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Soldiers’ violent confessions from ‘Breaking the Silence’ make the ‘Guardian’

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Breaking the Silence co founder  Yehuda Shaul (photo: agencemediapalestine.fr)

Breaking the Silence co founder Yehuda Shaul (photo: agencemediapalestine.fr)

On Friday, the Israeli veterans’ group Breaking the Silence marked its own tenth anniversary, and the 47th  anniversary of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land in 1967 (the Naksa), by reading 10 hours of soldiers’ testimony to an audience at a public square in Tel Aviv. 

Guardian Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont quotes Breaking the Silence co- founder Yehuda Shaul in Stories from an occupation: the Israelis who broke silence, saying the oral histories they have collected are “not exceptional, rather they are unexceptional”.

The wider meaning in the testimonies is their description of how “abuses come from boredom; from the orders of ambitious officers keen to advance in their careers” as well as institutionalized “demands of occupation” that can desensitizes a person and in turn dehumanizes the “other,” Beaumont writes.

Just a few testimonies are cited for the article, (which we recommend in full) and here are two. The first:

[Our commander] said to us unequivocally: “That’s how you’re ranked. With Xs. Every night I want you to be looking for ‘contact’ [an exchange of fire] and that’s how you’ll be ranked.”

At some point I realised that someone who wants to succeed has to bring him dead people. There’s no point in bringing him arrests. [The message was:] “Arrests are routine, the battalions are making arrests. You’re the spearhead, the army has invested years in you, now I want you to bring me dead terrorists.”

And that’s what pushed us, I believe. What we’d do was go out night after night, drawing fire, go into alleys that we knew were dangerous. There were arrests, there were all kinds of arrests. But the high point of the night was drawing fire, creating a situation where they fired at us.

It’s a situation, totally insane, you’re in it, it’s hard to explain. You’re looking through the binoculars and searching for someone to kill. That’s what you want to do. And you want to kill him. But do you want to kill him? But that’s your job.

And you’re still looking through the binoculars and you’re starting to get confused. Do I want to? Don’t I want to? Maybe I actually want them to miss.

And one more, describing the wanton execution of an unarmed Palestinian civilian:

We took over a central house, set up positions, and one of the sharpshooters identified a man on a roof, two roofs away, I think he was between 50 and 70 metres away, not armed. I looked at the man through the night vision – he wasn’t armed. It was two in the morning. A man without arms, walking on the roof, just walking around. We reported it to the company commander. The company commander said: “Take him down.” [The sharpshooter] fired, took him down. The company commander basically ordered, decided via radio, the death sentence for that man. A man who wasn’t armed.

I saw with my own eyes that the guy wasn’t armed. The report also said: “A man without arms on the roof.” The company commander declared him a lookout, meaning he understood that the guy was no threat to us, and he gave the order to kill him and we shot him. I myself didn’t shoot, my friend shot and killed him. And basically you think, you see in the United States there’s the death penalty, for every death sentence there are like a thousand appeals and convictions, and they take it very seriously, and there are judges and learned people, and there are protests and whatever. And here a 26-year-old guy, my company commander, sentenced an unarmed man to death.

Our Harsh Logic Cover Art

Cover Art: Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010

Breaking the Silence has collected 950 testimonies since its founding. We recommend Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 .

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Hat tip commenter justicewillprevail)

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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36 Responses

  1. just on June 8, 2014, 9:00 pm

    I read it this morning and wept with grief and rage. Lost generations.

    I wonder how the audience in the public square in Tel Aviv reacted… and how many there were in the audience.

    • bilal a on June 8, 2014, 11:55 pm

      Snipers killing civilian ‘lookouts’ is US NATO Military doctrine– It is how you protect from indirect fire, targeting in real time..of course this is doctrine for fighting armies, not unorganized civilian resistance forces. Don’t hold the Israelis to a higher standard than what you apply to your own country.

      • just on June 9, 2014, 6:16 am

        ?

      • Woody Tanaka on June 10, 2014, 5:00 pm

        “Don’t hold the Israelis to a higher standard than what you apply to your own country.”

        It should be condemned by all, no matter what uniform the filthy murderers are wearing.

  2. a blah chick on June 8, 2014, 9:18 pm

    972 mag had up another soldier’s recollections. He talked about how he accepted without question the directions of his superiors, even when he thought they may not be right. It was very much “the commander knows best.” They other thing that stood out in his account was the reaction of his family, which was disbelief. Even when they had a close relative telling them what was going on parents, friends, relatives refused to believe what they were hearing. “That can’t be happening;” “there’s something more to the story;” “We’re good people, we would never do things like that.” No doubt many people walking by the demonstration echoed these sentiments. Most Israeli Jews simply refused to believe what their nation is capable of.

