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.


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 »

Two things to watch in the next few weeks (and a good word for pro-Palestinian activism)

Posted: December 3rd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off

After PM Benjamin Netanyahu announced his partial settlement moratorium, many observers were right in noting that Israeli leaders had no problems declaring a settlement freeze in the past and than doubling their building efforts in the West bank and East Jerusalem. Therefore, monitoring what’s happening on the ground will play a major role in the months to come.

Before we can hope for renewal of negotiations, there are political developments that will have to play out on both Israeli and Palestinian side. This might take between few weeks, even months.

On the Israeli side, we will have to see if Netanyahu will actually stop construction in the West Bank, or if this is just another one of the Israeli stalling games we have seen before. As I wrote, I don’t trust the PM, but constant pressure from the US and from Labor might actually make him turn his back to the settlers. There is already some minor protest from the right against the moratorium, and it remains to be seen whether this is a real split between Netanyahu and the “ideological right” or just a show for the media. We have known this before as well.

On the Palestinian side, we have yet to find out the effect of the Shalit deal on the relations between Fatah and Hamas. If Abu-mazen does resign in two weeks or so, anything can happen. It can pave the road for negotiations with Israel under a new Palestinian leadership (perhaps Marwan Barguti. there are contradicting reports on the possibility of his release), or it can lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority and an end to the peace process as we know it. Read the rest of this entry »

A Palestinian Game-Changer

Posted: November 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off
President Abbas and PM Fayad

President Abbas and PM Fayad

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has an unbalanced nature, as Israel is holding most of the economical and military power in the region, while the Palestinians have only the world’s public opinion to rely on. But lately it seems that the Palestinian Authority is able to take the game to a field in which it has the upper hand – that of public NGOs and multinational bodies. That’s what happened with the Goldstone report, and this is the context, I believe, in which we should understand the Palestinian plan to unilaterally declare independence in a couple of years.

In the last decade, both Yasser Arafat and the Hamas tried to gain political achievements through the use of force (not a new approach in the Middle East; Arab and Israelis have been doing it for a century). This effort didn’t only fail, but also handed Israel the currency it lacks the most: international legitimization for its military actions. Thousands of dead and years of suffering have passed, and all the Palestinians got was the withdrawal from Gaza, and Israel is still making them pay for it through its siege on the strip.

After losing the current military round, the Palestinians are playing a game in which Israel will find it much harder to win.

The basic idea of the Palestinian PM, Salaam Fayad, is this: if Israel will go on refusing to freeze all settlement activities and the peace process won’t reignite, the Palestinians will ask for a UN resolution recognizing their independence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capitol. Such proposal will enjoy an overwhelming majority in the general assembly. Things might get a bit trickier for the Palestinians in the Security Council, where the US holds veto power, but given the new administration’s support of the two states solution, it’s hard to imagine the White House blocking the Palestinian move altogether. More likely, it will push for some sort of compromise.

An Israeli diplomatic counter-attack could have stood some chances with a centrist Israeli government and a neo-conservative US administration like we had a year ago, but with the current world atmosphere and a radical right-wing coalition in Jerusalem, this effort will be doomed from the start. Read the rest of this entry »

Thomas Friedman is missing George Bush

Posted: November 9th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off

Thomas Friedman’s last Sunday’s column at the NYT got considerable attention in Israel. Friedman’s article, who called the US to put its current diplomatic effort in the Middle East to a halt – due to lack of interest from the parties involved – was quoted on and even got some sort of response from Ehud Barak. Israel’s defense Minister described the Obama presidency as “a rare opportunity to reach peace.”, before going on with his usual blaming of the Palestinians and Arab Leaders for missing this very opportunity (Barak’s attitude is so narrow-minded and his conduct is so annoying, that he seems like the only person still capable of stirring some emotions in the Israeli Left. This Saturday he was even booed at the Rabin Memorial Rally).

