Veteran Israeli soldiers speak out about service 23June12 June 23, 2012

Ma’an News Agency   -   22 June 2012

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) — A group of veteran Israeli soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have spoken out on camera about their experiences in the army.

The Israeli organization Breaking the Silence has collected testimonies from 800 veteran Israeli soldiers who served in the West Bank and Gaza. In a new campaign, it has released video testimonies of six former soldiers describing their experiences.

Amit served in Ramallah, Hebron and the northern West Bank during the second intifada. He describes an incident in which an Israeli commander swung his rifle at the jaw of a Palestinian during a tense situation at a roadblock near Jerusalem.

“Beyond the fact that the guy fell to the ground, bleeding and screaming in pain, and of course all of the other Palestinians only grew angrier, it took us a long time to gain control of the mess and, of course, we had to more aggressive, cocking our weapons and such.”

He says witnessing first hand what goes on the West Bank shattered his worldview.

“Going from a place where I was sure that we are the scapegoat, the miserable ones being killed, I saw a reality that, most of the time, was the opposite.

“I saw me running after people, I saw myself pointing a gun at a 3-year-old girl, I saw me and my friends cuffing people, checking people, detaining people, questioning people, arresting people. In most cases, it was for nothing.”

Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence, says he did everything he was required to as a fighter — and later a commander — in the Israeli army.

“If the mission right now is to keep the kids out of school, then the kids won’t go to school. If the mission is to disperse a funeral because of the curfew, then the family … will not finish burying their dead relative. It will leave the corpse there and leave. And if they don’t do it, they’ll get stun grenades and gas.”

“Can you even imagine a situation of an Israeli family at a funeral and the police comes to disperse them?”

Yehuda says he talks about his service because “if we don’t talk … none of us will know what goes on there.”

He says the most memorable part of his service was watching Palestinians getting beaten up by settlers in Hebron, while under orders not to touch them.

Another soldier, Sagi, who also served in Hebron, recalls a procession of Israeli children burning an effigy of a member of the anti-settlement organization Peace Now.

“I understood that all of the things that I thought — that there are boundaries, that at the end of the day we’re on the same side — that, from my point of view, is no longer the case. And from their point of view I’m not legitimate, and if they knew my political opinions they could replace the doll with me.”

Sagi says he finds people prefer not to listen to his experiences of the army, and those that do listen think that his experience was isolated, and perhaps he was “a soldier who transgressed” and should be put on trial.

“Maybe I really should be put on trial – but if I need to be tried, as one of the humane soldiers who served in the territories, I guess we should try all Israeli soldiers,” he says.

‘We’re ruining people’s lives on a daily basis’

Yael served as a scout in Gaza, monitoring a live video feed of the Gaza border.

“We’re kneaded and molded to see something suspicious in everything we see. I look into the cameras and I don’t see a donkey, a dog or a cart. I see a vehicle that can get a charge across, a vehicle that can get weapons across … It’s always suspicious.”

She explained: “There’s no routine there, it’s not someone throwing his garbage out, it’s an explosive.”

She recalls seeing an elderly shepherd, “a grandpa, a really old man with his sheep,” too close to the fence. She reported him to the combat engineering force. “I was conditioned to see shepherds and sheep herds as intelligence scouts.”

Israeli forces fired in the air, startling the sheep, but the shepherd remained. Soldiers then shot the ground near the sheep “and they were startled again but the shepherd was determined to stay there. He didn’t want to leave, he wanted to stay there.”

The soldiers shot a sheep.

“(The shepherd) went to the sheep and tried to pick it up and it was full of blood and he tried to pick it up and take it back and they continued to shoot.”

“The sheep didn’t die but he had to leave it there and run away, they would’ve shot him and the rest of the sheep. He ran back and the sheep stayed there until it died.”

“Seeing it from the other side, it was like a video game, so detached from reality. So what if we shoot animals.

“(For the Palestinians) it’s the exact opposite … people just come and shoot your animals, your livelihood, you. And it’s fine. It’s like it’s fine.”

She added: “We’re ruining people’s lives on a daily basis.”

Yael said she was testifying because she thought “people should know what’s happening there.”

“It’s not the Israeli Defense Force defending us against horrible terrorists who want to destroy the Jewish people. They are people who live here and who have lived here when we weren’t here and they’re trying to live and we’re the stronger power. And we use that power full on, without any problem. I think people should know that.”

In other testimonies, a soldier describes an incident in which a company of soldiers, including the battalion commander, assaulted a detained Palestinian.

A soldier in an elite unit recalls an officer being ridiculed for not following an order to shoot an elderly, sick Palestinian who had gone back into his home to get his medication during an arrest raid.

The full testimonies can be viewed at

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