Breaking the Silence exposes humiliation of Palestinians, violence and theft by IDF soldiers

Posted: January 29th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, racism, Uncategorized, war | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Anti occupation group Breaking the Silence published a new set of testimonies, this time from female soldiers who served in recent years in the Palestinians territories. These include stories of humiliation, systematic violence, cruelty and theft by IDF soldiers. The Palestinians who were harmed by those acts were innocent civilians, or in the worse cases illegal workers in Israel or stone-throwers. They weren’t suspect of any terrorist activity against Israelis.

You can read some of the testimonies on Ynet (A good word to Israel’s most popular news site for posting the story in English as well. I wonder what people would have said if it was published on mainstream US media). On the Hebrew version of the article, you can also hear one of the testimonies.

Even though we heard such stories before, some of the stuff is not easy to read or listen to. It seems that in some IDF units, hurting Arabs became a way to gain respect and admiration of fellow soldiers. Some female soldiers, suffering from a lower statue to begin with, apparently did their best to show they don’t fall short from men in this field. This comes from one of the testimonies:

“A female combat soldier needs to prove more…a female soldier who beats up others is a serious fighter…when I arrived there was another female there with me, she was there before me…everyone spoke of how impressive she is because she humiliates Arabs without any problem. That was the indicator. You have to see her, the way she humiliates, the way she slaps them, wow, she really slapped that guy.”

In some cases, it seems that violence was kept secret from commanders, at least from the officers in charge (though most officers know more of what’s going on with their soldiers than they care to admit). In other cases, commanders took part in the acts:

Another female soldier’s testimony, who served at the Erez checkpoint, indicates how violence was deeply rooted in the daily routine: “There was a procedure in which before you release a Palestinian back into the Strip – you take him inside the tent and beat him.”

That was a procedure?

“Yes, together with the commanders.”

How long did it last?

“Not very long; within 20 minutes they would be back in the base, but the soldiers would stop at the post to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes while the guys from the command post would beat them up.”

This happened with every illegal alien?

“There weren’t that many…it’s not something you do everyday, but sort of a procedure. I don’t know if they strictly enforced it each and every time…it took me a while to realize that if I release an illegal alien on my end, by the time he gets back to Gaza he will go through hell… two or three hours can pass by the time he gets into the Strip. In the case of the kid, it was a whole night. That’s insane, since it’s a ten minute walk. They would stop them on their way; each soldier would give them a ‘pet’, including the commanders.”

One of the worse cases described is that of a child who’s arms and legs were supposedly broken by soldiers. This is hear-say evidence, but even the fact that it was never reported nor investigated teaches us something about what’s going on in the territories.

“I don’t know who or how, but I know that two of our soldiers put him in a jeep, and that two weeks later the kid was walking around with casts on both arms and legs…they talked about it in the unit quite a lot – about how they sat him down and put his hand on the chair and simply broke it right there on the chair.”

Read the rest here.

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As I said, this is not the first time these kinds of testimonies are published. Personally, I would have rather these soldiers reporting the acts as they happened or refusing to serve in the WB and Gaza altogether, but as I know form my own experience, it is never that simple. Sometimes you don’t fully understand what’s going on, and even if you do, going against your peers – as well as your commanders – in a combat unit is difficult in a way it’s hard even to begin explaining for those who never served.

Altogether, it’s better to talk late than never. It’s especially important given the fact that there are many people – especially Israel’s supporters in the US – who still believe that Palestinians’ lives are basically OK, that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world”, and all this crap. You can go on supporting Israel or thinking that Israel has no choice but to hold on to the territories and keep the siege on Gaza, but at least be honest enough to look at the price of these policies. I would expect Israel’s supporters – if they are really honest – to be the first to listen to the people of Breaking the Silence. Read the rest of this entry »


Gaza Mathematics

Posted: January 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, war | Tags: , , , , | 8 Comments »

How cruel is the Israeli siege on Gaza? the IDF spokesperson’s tweets can give an idea.

I follow the IDF spokesperson on twitter (tweets are in English, btw). Every few days, there is an update there on the humanitarian aid and fuel trucks intended to pass through the Erez crossing point into Gaza.