    • German Lefty on June 9, 2014, 7:50 am

      He talked about how he accepted without question the directions of his superiors, even when he thought they may not be right. The other thing that stood out in his account was the reaction of his family, which was disbelief. Even when they had a close relative telling them what was going on parents, friends, relatives refused to believe what they were hearing.

      And the very same people wonder how Nazism could happen. They demonise Nazi-era Germans for being ignorant and for letting it happen.

      • Woody Tanaka on June 10, 2014, 5:04 pm

        “And the very same people wonder how Nazism could happen. They demonise Nazi-era Germans for being ignorant and for letting it happen.”

        Absoluely right. And at least those people in Germany from 1933-45 did not have the example of Germany from 1933-45. These people do, and they have no excuse for their attitude.

    • Woody Tanaka on June 10, 2014, 5:02 pm

      “‘We’re good people, we would never do things like that.'”

      Pathetic, evil bigots. I just want to scream, “Here’s a hint to all those who think the type of stupid, brain-less thoughts like those expressed here: Jews are no better than anyone else. You have just as much a capacity for evil as anyone else and if you’re telling yourself otherwise, (1) you’re a bigot and (2) you’re probably making that evil come about because you’re willingly blinding yourself.”

  3. john_manyjars on June 8, 2014, 10:20 pm

    I was only followink orders!!1

  4. DaBakr on June 8, 2014, 10:31 pm

    ‘The Guardian’

    About as surprising as an anti-Hamas article in the Jerusalem Post.

    • just on June 8, 2014, 10:44 pm

      The Guardian published the words & testimonies of former Israeli soldiers.

      It was not a BS editorial nor propaganda like the JP publishes for its enraptured audience.

      Why am I not surprised that you can’t see that?

    • bryan on June 9, 2014, 2:38 am

      I can understand your contempt for ‘The Guardian’.

      It’s long-time editor was the Zionist C.P.Scott, who introduced Chaim Weizmann to the British ruling elite, including Lloyd George and Herbert Samuel. Perhaps we can even argue that without the Guardian there would have been no Balfour Declaration, without a Balfour Declaration there would have been no Mandatory Palestine, without British rule there would have been no suppression of Palestinian self-government, no Jewish immigration, no privileging of Jews over Arabs, no introduction of the principle of partition and population transfer (see the Peel Commission). Without the suppression of Palestinian self-government, alien immigration, Jewish privilege etc there would have been no UN proposal of partition. Without the UN partition proposal and the associated ethnic cleansing which the Guardian supported, there would have been no state of Israel. Without the State of Israel there would be no occupation. Without the occupation there would be no bored teenagers encouraged by sadistic commanders to take pot-shots at civilians, and hence there would be no ‘Breaking the Silence’ for the Guardian to write about.

      You have it spot on, DaBakr, the Guardian has a lot to answer for. But it is certainly no worse than the bulk of Western media who have generally colluded with evil and seldom shone a spotlight to illuminate the awful truth.

    • justicewillprevail on June 9, 2014, 10:44 am

      Yeah, shoot the messenger and ignore the message, which has nothing to do with The Guardian, and everything to do with the real experiences of IDF conscripts, appalled at the casual killings of Palestinian civilians, the deliberate harassment, violence and humiliation. Just another day in the occupation, just another low to which Israel sinks, just more crimes against humanity.

    • Hostage on June 9, 2014, 7:33 pm

      ‘The Guardian’

      About as surprising as an anti-Hamas article in the Jerusalem Post.

      Like DaBakr here, NGO Monitor can’t get an ounce of respect in the comment section over @Opinio Juris. The Zionist apparatchiks are trying to spread fear uncertainty and doubt about the Breaking the Silence testimonies and accounts.
      See Kevin Jon Heller, Breaking the Silence (About the IDF’s Treatment of Palestinians) http://opiniojuris.org/2014/06/08/breaking-silence-idfs-treatment-palestinians/

      by

  5. Palikari on June 9, 2014, 6:10 am

    Breaking the Silence is just a far-left NGO with a clear political agenda that doesn’t really care about justice or the Palestinians; they just care about money. Also, I doubt their testimonies are truthful; I’m sure most of them are half truths, manipulations, misconstructions, misconceptions and exaggerations. Why? Because they don’t show names or evidences so the Army can open an investigation. They don’t want the Army to investigate it. Why Mr. Shaul?

