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Israeli soldiers break the silence

By Cristina Casabón

Yehuda Shaul is a former Israeli soldier who served in Hebron, the second largest Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He admitted to himself that he had been a perpetrator and not simply an innocent man following orders, so he decided to organise an exhibition to show the brutality of the occupation. In June 2004 he founded ‘Breaking the Silence’, an organisation whose 350 members are all former Israeli combat soldiers. Since then, they have collected 750 testimonials from former soldiers on their service in the occupied territories.

During my stance in Dublin, I had the opportunity to visit his Photo Exhibition, ‘Israeli soldiers break the silence’. Looking the pictures and reading the testimonies of other combat soldiers who served all over the territories, I realised that being a soldier in Israel is something worst than I had originally suspected.

After reading the testimonies you can appreciate how these scenes of violence and horror are perceived by the Israeli Defence Forces. Some of them accept responsibility for what they had done during their military service, while others are proud of themselves.

Israel has maintained military control over the occupied territories for 47 years. It means that for almost five decades now, Israel has been engaged in the systematic military control of millions of Palestinians, imposing their rules and their arbitrary violence.

Shay Davidovich, a former IDF soldier explained: “We have been exerting our military control over the Palestinians for 47 years now yet we have not stopped for a second to ask ourselves what that control actually looks like – what IDF soldiers are sent to do in our name and what moral price we pay for their actions.”

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“It happened to me, too, that just for fun, without any bad intentions, we told one of the wanted men to sit in the middle, and then we sat the dogs next to him, two on each side, and photographed him scared as hell. And we asked him: “Why are you scared?” and such like… But we didn’t do anything to him, we just needed a photo. Just for laughs. He was surely scared, his balls were shaking, but you know, it was not intended to hurt him.”

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“At first you feel uneasy, but very soon you forget this house belongs to Arabs, you begin to call it your own.” Q: What do you mean by “uneasy”? What makes you feel uneasy about it? “No way, man. You’re not going to make me go all gushy.”

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“I think your judgement gets a little impaired when everyday… when your enemy is an Arab or somebody else who in your eyes… like, you don’t look at him as a person standing in front of you, but as the enemy, and this is the world for him: enemy. he is not a dog, not some animal, you don’t think of him as inferior, he simply doesn’t count. Period.”

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“We set up a temporary road block. i don’t know why, but for some reason I took the orders very seriously when 2 women from balata [refugee camp near Nablus] arrived, and at that time the camp was under closure. I asked the Platoon commander on the radio what to do with them, and he told me to “dry them out” for four hours at the checkpoint, tighter with the taxi driver who took them.”

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“The great thing about Hebron, the thing that gets you more than anything else, is the total indifference it instills in you. It’s hard to describe the kind of enormous sea of indifference you’re swimming in while you’re there. It’s possible to explain a litre, through little anecdotes, bout it’s not enough to make it really clear.”

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“You patrol the main road in Hebron, scared to death, wearing a bulletproof vest, a gear-vest, a helmet, and the rifle. And you just look in every direction so they don’t surprise you… And next to you, on the road,  at the scariest place on earth, the kids of Abraham Avinu (Jewish neighbourhood) are playing.”

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“We arrested someone, and took him to the base. There was no one there to admit him because the guy in charge was absent, so everyone just fell asleep there in the sin. And the detainee is sitting in the sun, under guard. No one cared if he has what he needs. And as I was resting there, I heard 2 guys from my unit, asking him: “hey, how do you say “bee” in Arabic? And he replied. So I opened my eyes and looked, and then I realised that they were throwing bees into his shirt. Just having fun while… I didn’t say anything, something I regret to this day. It was more important for me not to confront them than to tell them it’s wrong.”

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