Here are some examples:

Jan 14: #IDF: 108 aid trucks and supply of fuel and natural gas scheduled to cross into #Gaza today. Erez Xing open.

Jan 13: 171 aid trucks and a supply of fuel scheduled to cross into #Gaza today. Erez Xing open.

Jan 11: 74 aid trucks and supply of fuel and natural gas scheduled to cross into #Gaza today through Erez Xing

There are some Israelis who Re-tweet these messages to their followers. Some Israeli embassies do that too. I guess they see it as further evidence to Israel’s claim that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza because of the siege. But the truth is that these numbers tell a totally different story.

There are no natural resources in the strip and hardly any food is grown there, so all the population is dependent on supply of food, fuel and gas from the outside. The economy is on hold since the war, and 80 percent of the people live on humanitarian aid.

According to the CIA factbook, there are 1,551,859 people living in Gaza.

Let’s take the best day of the month, according to the IDF. That was Jan 13, in which 171 trucks crossed the border into Gaza. That’s 171 trucks for 1.5 million people, or one truck for 9,075 people (1,551,859 divided by 171). Now imagine having to feed, give clothing and supply heating and power to 9,075 people – like the population of a not so small US town – with a single truck. Read the rest of this entry »


IDF officer to protesters: you are traitors; I am here to defend settlers (video)

Posted: January 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , | Comments Off

According to Danny Ayalon, Israel’s deputy Foreign Minister, one of the reasons he staged his public humiliation of the Turkish ambassador was that the anti-Israeli Turkish TV programs promotes anti-Semitism.

I can go on here about the abuse of the term anti-Semitism by Israeli representatives, or about my doubts whether humiliating a foreign ambassador is the way to make people like – or even just respect – us, but instead, here is something from Israeli TV, and this time it’s not staged:

A report from Friday Channel 10 news shows how a peaceful Palestinian demonstration – it’s the reporters who call it peaceful, not me – is met with tear gas, rubber bullets and the occasional beating of demonstrators from the hand of IDF soldiers.

Later on, a group of masked settlers arrive and start throwing rocks on the Palestinian demonstrators. The army does nothing. When some Jewish left-wing protesters ask the officer present why doesn’t he stop the settler, the officer responds: “I am here to protect them, not you or the Palestinians… unlike you, I am not a traitor to my country.”

I guess that if it was aired on Turkish TV or the BBC, Israeli foreign office would rush to protest this anti-Semitism.


Liberal Jews and Israel / a case of split personality disorder

Posted: January 5th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: the US and us, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments »

taglit

Last Saturday I met an Israeli-American friend who came for a short visit from his studies in Europe. We talked some politics, and finally came to an issue which always puzzles me: the fact that American Jews are unwilling – almost unable – to criticize Israel, both in public and in private, and even when Israeli policies contradict their own believes. My friend noted that if some of the articles on the Israeli media – and not even the most radical ones – were to be printed in the US and signed by none-Jews, they would be considered by most Jewish readers like an example of dangerous Israel-bashing, sometimes even anti-Semitism.

I’ve became more aware of this issue myself since I started writing this blog. Things I say or write which are well within the public debate in Israel are sometimes viewed as outrageous by American Jewish readers; at the same time, events which would make the same readers furious if they happened in the US – for example, the Israeli municipality which tried to prevent Arabs from dating Jewish girls – are met with indifference.

Naturally, I’m generalizing here. Between millions of Jews you can obviously find all kinds of voices – and this is part of the reason I hesitated before writing this post – but I think one can recognize some sort of mainstream opinion within the Jewish community, which both echoes the official Israeli policies, regardless of the identity of the government in Jerusalem, and at the same time, turns a blind eye on events which might distort the image of Israel which this community holds. And this is something which is hard to understand.

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All known data indicates that the vast majority of US Jews supports the democratic party, and many consider themselves as liberals (Barack Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote). Yet except for a group of well known activists, you can hardly hear these people criticize Israel, which is not exactly a picture-perfect liberal democracy.