    • annie on June 9, 2014, 12:05 pm

      israeli military investigations are worthless anyway, if they don’t like the evidence or results they just lie and claim is didn’t happen. just like the nakba day executions of children.

    • talknic on June 9, 2014, 1:25 pm

      Palikari “Breaking the Silence … they just care about money

      Uh huh..

      Breaking the Silence is registered as a public-benefit corporation and acts according to requirements for all not-for-profit organizations as determined by the State of Israel and its authorities. The organization submits reports to the tax authorities and the Registry of Non-Profit Associations as do all organizations of this type. These reports include itemized accounting of activities and sources of all donations. http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/about/transparency

      “Also, I doubt their testimonies are truthful; I’m sure most of them are half truths, manipulations, misconstructions, misconceptions and exaggerations. Why? Because they don’t show names or evidences so the Army can open an investigation. They don’t want the Army to investigate it.”

      Is that why they name the units, areas and periods?
      e.g.,
      unit: Armored Corps
      area: Deir al-Balah area
      period: 2000
      http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il/testimonies/database/124068

      Oh… I see what you mean, the IDF doesn’t know where their units were or when or who was in them? AMAZING!

      • Palikari on June 9, 2014, 7:30 pm

        Breaking the Silence gets a lot of money from the EU and the US. They are getting rich by bashing and defaming their own country.

      • annie on June 9, 2014, 7:46 pm

        oh gag me with a spoon.

      • justicewillprevail on June 10, 2014, 1:14 pm

        Show us the source of your slanderous allegations. Put up or shut up. Breaking the Silence is doing an incredible job, which takes real courage, the necessity of which I doubt, based on your feeble smearing attempts, you even understand. Nor are they bashing their own country, they are a tiny flickering light of conscience in a bastion of prejudice, bigotry and racism. And of course that is decried as a threat by the likes of you.

      • Palikari on June 10, 2014, 5:53 pm

        My allegations are not slanderous at all but truthful. Do you want a source? Here you have the source you asked for: source: http://www.ngo-monitor.org/article/breaking_the_silence_shovirm_shtika_

  6. benedict on June 9, 2014, 6:31 am

    Testimonies lack any context making it impossible to pass moral judgment. For instance, during active combat “takeing down” an unarmed spotter is perfectly legitimate even if it is based on the judgment a 26 year old guy with no legal experience. Any army in the world would have done the same.
    That tactic of drawing out the enemy and engaging him in fire fights is also well known military doctrine used in appropriate circumstances like active warfare.
    What counts are the circumstance’s and context of the action. Unfortunately they do not appear here rendering moral judgment impossible.

    • Hostage on June 9, 2014, 7:55 pm

      Testimonies lack any context making it impossible to pass moral judgment. For instance, during active combat “takeing down” an unarmed spotter is perfectly legitimate even if it is based on the judgment a 26 year old guy with no legal experience.

      The bogus idea that you can shoot civilians by simply labeling them spotters or calling a military occupation “active combat” is the hallmark of shopworn Israeli propaganda.

      I don’t see these unintelligent trolls admitting that Israeli settlers can similarly be targeted if the IDF views them as partisan collaborators and justifies their presence in the area of active combat operations on the basis of “security”. That would make the settlements valid military objectives.

      • benedict on June 10, 2014, 9:12 am

        How how does the US army deal with enemy spotters?

        there are periods of intense fighting when spotters are as Dangerous as shooters.

      • Hostage on June 10, 2014, 5:41 pm

        How how does the US army deal with enemy spotters?

        The US Army doesn’t call belligerent occupation “active combat” or assume that a guy on his roof is acting as a spotter you ignoramus.

      • benedict on June 10, 2014, 6:54 pm

        realy? american snipers in iraq or afganistan never took down “a guy on the roof acting as a spotter”? i find that hard to believe.

    • justicewillprevail on June 10, 2014, 1:40 pm

      On the contrary, eye witness accounts make moral judgements very possible. Your faux military tactics are a farcical attempt at hiding from the truth exposed by real soldiers, as opposed to armchair generals pompously regaling us with false and deliberately misleading comparisons. Fail.

      • benedict on June 10, 2014, 6:58 pm

        eye witness with no context is worthless.

        i dont know why you call this “faux military tactics” when the american army whould probably do the same under combat conditions.

        i think you are the pompous armchair general. not the actual oficers that have to moke split second decisions under dificult conditions.

  7. just on June 9, 2014, 7:16 am

    This won’t bring the teens back, but it may help the families find some justice. It might make things easier for the judges at the Hague, as well.

