Occupiers who became victims of their Military Occupation Broke the Silence
January 13, 2011
“Occupation of the Territories” is being published in Hebrew and by Breaking the Silence, “a group of Israeli ex-soldiers with an established record of gathering first-person accounts of IDF operations. The information was meticulously checked and re-checked for accuracy; there is no mistaking the ring of truth in the reports, which reveal consistent patterns, and thus have a powerful cumulative force. To read them is to see the profound moral corruption of the occupation in all its starkness. They show us ordinary, decent young soldiers, caught up in an impossible situation, sometimes trying desperately to make sense of that situation, but mostly following their orders without question. In a number of cases, those interviewed have clearly been psychologically and spiritually scarred by their participation in horrific events of which they had little understanding at the time.
“Most painful of all is the inescapable realization that the events reported by the soldiers—in straightforward, unpretentious, searing language—are in no sense unusual. They describe the rule and the norm, the very stuff of the occupation, now forty-three-and-a-half years old and going strong. No one involved in maintaining it gets away unscathed in heart or soul, including the ordinary soldiers who do what they’re told, although only a small number are capable of the kind of articulate reflection on their experience that we find in this book.
“But it is not only the soldiers and the policemen and the judges and the bureaucrats who pay a personal price, along with their Palestinian victims. As the Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz predicted forty-three years ago, the occupation has brutalized Israeli society as a whole and eroded the moral foundation of our very existence. If there is still hope for Israel, it lies with those remnants of the peace camp that remain active and, in particular, with groups such as Breaking the Silence, who offer a taste of the bitter, but perhaps ultimately healing, truth.” 
In 2009, the testimonies of fifty-four Israeli combat soldiers who participated in Operation Cast was published by Breaking the Silence.
The testimonies exposed significant gaps between the report by the Israeli military and the events on the ground.
Israeli Forces “accepted practices” included the needless destruction of hundreds of homes and mosques, the firing of phosphorous gas into populated areas, the killing of innocent victims with small arms, the destruction of private property, and a permissive atmosphere in the command structure that enabled soldiers to act without moral restrictions.
The testimonies revealed that the soldiers were not given directives stating the goal of the operation and one soldier testified, “there was not much said about the issue of innocent civilians.”
Many soldiers said that they fought without seeing “the enemy before their eyes.”
“You feel like an infantile little kid with a magnifying glass looking at ants, burning them,” one of the soldiers testified that “a 20-year-old kid should not have to do these kinds of things to other people.”
Mikhael Mankin said, “The testimonies prove that the immoral way the war was carried out was due to the systems in place and not the individual soldier. This is an urgent call to Israel’s society and leadership to take a sober look at the foolishness of our policies.”
On the last day of my fifth trip to Israel Palestine, on 27 July 2007, I met with Mikhael Mankin, a religious Jew and former Infantry Lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF who served six years in the occupied territories of Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Jenin and the Gaza Strip.
Mikhael was discharged from the IDF in 2002 and had become the Foreign Relations Manager of Breaking the Silence, and he said:
“I am a practicing Jew and in two weeks we go into the month of repentance; which requires acknowledging our sins. We cannot change things until we acknowledge our culpability.
“The problem is government policy that is implemented by young soldiers and whenever religion is involved, we will have fundamentalism. The Israeli peace and justice activists are less than 1% of Israeli society and anybody who is an activist is an optimist. You cannot do anything if you do not believe you can do something to change the situation. We have to remind ourselves that we are the minority; [it appears that] we are loosing, but we remind ourselves we are right!
“Everybody in Israel knows somebody who has served in the occupied territories. The situation in 2007 is worse than 2006 and it looks worse for 2008, but more and more activists-like Anarchists Against the Wall and Tayoush are actively working with Palestinians against the occupation, they are not afraid to travel in the occupied territories and are learning Arabic. Two, three years ago you wouldn’t have heard anything; but now every week Israelis are getting arrested for fighting the occupation.
“A few years ago, the soldiers you have encountered at the checkpoints would have been me. Soldiers like myself who served during the second intifada, got our education on the job. You all have visited more places [the past nine days] than most Israelis ever have. Israeli’s have no idea what is happening in the occupied territories. But, so far in 2007 we have given more Israeli’s a tour through Hebron than we did in 2005 and 2006 combined. Hebron is a ghost town, the settlers are unbearable and every soldier who is stationed there understands the 600 settlers there are psychotic; insane.
“I became very opinionated while in the army, but I kept it all to myself. Nobody talks about it in the army and I was the commander and did not know until after I got out that one of the other soldiers in my unit was feeling the same way, until he gave his testimony. Israeli society wants you to believe you are a bad apple for speaking out because unless you trust the system, it will fall apart. Most Israelis who get out of the army leave the country and are probably all drugged out. They suffer posttraumatic syndrome but we are the victimizers. My age group is getting the hell out of here or walling themselves off from society and are not involved in anything.