I am not talking here about the old Jewish establishment or about AIPAC. AIPAC are professional politicians. Their status is based on their connections to the Israeli governments, and their ability to promote Israeli interests in Washington. Breaking up with Israel – even just criticizing Israeli politics – will not just hurt their status, it will simply leave them unemployed. Expecting AIPAC or other Jewish leaders with good ties in Jerusalem to declare that, for example, Israel should lift the siege on Gaza, is like asking an insurance lobbyist to speak in the name of the public option.

Naturally, I don’t expect anything from Jewish neo-cons either. These people like Netanyahu, they supported George Bush, and they will go on speaking about culture wars and Islamo-Facists versus Judo-Christians even on the day Ismail Haniya converts to Zionism. You can agree or disagree with them, but at least their views are consistent.

With the Liberals it’s quiet a different story. It’s obvious they care much about Israel, and some of them are very passionate about politics and extremely well-informed about what’s going on here, but from time to time, I get the feeling they hold back some of their views.

I don’t think many liberals, if they really are ones, can accept the siege on Gaza. Even if they think that Hamas is to blame for the current state of affairs, surly they don’t support collective punishment against 1.5 million people, do they? What would they say if the US was to seal the areas in Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan where the insurgents are hiding, not letting even basic supply in or out, preventing civilians from growing food or working, and practically leaving the entire population on the brink of starvation? I presume many Americans will oppose such policies.

But let’s leave geo-politics aside, and talk about the current wave of anti-Arab legislation in Israel. There are things happening here on a daily basis which would make most American Jews go out of their minds if they occurred to Afro-Americans in Alabama or to Native-Americans in Oklahoma, rather than to Arabs in the Galilee. Take for example the temporary order preventing Arab citizens who marry none-Israelis to live with their partners and children here, or the new legislation which will make it legal for Jewish neighborhoods and settlements to refuse to accept Arabs. Is this something Americans – not just liberals – would tolerate? I’m not even talking here about the de-facto discrimination of Arabs, but on a legal effort to introduce ethnic segregation in Israel. Isn’t that the same issue Jews fought against throughout our entire history? Weren’t American Jews an important part of the civil right movement? What’s the difference between Blacks in Birmingham and Arabs in Katzir?

I guess that part of the reason for not criticizing Israel is that many Jews are extremely sensitive to the existential threat Israelis sense, so they don’t like to speak against security measures taken by Israel, since it’s not them who would be hurt when these measures are lifted. This is understandable, but many of the problems the Arab minority faces has nothing to do with national security, but with the desire of many in the Israeli public – and their elected officials in the Knesset – to make Israel not just a Jewish state, but a state for Jews, and Jews only. It’s not about terror, just racism.

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Given the sense of shared history and even close family ties between the two communities, there is something very natural with the American-Jewish community’s desire to take side with Israelis in what seems as its conflict with the Arab world. I guess taking sides also means avoiding looking at some of the faults of your partner. But the problem with the Jews’ attitude towards Israel is much deeper than that, and it shows the most on issues which have nothing to do with the Arab-Israeli conflict, and are purely an internal matter of the Jewish people.

Here is an example: as we all know, the Orthodox Jewish establishment has an official statues in Israel (unlike most Western countries, state and religion are not separated here, and the chief Orthodox Rabbi has a position similar to this of a supreme court justice). The same Orthodox establishment is very hostile to none-Orthodox Jews, which happen to make most of the American Jewish community. A few weeks ago, Fifth-year medical student Nofrat Frenkel was arrested for wearing a talit at the Kotel. I expected all hell to break in the States. After all, this concerns Jews’ right to practice their faith in the most holy place in the world. I wouldn’t say the event went unnoticed – I saw some blog posts and articles referring to the incident, and Forward published Frenkel’s account of the day – but it certainly wasn’t enough for people in Israel to notice. If American Jews spoke on this matter, it was with a voice that nobody heard.

Now imagine the public outrage if Frenkel was arrested anywhere else in the world for wearing a talit. Read the rest of this entry »


Surprise from Mofaz: Israel should talk to Hamas

Posted: November 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

mofaz_shaulUnlike any other army I know of, IDF soldiers carry around and even go home with their guns. I don’t know the precise reason for this: some say it’s meant to create an additional unofficial security force in the streets; others claim that it makes soldiers take better care of their guns; I guess it also simplifies things logistically. The only problem is with the clip: You don’t want everyone carrying around loaded guns, so where exactly should a soldier keep the clip?