    “The killing last month of two Palestinian teenagers during a protest in the West Bank might constitute an Israeli war crime, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Monday.

    Palestinian medics said Muhammad Abu Thahr, 16, and Nadim Nuwara, 17, were shot dead by Israeli troops using live ammunition on May 15 as they took part in the demonstration.

    The Israeli military says its forces only fired rubber bullets that day and had no immediate reaction to the report from the New York-based human rights group.

    Video from security cameras on Palestinian properties close to the scene showed the two teenagers fall to the ground in separate incidents, apparently shot despite posing no immediate threat to Israeli forces.

    “The willful killing of civilians by Israeli security forces as part of the occupation is a war crime,” Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director for Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

    “The Israeli military’s claim that its forces didn’t shoot any live ammunition on May 15 does not stand up to scrutiny,” she said, calling on Israel to prosecute those who shot the youths and also any commanders who ordered the use of live fire.

    The Israeli military has said it is investigating the incident, but Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has suggested the surveillance video might have been doctored. The human rights groups that distributed the material denied that. “

    http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/1.597766

  8. Maximus Decimus Meridius on June 9, 2014, 8:22 am

    The Guardian has become VERY cowardly with regards to Israel in recent years. And while this article may seem to buck the trend, and to some extent it does, I’m not going to shower the Guardian in praise. It still very much reflects the Guardian’s current policy – and I’m sure it IS a policy – of covering anything to do with Palestine purely from an Israeli perspective. Their correspondents are all based in Israel, and Israeli officials and ‘spokespersons’ are quoted far more often than their Palestinian counterparts. On the relatively rare occasions there is an I/P article in the comment section, the author will be either Israeli and/or Jewish. Articles on Palestine are invariably told from the Israeli perspective, with the words ‘fear’ and ‘concerns’ liberally sprinkled throughout.

    In other words, the Manchester Guardian is becoming more similar to the New York times by the day.

  9. Blownaway on June 9, 2014, 9:32 am

    What is the PLA waiting for? This is evidence for the ICC. The longer they wait the more of their people die the more land becomes irretrievable. This is irresponsible in the extreme

    • just on June 9, 2014, 9:49 am

      Here’s some more evidence:

      “GAZA CITY (Ma’an) — A Palestinian fisherman shot by the Israeli navy two weeks ago succumbed to his wounds Sunday morning, Gaza medical authorities said.

      Spokesman for the Gaza Ministry of Health Ashraf al-Qidra told Ma’an that 52-year-old Imad Shukri Salim was announced dead Sunday morning.

      Salim was shot in the chest by Israeli navy two weeks ago while he was fishing off the coast in the area of al-Sudaniya in the northern Gaza Strip, al-Qidra said.

      Israeli forces shot two Palestinian fishermen off the coast of the al-Sudaniya area in the month of May alone.

      There are 4,000 fishermen in Gaza. According to a 2011 report by the International Committee of the Red Cross 90 percent are poor, an increase of 40 percent from 2008 and a direct result of Israeli limits on the fishing industry.”
      http://www.maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=703020

  10. michelle on June 10, 2014, 8:00 am

    And ye shall know the truth,
    and the truth shall make you free
    .
    G-d Bless

  11. amigo on June 10, 2014, 8:44 am

    This jumped right out at me!!!!.

    “”You don’t realise how lucky you are to have actually fired in an operation. That hardly ever happens, you are so lucky.” someone at a debriefing after a Palestinian was murdered in cold blood.

    Light unto the Nations and most moral Army blah blah.

  12. SQ Debris on June 10, 2014, 2:59 pm

    Three generations of Israeli men have now participated in serial war crimes in the occupied territories. It’s hard to image how poisonous this is to a society. “Dear old Grandpa did it, so what could be wrong with it?” BTS is one of the few “Jewish” things left in Israel. The rest is straight out of old Europes sandbox.

    • Woody Tanaka on June 10, 2014, 4:55 pm

      “Three generations of Israeli men have now participated in serial war crimes in the occupied territories. It’s hard to image how poisonous this is to a society.”

      It’s is a poison, but a purposeful one. It’s meant to bind all of them to the crimes. It’s like when the mafia doesn’t make someone a made man until they murder someone and, thus, are complicit in the organization’s crimes to the point where there is no easy escape. That’s why there’s universal conscription in Israel, the world’s largest mafia organization, so that everyone in that place is complicit and guilty of the crimes. These guys are like the mafia gunmen who turn state’s evidence.

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