Friedman, who as a reporter was stationed both in Jerusalem and Beirut, thinks that the US president is wasting his time in trying to get the Palestinians and the Israelis to the table. In recent Middle East history, claims Friedman, diplomatic progress occurred only when both sides desired it, and not when it was imposed from outside:

The fact is, the only time America has been able to advance peace — post-Yom Kippur War, Camp David, post-Lebanon war, Madrid and Oslo — has been when the parties felt enough pain for different reasons that they invited our diplomacy, and we had statesmen — Henry Kissinger, Jimmy Carter, George Shultz, James Baker and Bill Clinton — savvy enough to seize those moments.

Today, the Arabs, Israel and the Palestinians are clearly not feeling enough pain to do anything hard for peace with each other — a mood best summed up by a phrase making the rounds at the State Department: The Palestinian leadership “wants a deal with Israel without any negotiations” and Israel’s leadership “wants negotiations with the Palestinians without any deal.”

I find this reading of history extremely naïve. In fact, I think what’s true is almost the opposite: the parties in the Middle East shed each other’s blood as long as the international community, and most notably the US, allowed them to. Examples: the US allowing Israel to hit Egypt in 56′ but than forcing it to evacuate the Sinai peninsula; the US stopping the IDF on 73′, and saving the Egyptian Third Army; the US forcing Israel to let the PLO evacuate Beirut before the IDF enters the city. This goes on to our very days: Why do you think Israel was in such a hurry to finish its attack in Gaza on the same week George Bush left the White House?

But my problem with what Friedman wrote goes deeper than his historical perspective. Read the end of his article:

It is obvious that this Israeli government believes it can have peace with the Palestinians and keep the West Bank, this Palestinian Authority still can’t decide whether to reconcile with the Jewish state or criminalize it and this Hamas leadership would rather let Palestinians live forever in the hellish squalor that is Gaza than give up its crazy fantasy of an Islamic Republic in Palestine.

If we are still begging Israel to stop building settlements, which is so manifestly idiotic, and the Palestinians to come to negotiations, which is so manifestly in their interest, and the Saudis to just give Israel a wink, which is so manifestly pathetic, we are in the wrong place. It’s time to call a halt to this dysfunctional “peace process,” which is only damaging the Obama team’s credibility.

If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table. Let’s fight about something big.

While I may agree with what the way Friedman views the current Israeli policies – let’s assume even that he got the Palestinian side right – the problem is with his conclusions, or with the absence of some of them.

The US diplomatic engagement in the region is only the tip of the iceberg. When Friedman says that “we are in the wrong place”, does he also mean that the 3 billion dollar annual military and economical support Israel receives from the US goes in the wrong place? Is he saying that the US should re-consider its automatic veto on Security Council resolutions that troubles Israel? Does he call for the Pentagon to stop its military support of the IDF, because we end up with US subsided weapons used to guard the settlements that the White House want dismantled?

Because if that’s what Friedman means, he should say so (unless he is afraid of the reactions he might meet, and in this case, he should give up writing altogether). If, on the other hand, all he thinks is that the US should carry on with its support of Israel and Israeli policies, and just drop the diplomatic effort to end the occupation for now, he could make things much easier by simply saying we should go back to the first six years of the Bush administration, when the Palestinian leaders were Persona Non Grata in Washington and Israel got a Carte Blanche in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

Even the Neo-Cons of the Bush administration arrived at the conclusion that this wasn’t such a good idea, so they came up with the road map and the Annapolis summit. And now Friedman is asking Obama – who promised that the US will not turn its back on the Palestinian people again – to walk the same road?

Talking to Israelis is so useless

Posted: October 13th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , | 75 Comments »

Being part of the lefty ultra-minority in Israel – and obsessed with politics at the same time – I get mixed up regularly in political debates (fights?) with friends, family members, coworkers, writers and readers of pro-Israeli blogs, and basically, whoever is around. But lately, I have to admit, I’m getting tired of this habit. I feel that no matter what the issue at hand is, Israelis and their supporters fall back to the same argument:

The Palestinians want to destroy us, and therefore, whatever we do to them is justified.