To solve this issue, all soldiers during the late 80s and early 90s were issued a small, strange-looking, plastic box. Every soldier was supposed to put the clip in the box, and than attach the box to his belt or put it in his pocket. The box was soon nicknamed Mofazit, after the senior officer who invented them, one Shaul Mofaz. Basically, it was the most useless thing in the world. The Mofazit was too big and uncomfortable, and it took too much time to take the clip out – so soldiers just went on placing the clips in their pockets (I’ve never seen anyone actually use the Mofazit), and the army went on issuing the plastic boxes, until one day somebody put an end to the whole business.

Shaul Mofaz was appointed chief of staff mainly to prevent Mathan Vilnaiy from getting the job; later on he zigzagged between Likud and Kadima, and didn’t leave much of an impression in both parties. His last term in the government, as Minister of Transportation, was marked by professional disasters and appointments of friends and political allies to senior positions. As a person who made a name for himself for his political ambition – and not much more – it was no surprise that since the general elections Mofaz has been doing his best to push Kadima into Netanyahu’ government, so he can get himself another cabinet post. This hurt his ratings with the public even further. So it is easy to figure out why when Mofaz said he was going to announce his new diplomatic plan for an agreement with the Palestinians, most people didn’t exactly hold their breath.

But Mofaz did come up with something new: breaking one of Israel’s Taboo’s, he suggests no less than talking to Hamas:

“At the moment that Hamas sit down at the negotiating table, assuming that Hamas are elected and want to talk, they accept the Quartet’s guidelines and are no longer a terrorist organization.”

To understand the context of this idea, it’s enough to remember that just recently Netanyahu (wrongly) accused Sweden of contacts with Hamas. Read the rest of this entry »


Lies and National Security

Posted: September 12th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

Maj. Gen. Meir Kalifi, Benjamin Netanyahu’s military secretary, was the fall guy this week in the fiasco surrounding the PM’s “secret visit” to Russia. When the affaire ended, Kalifi was quoted as saying that “for state security one may sometimes not tell the whole truth.”

Haaretz’s Amos Harel makes a good point regarding this issue:

Kalifi is the man whom the IDF sent to the front, during two sad incidents in the Gaza Strip: the death of seven members of the Ghalia family in 2006 from a blast on the Gaza beach, and the killing of 18 Palestinians by IDF artillery in Beit Hanoun. He is the man who investigated the incidents, and presented the conclusions to the media.

In both cases the IDF came out with minor damage. His willingness to deceive in the name of security this week has shed some doubt also on his statements in the past.

The question is will the Israeli media, who bases its reports almost solely on the IDF’s press releases, remembers this lesson in the future.


Holy war: army Rabbinate in charge now of IDF’s “fighting spirit” / PL exclusive

Posted: August 28th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, war | Tags: , , , , , , | 4 Comments »
bri-gen avichai rontzki, head of the army Rabbinate

bri-gen Avichai Rontzki, head of the army Rabbinate

The influence of radical Jewish thinking is spreading throughout the ranks of the IDF. The official IDF site is now stating that the role of the army Rabbinate – previously limited to providing the soldiers’ religious needs – includes now also a responsibility over the army’s “fighting spirit”.

The Rabbinate is providing on the army’s web site weekly lessons from the Torah portions, to be passed to the soldiers by the units’ Rabbis. These lessons include sometimes references to “holy war” and analogies between biblical battles and those of recent days.

Read the rest of this entry »


Our very own Danish cartoons: will Israelis boycott ABBA?

Posted: August 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, media | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »
Haaretz's daily cartoon, by Amos Biderman

Haaretz's daily cartoon, by Amos Biderman

The campaign in Israel against Sweden following the article in Aftonbladet, which claimed that IDF soldiers harvested the organs of Palestinians they killed, is looking more and more like the Muslim world’s reaction to the Danish Cartoons. Back than, the dangerous point was reached when the public protest over the cartoons turned into an official policy of Arab governments. In Israel, the government didn’t even wait for the rest of the public.

