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.
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)