his rifle, kicked him in the groins, spat on him, cursed him – simply went berserk. In front of the man’s little boy. He just humiliated him. Source

There are many other examples, longer episodes and shorter snippets of a land where brutalisation is routine and human dignity forgotten.

I think that ‘Breaking the Silence’ is a good idea, it shows the situation from another angle and also allows the soldiers to have a way to somehow get these experiences off their chest. All Israeli men need to serve three years in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), and women serve two years. The reality of the Israeli occupation is probably hidden from most Israelis too, and I bet many of these young people are traumatised by the situation but feel there is no one who wants to listen, and the pressure to keep quiet is intense.

It would be good if American veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan did something similar. In the end of the day it is the people who fight who know the true horror of war, but too often they are condemned to silence by their own society who either expect them to conform to stereotypes of ‘returning heroes’, or else anti-war people dismiss them as perpetrators. The truth is seldom easy to face up to, and people are usually just muddling through the best they can. If we can have compassion for all people, we can develop better understanding.


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Brian Johnson on :

The recent Winter Soldier testimonies may be a step in this direction. See:

julian on :

Thanks. Yes it's a start, though it seems less open for soldiers to contribute easily.

Dangerous Variable on :

first accounts are accurate yes but then it is viewed from a person's point of view to stir up emotions. Perhaps as a soldier, that fella should be a conscientious objector to any military campaign. There will always be collateral damages.

The whole Israeli and Arab conflict has been going on for years. Most media portrayal points toward IDF's brutality but then again, look at the Arabs themselves, almost topping 1 billion blokes and millions of square miles, but very little aid given to the Palestinians. Anyways, the whole issue is always been on debate.

Unless both parties do no take up arms, this conflict will never be resolve.

julian on :

It is a long-festering problem I do agree, and one that has far-reaching consequences.
I wish they would all lay down their arms, perhaps follow the example of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan

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