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Home » Soldiers »

Testimony - 'That's what they understand'


 Rank:  First Sergeant
 Unit:  Nahal Brigade
 Location:  Hebron, West Bank
 Date:  2010
 Title:  "That's what they understand"

A former Israeli soldier provides a testimony to Breaking the Silence in which he describes how Palestinian children need to be “slapped around a bit … because that’s what they understand”.

Soldier: “I happened to be at Gross Square several times when Palestinian children ignited thorns and weeds in the cemeteries and rolled tires and threw stones at the 'Pillbox’ Post or towards the Jewish settlement. A patrol would be alerted to catch them, but until the police arrived, the soldiers couldn’t just stay with them outside so they would take them inside the ground floor of the post, and they would stay there. Once they had to stay in there alone for hours, and the stench was terrible. Golani infantrymen who were there before us would piss inside the post on the floor so it really stank. They stayed in there for a few hours without water, without food. Just that stench. It was disgusting. They cried and began to call people on the phone so one of the soldiers from another post was sent to be in there with them, to make sure they didn’t make trouble – to sit on the stairs. They were a lot of trouble. They weren’t supposed to use the phone but still they did. I didn’t want to use force so I called the war-room, and at the time the company commander was sitting with the deputy battalion commander at our company HQ, so the company commander came to the post. He arrived, opened the door and began yelling at them in Arabic and swearing at them, even slapping them around a bit.”
Interviewer: “How did it all end?”
Soldier: “They were all quiet, he had scared them. Three hours later they were released. They had sat there for three hours, as a punishment. But they would often either sit there and wait for the police to pick them up and then one of the soldiers would go with them for the inquiry, or the police would come right away.”
Interviewer: “And that whole story, sitting in the pillbox, was because they rolled tires?”
Soldier: “Rolled tires, threw stones, burnt grass.”
Interviewer: “Did the stones ever hit you? Or the pillbox?”
Soldier: “No.”
Interviewer: “Were the tires burning?”
Soldier: “Once a tire was burning, but they’re not allowed … It’s like disciplining a child, as soon as you let him do something wrong, he’ll keep doing it. They know they shouldn’t do this and as soon as they realize no one reacts, they will just go on doing it because they’ll think it’s okay.”
Interviewer: “What’s the point?”
Soldier: “No point. If they see no one jumps them, or cares that tires are being rolled, they will do it. Then there will be burning tires, and then stones.”
Interviewer: “What should be done with such children, according to instructions?”
Soldier: “Scare them. The police, too, said there was nothing to be done with them at the police station.”
Interviewer: “And the company commander’s approach is routine?”
Soldier: “The point is he didn’t punch them or kick them on the floor or fracture their bones. Just slapped them around. I’m not saying this is right, but that’s what they understand.”
Interviewer: “Do you think that while you were there, this really changed things? Did they throw fewer stones, burn fewer tires?”
Soldier: “No. They know, somehow, they hear which battalion is due to arrive. They probably fear Golani infantry, because that unit is more violent than Nahal, and then there was the Kfir Brigade … We are a more 'moral’ battalion. Still, it should be clear that we don’t just hang around our posts and look around, but act. Show some clout, so they realize there are more soldiers, more patrols. So they’ll know they can’t approach or make trouble, because they’ll be caught.”
Interviewer: “How is this manifested? Beyond leaving them in the post for several hours?”
Soldier: “Nothing can be done. The point is these children are afraid they’ll be sent to the police station and their parents will have to come and bail them out, and then their dad will beat them up. They’re told: 'The police will come soon,’ and then they’re just released.”