It doesn’t matter that A doesn’t necessarily leads to B (even in war not everything is justified), it doesn’t even matter we are talking about something else completely, say racism towards Arab Israeli citizens or the future of Jerusalem. Whatever I say, wherever we go, we end up at the same station. The Palestinians want to destroy us, and therefore, whatever we do to them is justified.

I try to speak about Gaza, and say, the illegal use of phosphorus bombs against civilians.

“How do you know the IDF did that?” the answer comes. “Don’t say you believe that self-hating Jew, Goldstone?”

-    Well, there are pictures of the bombs exploding, there are people with phosphorus-like burns, and I know that every combat unit in the IDF carries standard phosphorus ammunition, because I’ve been there and I even used it in training.

-    You don’t get it, do you? The Palestinians want to destroy us all. What we did in Gaza was self-defense, like everyone else would have done. We didn’t want to kill those children. We did what’s necessary. It was justified.

And that’s basically it. Read the rest of this entry »

Forget the peace process (part II)

Posted: September 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Left, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

There were interesting comments to my previous post, regarding the future of the struggle to end the occupation. My basic point was that though the two state solution remains the most popular – and even most likely – idea on the table, we might have reached some dead end, at least as far as the Israeli public is concerned (and to be honest, right now the Palestinians don’t seem too enthusiastic about restarting negotiations as well). My point was that maybe we should stop thinking, at least for some time, about the desired political structure (one state? Two states?), and go back to dealing with the basic human and civil rights problems which are at the heart of the matter. I think that with time, this approach might even lead us out of the political deadlock.

There was one issue, raised in the comments by Aviv and Judy, which I like to answer here. Judy writes: “isn’t there such a body as the Palestinian Authority that the Palestinians of the West Bank vote for?” And Aviv adds:

That the Palestinian’s internal national institutions are less than democratic is not Israel’s problem – civil rights have to be earned in hard work of Palestinian nation building. (In this case it would have to be the first Arab civil society, which is even harder).

This argument – that the Palestinian got their civil and human rights within the PA so that the international criticism on the matter should not be directed at Israel – is very popular with the Israeli right and among Israel’s supporters in the world. The irony is that these are the same people – Netanyahu, Bennie Begin, etc. – who rejected the idea of a Palestinian autonomy during the 90′s, and now they use the autonomy to support their claim that “there is no occupation”.

The problems is that as my right-wing Professor Martin Sherman use to say, sovereignty’s main characteristic is that it cannot be divided. You can divide authorities or jurisdictions, but at the end, in the current international system, there isn’t but one sovereign. In most cases it is the state apparatus, which represents – even in undemocratic regimes – the people. And it is within this sovereignty that civil rights are given.

Now, who’s the sovereign in the West Bank? I don’t really think there is any question. Last month I gave some examples from my own experience, but here is something from today’s paper:

Tensions are mounting between Israel and the Palestinian Authority following Ramallah’s call on the International Court at The Hague to examine claims of “war crimes” that the IDF allegedly committed during Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip… Israel has warned the Palestinian Authority that it would condition permission for a second cellular telephone provider to operate in the West Bank – an economic issue of critical importance to the PA leadership – on the Palestinians withdrawing their request at the International Court.

The Palestinian “authority” can’t even decide over the deployment of a cellular provider without an Israeli approval – which comes with very specific, and not at all related, conditions – let alone issues such as air and ground travel, export and import, construction and commerce, and much more. Even more important is the fact that for more than forty years, Palestinians are tried in Israeli army courts, were suspects’ rights are considerably reduced. A fight for civil rights for the Palestinians could start with the demand to incorporate them into the Israeli civilian system.

Read the rest of this entry »

Arab of 48′ is in the house

Posted: September 24th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: media, racism | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

A friend posted on Facebook a link to an excellent blog (in Hebrew). The author’s nick is  “Arab 48″, and he describes himself as a Palestinian lawyer from the north, 61 years old (as old as the state, or if you prefer – as the Nakba). The anonymous writer is 28. He wrote that his age is 61 to represent the situation of the Arabs citizens. He is religious, and naturally, an Israeli.

