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Home » Soldiers »

Testimony - "Did I behave properly during that incident?"


Name: Anonymous
Rank: First Sergeant
Unit: Haruv Battalion
Location: Ramallah, West Bank
Date: 2012

An Israeli soldier provides a testimony to Breaking the Silence explaining why he chose to break his silence and speak out. "The first vehicle we stopped had two Palestinians transporting goods, and their Hebrew was good."

Soldier: "We issued an activity on Route ****, which is a route that crosses Ramallah from below. We were told, "Since it's a night route, not supervised much, many terrorists pass through there." We commenced the activity and began to stop vehicles. The first vehicle we stopped had two Palestinians transporting goods, and their Hebrew was good. Their Hebrew seemed too good to me, and they seemed to know too well how to conduct themselves with soldiers, so we checked their vehicle, we asked them to take things out. The next vehicle arrived, a couple on their way to a wedding. We took them out of the car, of course. Every time I talk to someone, my signaler has his weapon pointed at him, at his face. I'm talking to the person and I don't know

if he has a knife on him, if he has a million things that could endanger us. He [the signaler) had a bullet in the barrel. The weapon is cocked. You enter Area A with cocked weapons. And then a family arrives. And I'll never forget that family until my dying day. The father and mother got out of the car, and my soldier had his weapon aimed at the father, and they're on their way home from a wedding, and three little girls get out of the car with him. As I'm talking to the father, his little girl is clinging to his leg. I'm standing there, next to me a soldier is pointing his weapon at her father, and the little girl is clinging to his leg. We check the car. My soldier says to me, "Can I turn the weapon away?" I answer, "No, you can't," because of my understanding that we have to conduct this whole thing professionally, to defend ourselves."
Interviewer: "Why did you carry out this mission?"
Soldier: "Because they said that we need to have another initiated mission tonight. They said, "You have to go to that route there to set up a checkpoint." You're blocking a route that doesn't have a checkpoint. You're doing a flying checkpoint. Mostly they said that there are many terrorists there, they drive and that's how they smuggle weapons."
Interviewer: "Was it a family returning from a wedding?"
Soldier: "A family returning from a wedding. Dressed nicely. He was even in a suit, very fancy. And he's standing there at the junction, at 11 PM, with a 20-year-old soldier talking to him, and a 19-year-old soldier pointing a weapon at his face in front of his little girl and his wife, who’s standing by the car with a soldier watching her, and that's normative. And then you say – it’s normative in his eyes as well. He somehow accepts it, he's treating me in a dignified manner and he simply wants to move on because this is his life. And that's also something you notice at checkpoints: the young kids and Palestinian youth, you can still see the hatred in their eyes. You see it immediately at most checkpoints. But the older people, you see that they're already occupied people. They're people with a twinkle in their eye that doesn't exist, and they plead with you because they know there's no other way. The young people don't plead. The old people plead. "Please, soldier, I want to pass through, I need to work," because they've already gone through so much occupation that they don't have any more strength to resist. Because whoever resisted in their generation is probably no longer around."
Interviewer: "What do you feel upon your release?"
Soldier: "A bit of shame. That's a lie, there's also pride. I'm very proud of myself that I was a combatant, so I finished my service feeling strengthened. But there’s a lot of shame, many thoughts afterwards, and for years now I'm still thinking about it. Did I behave properly during that incident? Should I have opened fire? Did I not need to? Was I right to shout 'uskut' (be quiet) at some Arab, or was it unnecessary, but definitely that it's not what you're supposed to do in the army. And that's the feeling, a hundred percent, that it's simply not your job. I was a policeman, but a policeman for only one side, and... I don't know. A lot of hatred for the system. A feeling of being exploited and... That they took everything out of you in impossible conditions, and then it sort of doesn't interest anybody. I thought that I would be a combatant and defend the country, and sometimes you do actually have the feeling that you're defending [the country] from terror, but then when you think about it you realize it isn't exactly [like that]."
Interviewer: "So why do you actually think it's important to break the silence?"
Soldier: "Because people have got to know what's going on there. And because people don't know. A hundred percent of the people I talk to, who haven't served there, don't understand – "Oh, the checkpoint isn't between the [West] Bank and here?" I don't know, I feel that the only way for a society to reach catharsis, to go through a process with itself and accept what it did in order to move on, to enable some sort of process of opening and renewal, it must know what's going on there. If we send our children there, then we shouldn't be surprised that some of them don’t take it well, do wrong things, and... behave in a manner we wouldn't want [anyone] to behave toward us. And it's a problem that an entire society programs you, indoctrinates you, at some point in the social limbo, to hate the enemy, to demonize the enemy, and then sends you to rule over it. Every society this ever happened to in history, in every war – terrible things happened. Fifty years is a very long time to rule over the territories without a solution. And we have to talk about it."