After both Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and PM Benjamin Netanyahu demanded an apology from the Swedish government (Netanyahu said he would settle for an unofficial condemnation of the Aftonbladet piece, but Liberman is still insisting that the Swedish government would take official steps against the paper, like it was some third-world dictatorship), Israeli citizens have responded, and are now organizing a boycott on Swedish companies, most notably Ericsson, Volvo, H&M and IKEA (a comment on Ynet.co.il news site seriously suggested that if you can’t avoid buying in IKEA, at least steal the pencil they give you at the entrance). Some Israelis still listen to ABBA, but this might change soon as well.

Liberman went even further yesterday: after his tasteless reference to the Swedish behavior during the Holocaust, he added Norway to his list of anti-Semitic regimes (it’s time for Finland to start worrying). The reason: the marking of the 150 years anniversary of the birth of Knut Hamson, the well known writer who was, in his last years, a Nazi sympathizer. These embarrassing comments – Hamson is taught in Israeli schools - made front pages in all the daily papers in Israel both today and yesterday.

In a sense, I find it appropriate that Avigdoer Liberman is our foreign minister. His combination of Xenophobia and populism is much more suitable to represent the current Israeli mood than the diplomatic tones of Shimon Peres. The real problem is the political effect of his conduct. One can guess that IKEA will survive the Israeli boycott (judging from the way most Israeli homes look today, it’s us that might not make it without them), but this “whole world is against us” attitude is bound to lead Israel to some dangerous places.

UPDATE: the extreme right wing movement “Im Tirtzu” organized this evening a protest of a few dozens people in front of the Swedish embassy in Tel Aviv. There were thousands protesting in Cairo and Gaza after the cartoon was published in Denmark, but that’s about the only difference.


Back in the West Bank (part III)

Posted: August 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, The Settlements, this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , | 6 Comments »

This is my third and final post regarding my recent army service in the West Bank (here are parts 1 and 2). Next week it’s back to blogging as usual.

A few hundred meters from our base, located north of Jericho, lies the settlements “Mevo’ot Yericho“, home to a couple of dozens families. As far as the army is concerned, Mevo’ot Yericho is not different from Kibbutz Gilgal, Tomer, or any other Jewish settlements in the area. There are soldiers guarding at the gate, an army patrol occasionally drops by to check if everything is OK, and the residents of Mevo’ot Yericho pass daily on our checkpoint, about a mile up the road leading to Jericho city. Nothing can hint that Mevo’ot Yericho is – according to the official minister of justice report – an illegal outpost, part of the much debated list of outposts that are supposed to be evacuated somewhere in the near future.

Mevo’ot Yericho started as a station for agriculture experiments that belonged to Mitzpe Yitav settlement, some 3 milles away. This is common practice in the West Bank. You start with an army post or an excavations project or an agriculture one, and before you know it, there are some mobile homes there (the people working on the station must sleep somewhere, no?) and the families of the so called workers arrive to spent some time with them (with all the house furniture in the back of the car), and from here there is no going back. Nothing – be that a nature reserve or a scientific project – is ever innocent in the West bank. Everything must be seen and understood in the context of the occupation.

Read the rest of this entry »


Back in the West Bank (part I)

Posted: August 10th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

As I write this, I still have 10 days until the end of my reserve service in the West Bank. It is my first service in the Palestinian territories in nine years. Until then I was a platoon commander in an infantry unit, and served on a regular basis in the West Bank and on Gaza strip, both during mandatory duty and on reserve. Seven years ago I decided I will not take part in the occupation anymore, and refused to enlist to my yearly service. I was sentenced to 28 days in army prison no. 6, and later removed from my commanding post. When the next call came, I was transferred to a civil defense unit (again, as platoon commander), which usually doesn’t carry out such missions. But lately the army changed its policy, and my unit was called for a 26 days service in the Jordan Vally area. Not “hardcore occupation” like the things I used to do in Hebron or Ramallah, but still, inside the West Bank.

What do I do here? That’s what I’ve been asking myself in the last two weeks. Read the rest of this entry »