Arab 48′ writes mainly about his daily life and thoughts. He focuses on his place as a Palestinian in the Jewish state, and on every day’s encounters between Arab and Jews around him. This is the stuff you won’t read in the papers: an argument between him and his brother regarding the noises from the Arab villages in the area, which bothers their Jewish neighbors; a story of an Arab cantina worker who gave him too much change, “because the boss is a Jew”; a reminder to say to your Arab neighbors “Ramadan Karim” at the beginning of the Ramadan, and more. in a time when racism is on the rise and more and more Israelis believe in ethnic segregation, this stuff is a must-read.

Unfortunately, the blog is updated only few times a month, so I recommend you subscribe, or add it to your RSS reader.

Back in the West Bank (part II)

Posted: August 16th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: this is personal, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

It’s been nine years since my previous military service in the West Bank. Back than, I promised myself that it was the last time I took such an active part in the occupation, but I didn’t keep my word. In the last three weeks I have been stationed in a small base in the Jordan Valley area, north of Jericho. I have a few more days to go. In my previous post I discussed the reason that brought me there. Now I’d like to report some of the things I’ve seen and learned.

The first thing one notices upon returning to the WB are the increased limitations on the Palestinians’ lives. When I was called to the territories for the first time, in 1993, Palestinians traveled freely into and out of the West Bank. During the Oslo days, the WB and Gaza were sealed. Now, after the second Intifada, Palestinians can’t even travel freely between their own towns and villages (though some of the roadblocks were removed recently). Most Palestinians are not allowed to use highway 90, going along the Jordan Valley, and some other main roads as well. The result is that on the West Bank Highways, you only see cars with the yellow Israeli license plates.

There are, however, exceptions. Some Palestinian Authority officials are allowed to pass through roadblocks. Others have permits to work at a certain settlements, or inside Israel, on the other side of the Green Line. Some live near the major highways, so they are issued a special permit to use certain roads which are normally reserved for Israelis. All this leads to an incredibly bureaucratic system of permits and approval, issued and renewed every few months by the army and with the supervision of the Shin Beit (the powerful internal security bureau). In most roadblocks and checkpoints one can find thick leaflets explaining the rights granted to the Palestinians by every permit. And when the permits are not enough, each Palestinian is registered on the IDF computer, so it’s possible to check where he is allowed to be, if he can use a specific “Israelis only” road, where can he work, etc.

This complicated system is operated, at ground level, by 20 years old kids or by reservists on units such as mine. 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 »

If I were a Palestinian (the two state solution reconsidered)

Posted: July 25th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: The Left, The Right, The Settlements | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »
Jewish settlements in WB, 2002 (click to enlarge). source: Betzelem

Jewish settlements in WB, 2002 (click to enlarge). source: Betzelem

I’m going on reserve service, so I probably won’t be posting for two weeks or so. Meanwhile, here is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

On March 1998, just before his first campaign for the position of Prime Minister, Ehud Barak was interviewed on a one of the cable channels by Haaretz’s Gidon Levi. At one point, Levi asked Barak where his life would have leaded him, if he was born a Palestinian. “If I was at the right age,” the response had come, “I would have joined one of the terror organizations.”

Thus started a big controversy: some people thought Barak was taking a brave and candid approach, others argued that he was legitimatizing suicide attacks (most people didn’t notice at the time or don’t remember now, but Barak condemned the Palestinian attacks on civilians in the second part of his answer to Gidon Levi). Altogether, the answer might have been a slip of a tongue, but it certainly didn’t prevent Barak from beating Netanyahu in the 1999 elections. Levi himself tried the same trick on Ariel Sharon a few years later, but Sharon ducked the question. Maybe it’s better that way; I believe it is not for Israelis to pass judgment or to give advice on the way the Palestinians fight the occupation.

Still, I would like to use this approach to make a point about an abnormality in the current debate that never ceases to amaze me.

Let me put it this way: if I were a Palestinian “of the right age,” like Barak puts it, I wouldn’t have joined any terror organization, and in fact, I wouldn’t even support the Palestinian fight for an independent state. Instead, I would embrace Netanyahu’s “economical peace“.

I’d like to explain:

Read the rest of this entry »