In 2004, Adam Maor felt the force of Israel's attitude to its increasing number of conscientious objectors; he was sentenced to a year in prison for refusing to do his two years' military service. In 2011, Anat Kam was sentenced to four and a half years for copying documents during her military service and giving them to a journalist who used them to reveal Israel's policy of selectively assassinating Palestinian militants in the West Bank; the policy defied a supreme court ruling.
This book shows that those young people knew what they were resisting. It exposes Israel's conduct in the illegally occupied territories, with 180 items selected from 700 of first-hand testimony from 101 men and women of the Israeli Defence Forces, the IDF. The interviewees, from all social strata and all IDF units in the territories, tell of how Palestinian villagers are routinely handcuffed, blindfolded, and viciously beaten by soldiers. They tell of how patrols fire stun-grenades at three in the morning, just to wake Palestinians in systematic sleep-deprivation amounting to collective torture.
They tell of how the IDF randomly enter houses, of how they herd families into a single room and point rifles at them until the children wet themselves in fear. Soldiers occupy Palestinians' houses for months at a time, and wreck them when they leave. Whole houses are reduced to rubble. Children climbing on to armoured cars, and unarmed men standing on their own on roof-terraces, have been shot dead. In Gaza, orders were to shoot children carrying stones.
Sections of the Israeli press lie for the IDF. A car with three occupants was riddled with bullets. It was the wrong car. The officers congratulated all involved, and most of the press reported the event as the killing of four terrorists. A soldier quotes a commander: the aim is to kill as many people as possible. He adds, ‘people, not terrorists'. Another officer says, “I want bodies. That is all I want.”
Sometimes the soldiers disobey orders. They have refused to fire grenade-launchers at stone-throwing children 300 metres away, and have not been reported; the orders were illegal. Some have reported their superiors — but nothing is done except in very extreme cases.
The soldiers' reactions, are, of course, complex, and some tell eloquently of the terror of every encounter in which there is shooting. They do, however, flatly contradict Israel's official line that the IDF are there for a military purpose: “It's not a war against an army. It's, what the **** are you doing there?” The troops' presence can therefore be sustained only by persistent dehumanisation of the Palestinians. A soldier offers detainees water, but his team stop him for fear of infection. Soldiers loot expensive items from Palestinian homes, and when officers stop them they take cheaper things. This is all but official policy, and the theme of contagion figures again, as Israel intensifies its apartheid. Roads are arbitrarily blocked, often for a month.
Quite apart from the brutality and the killing and the maiming, Palestinians' entire lives are poisoned by endless arbitrary humiliations. Trucks carrying gravel are stopped one week and not the next, for no reason at all. Palestinians are kept standing in the street for hours in bitter night time cold. An officer makes a Palestinian clean a checkpoint before he can have his car keys back. Palestinians have to have ID cards in different colours, all giving different permissions.
The surreality of it all repeatedly emerges. Orders at a checkpoint are to turn away cars without women or children, so two men drive away and reappear with a small boy; soldiers and Palestinians smile at each other this time as the car goes through. A soldier says, “[T]hey grab some kid, pay him a shekel and a half…it just adds further proof that the IDF's job is to embitter Palestinians' lives.”
There is no telling what hatred the occupation and the Israeli state's conduct are generating. The young IDF personnel are themselves scarred; they say they cannot tell their parents what they have seen and done, and they know that the sole aim is to harass, intimidate, and terrify the Palestinians until they stop resisting. Israel is clearly indifferent; recognition by a subordinated consciousness is not an issue, because for the Zionist state the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories are nothing but Untermenschen.
OCCUPATION OF THE TERRITORIES — Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies 2000-2010. Edited by Michael Manekin et al. Breaking the Silence, www.breakingthesilence.org.il, Jerusalem.
Keywords: Israel-Palestine conflict