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The personal testimony of an ex-Israeli soldier

Mercredi, 23 novembre 2011 - 7h29 AM

Wednesday 23 November 2011


Source: Emma Mancini for the Alternative Information Center (AIC)

A former Israeli soldier speaks of the violence he witnessed and perpetrated during his army service in Hebron. Now a member of Breaking the Silence (BTS), the soldier hopes to help the Israeli public see the cost both Palestinians and Israelis pay for the occupation

An Israeli soldier detains Palestinian children in the West Bank (Photo: flickr/PSP Photos

Avichai is a 27-year-old Jewish Israeli who lives in Jerusalem. Like most Israelis, he was drafted for the Israeli army when he finished high school. It was 2001, the second year of the Second Intifada, and Avichai was assigned to a military unit that was stationed in the South Hebron Hills, deep in Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Avihai tells the Alternative Information Center (AIC) about his time in the army: “In the first seven months of training, they taught us how to shoot, how to search a house, how to disperse a crowd. But once in Hebron, I understood [that] I didn’t know anything, I didn’t know how to start.”

He explained that soldiers don’t always receive many orders from their higher ups, “ So...every soldier adapts to the behavior of his [peers]."

“We were left for hours and for days without anything to do. So, in order to escape from boredom, we had found our personal solution: we started to raid villages. Throwing stones and grenades against the buildings, devastating houses, arresting men on the street. [Like] a videogame."

Soldiers sometimes passed their time by beating detainees: “Once we arrested a man [who was thought to be responsible for the deaths of Jewish settlers],” Avichai goes on, “We punched and kicked him and I was telling to myself: ‘it’s the right thing to do, he killed your people.’ But we were doing the same with everybody, with every Palestinian. We beat up children and closed them in rooms for days, who were only guilty of throwing stones. Sometimes we arrested people without any reason, just to weaken the resistance of the Palestinian villages."

The atmosphere of violence and machismo sometimes drives former soldiers to kill themselves: “Suicide is the main cause of death of ex IDF soldiers.” Avichai remarks, “Suicide kills more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Years later, Avichai is haunted by his military service. “The horror of the screams of Palestinian men I beat and the sorrow of the women whose homes I destroyed, [these feelings] entered me. I can’t force them back.”

Three years ago, Avichai found a way to cope with his memories: Breaking the Silence (BTS). The association was created in 2004 for former soldiers. Since then, it has collected the testimonies of more than 700 men and women who, like Avichai, served in the Israeli army.

The organization hopes to help the Israeli public see what is happening in the Occupied Palestinan Territories. “At the beginning, our main goal was to bring Hebron to Tel Aviv, to make Israelis know what the West Bank is,” Avichai says. “Now, our next step is to bring Tel Aviv to Hebron."

Through BTS, former soldiers lead tours in the West Bank to help raise public awareness about the brutalities of the occupation. The organization is particularly interested in offering these tours to young Israelis who are about to enter the army.

“Before I put on my uniform,” Avichai recalls, “ I didn’t have any idea about reality on the other side, in Palestine. This is the most dangerous consequence of the Israeli propaganda: most of my fellow citizens form their ideas and base their opinions on ignorance. We bring them to the South Hebron Hills to show...the sorrow for which [Israel] is responsible.”