“Over 450 former soldiers have now given their testimonies and we don’t publish any stories without the corroboration coming from another former soldier and the testimonies are kept anonymous.
“You have to understand you must preach to your own people; we want to shake up the comfortable people who may agree with us in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but are not activists yet.”
Another Israeli ex-soldier of Breaking the Silence wrote:
“Since our discharge from the army, we all feel that we have become different. We feel that service in the occupied territories and the incidents we faced have distorted and harmed the moral values on which we grew up.
“We all agree that as long as Israeli society keeps sending its best people to military combat service in the occupied territories, it is extremely important that all of us, Israeli citizens, know the price which the generation who is fighting in the territories is paying, the impossible situations it is facing, the insanity it is confronting everyday, and the heavy burden it bears after being discharged from the IDF, a heavy burden that hasn’t left us.
“That’s why we decided to break the silence, because it’s time to tell. Time to tell about everything that goes on there each and every day.
“We all served in the territories. Some served in Gaza, some in Hebron, some in Bethlehem and the rest served in other places. We all manned checkpoints participated in patrols and arrests and took part in the war against terror. We all realized that the daily struggle against terror and the daily interaction with the civilian population has left us helpless. Our sense of justice was distorted, and so were our morality and emotions.
“The reality we experienced was made of: Innocent civilians being hurt, Kids not going to school because of the curfew, and parents who can’t bring food home because they can’t go to work.
“This reality has stayed us and will not go away. After discharge from the army, we decided that we shouldn’t go on. We shouldn’t forget what we ourselves did and what we witnessed. We decided to break the silence.”
Another ex-soldier said, “There is a very clear and powerful connection between how much time you serve in the territories and how fucked in the head you get.” 
The former soldiers of Breaking the Silence began by breaking the silence about Hebron, the most painful place I have ever been, but I have not yet made it into Gaza!
In June 2005, my guide through Hebron was Jerry Levin, who was then a full-time volunteer with Christian Peacemaker Teams/CPT. Jerry had also once been CNN’s Middle East bureau chief in the 1980’s. At the time, Jerry was a secular Jew who was and is married to Sis, a life-long Christian.
Jerry had been kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon by the Hezbollah for nearly a year, and after he experienced a mystical Christmas Eve and shortly thereafter escaped from captivity when the door to his ‘cell’ was left unlocked. Ever since Jerry and Sis have dedicated their lives to the Palestinian cause for equal human rights.
Jerry is lightly built and sprouts bilateral hearing aids and he told me, “Every time I get ready to return to Palestine, everyone asks me, ‘Aren’t you afraid?’ I reply, of what, the Palestinians? No way! But when it comes to the Israelis soldiers, you bet I am!”
Hebron in 2005 was filled with three thousand Israeli soldiers and a few hundred Israeli settlers/colonists/squatters who had displaced the indigenous Palestinians.
The eighteen- to twenty-one-year-old soldiers patrolled the streets with their weapons at the ready and turned Jerry and I away at the first checkpoint we came to. Jerry smiled as he told me, “Most of the soldiers don’t like the CPTs. Whenever they won’t let us through, we just go another way, and always, eventually, get where we want to go.”
The narrow, winding stone streets of Hebron are centuries old, but in the 21st century, one side is Palestinian and the other Israeli, but their only connection to the other is a thick, deeply sagging netting strung above ones head that catches the huge rocks, shovels, electronic equipment, furniture, and all manner of debris that have been flung onto it by the settlers/colonists/squatters.
I asked Jerry if it ever gave way and hit Palestinians on the head and he responded, “That’s the intention, but it gets cleaned out about every year or so. Come back in a few months, and this netting will be much closer to your head. The settlers just throw whatever they want onto the netting; they do what ever they want and get away with it. The CPT’s run interference by nonviolent resistance; we get the children and woman to where they need to be going and back again. Sometimes, the settlers curse and stone us all; it keeps it interesting.”
Jerry pointed out all the formerly Palestinian homes that the settlers have painted graffiti, such as “GAS THE ARABS” and Stars of David upon. The oppression affected me viscerally and I was nauseous all day and threw up all that night. I felt as if I had entered into every movie set and photograph of the Jewish ghettos before the Holocaust.
Ever since my first journey to Israel Palestine in June 2005, I have tried to break the silence about the undemocratic state of Israel -and my governments aiding and abetting of it-on the World Wide Web.
My target audience has always been the misinformed and uninformed American Christians, for as Mikkael said, we must preach to our own, even when our own will not listen.
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