Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Israeli Occupiers Who Became Victims of their
Military Occupation Broke the Silence
By Eileen Fleming
Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, January 16, 2011
“Occupation of the (Palestinian) 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 the Israeli occupation forces (IOF)
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
“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,
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.
"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
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.
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
"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
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!"
2005 was filled with three thousand Israeli soldiers and a few hundred
Israeli settlers/colonists/squatters who had displaced the indigenous
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
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."
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.
Breaking the Silence
Founder of WeAreWideAwake.org
Staff Member of Salem-news.com
A Feature Correspondent for Arabisto.com
Producer "30 Minutes with
Vanunu" and "13 Minutes with Vanunu"
Author of "Keep Hope Alive" and
"Memoirs of a Nice Irish American 'Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory" and
Mordechai Vanunu's FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial and My Life as a Muckraker:
Only in Solidarity
do "we have it in our power to begin the world again."-Tom Paine