[NOTE: There will be two posts today, given the distinctly different focus of the events our group experienced. This first will deal with a presentation from an individual that was critical of the Israel army’s involvement in policing the Occupied territory – albeit from an individual generally supportive of Israel (and former IDF member). The second will focus on our trip to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, and our time with the founder of the Jewish Institute for Justice, both events working to support the current orientation of the State of Israel.]
Breaking the Silence
Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran combatants who have served in the Israeli military since the start of the Second Intifada and have taken it upon themselves to expose the Israeli public to the reality of everyday life in the Occupied Territories. We endeavor to stimulate public debate about the price paid for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population on a daily basis, and are engaged in the control of that population’s everyday life. Our work aims to bring an end to the occupation.
Soldiers who serve in the Territories witness and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still explained as extreme and unique cases. Our testimonies portray a different, and much grimmer picture in which deterioration of moral standards finds expression in the character of orders and the rules of engagement, and are justified in the name of Israel’s security. While this reality is known to Israeli soldiers and commanders, Israeli society continues to turn a blind eye, and to deny that what is done in its name. Discharged soldiers returning to civilian life discover the gap between the reality they encountered in the Territories, and the silence about this reality they encounter at home. In order to become civilians again, soldiers are forced to ignore what they have seen and done. We strive to make heard the voices of these soldiers, pushing Israeli society to face the reality whose creation it has enabled (from the website, emphasis added).
Our presenter was Dean Issacharoff, seen above, on the right, protesting the Occupation as a member of Combatants for Peace). Mr. Issacharoff is a former member of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) gave his account of abuses either he committed, or saw committed while serving in Occupied territory.
Mr. Issacharoff began his story by recounting the events that led him to enlist and then re-enlist in the IDF. He spoke about his desire to serve at the highest level and in the most challenging areas in Israel. More importantly, he spoke of his desire to serve in, what he perceived, was the most moral armed service in the world!
He attributed the problems he encountered to the abnormal task that the IDF was asked to perform: to subjugate a people rather than to defeat an enemy. He soon found himself in situations where, according to his account, he was asked to act in ways that ran counter to what he believed was right.
Although Mr. Issacharoff did not commit any acts that led to death or serious physical harm, he was involved in instances where Arabs were, no doubt, traumatized or terrorized by his actions. He shared about incidents in which he would lead raids on families “in the middle of the night” ostensibly to look for evidence of some violation, when, in fact, there were other operational goals which were to:
- Make the population feel that they are being chased
- Brand their consciousness with fear
The effect of the occupation harms BOTH the occupier and the occupied. The occupied do become demoralized, made to feel less-than, and have their hopes and aspirations squashed! But, this work also takes its toll on the soldiers themselves, they become “de-sensitized” to the immorality of their actions, defining a “new normal” that is beneath themselves as both soldiers and Israelis.
Breaking the Silence is not without its critics:
Breaking the Silence likely has accurate testimonies. Among 10,000 soldiers, there has to be one who is a sadist or disturbed. And it’s very possible that one in 100 soldiers deviates from procedures.
The problem is that Breaking the Silence activists are creating the impression that this is Israel’s face and that this is the IDF’s face: An army of brutal and sadistic soldiers. The main lie is in the generalization and exaggeration. The lie is in taking unusual events, and there are such events, blowing them out of proportions and then running to the UN to talk about “plunder” and telling foreign journalists that “IDF soldiers use machine guns to fire at civilian populations” as a routine practice (source). Also, see here for another perspective.
Given what we had heard over the past several days, our team was struggled to know our own mind about what we heard. We were surprised only to the extent that we had heard stories of “much worse” from Refugees or their representatives.
That said, some of instances described were quite alarming, especially the recounting of some of the mid-night raids which ended up with machine guns being pointed at the heads of young children who had just been rousted out of their deepest sleep.
Next, two much more pro- (or at least more sympathetic)Israeli experiences.