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The brave soldier Gurvitz (by Yossi Gurvitz)

Originally posted on Yossi Gurvitz’s blog, Wish You Orwell: The Decline and Fall of the Israeli Democracy

I wasn’t expecting much from the Israeli Defense Forces in August ’88, when I was drafted. To its credit, the IDF wasted no time in discouraging any expectations, of any kind.

I was legally drafted to the IDF, a slave of the state for a three year period, and like all soldiers, my first stop was intake base, the “bakum”. First to meet me there was the Religion Officer, whose job was to hand-pick yeshiva graduates from among the teeming masses, the ones who had not been wise enough to opt for the Hesder Yeshiva soldiering plan. He offered a variety of non-oppressive military service options, mostly involving assignment to base synagogues. I resolutely refused and told him I want nothing to do with the Military Rabinate. “You’re making a mistake,” he told me, but I left anyhow.

I spent two days at the intake base in almost complete idleness. This taught me that the IDF had no shortage of manpower and wasted time.

I was sent to basic training, with a group of other recruits with limited physical ability – The halt and the lame, the asthmatics and the flat footed. Whenever anyone needed medical assistance, the NCOs assumed we were all faking and wouldn’t call a doctor for us. This only changed after someone in the next platoon had a heart attack. After that, doctor’s attention was available within an hour.

This taught me about the characteristic IDF attitudes of irresponsibility and about the low value it placed on human life.


There were some other useful lessons that I learned in basic training: that people who have power are often bullies. I learned that one after the platoon commander kicked my head because I didn’t hear his command at the firing range. Oddly enough, I had a hard time hearing commands through my earplugs. And I learned that the IDF corrupts you: I was told to get some makeshift tin-can torches. I said I didn’t have any sack cloth. “Make it appear,” said the NCOs, with evil smiles. They probably expected me to fail, but I knew the story about the Spartan boy and the stolen fox, the Spartan concept of a good soldier being a thief. So I cut some sackcloth – from the officers’ room – and it soon was made into torches. Oddly enough, in civilian life I was taught that stealing is forbidden.

I learned about the power of a gang. We called it “the platoon”. Within days we came up with a code that the Mob took years to create: no telling the truth to the commanders; be silent and never turn friends in, no matter what they did; the severity of the infraction bears no relationship to the penalty meted out for it; and there is no shame in stealing, if it serves the group. Au contraire.

Me and my mates were taught an important lesson: we were forced to move our entire encampment 200 yards from where its stood, and then return it–in its entirety–to its original location. We learned that military activity is often pointless.

After basic training I was transferred back to the intake base, where I was stationed as a quartermaster sergeant. It was there that I fine-tuned the art of stealing and went from pilfering a hat or two to the theft of entire warehouses, concealing equipment and making false entries in records books. This taught me that in the IDF written words have little value, and that lies are a vital survival skill.

When I watched an entire officeful of people stretched out, sunning themselves on the lawn, while a single clerk did the work of six other people, quickly and efficiently, I learned the the true meaning of hidden unemployment.

It was at the height of the first Intifada, during the Givati trials – a large number of soldiers from the Givati infantry brigae were involved in the torture, sometimes unto death, of prisoners – and columnist Yehonatan Gefen wrote that the problem can be addressed in three ways: evasion, closing one’s eyes to it, or facing the abusive soldiers. I was young, foolish, a member of the Ratz youth movement and bored to tears with my military service. I applied to be transferred to the Civil Administration in Dir Al Balah, in the Gaza Strip.

The company sergeant major, who abhorred me as much as I abhorred him, demanded that I be tried for the loss of equipment from my warehouse. The night before the trial, after guard duty and before changing guards, I stole another full warehouse – basically I used the time I was supposed to be guarding to haul it away with a wheelbarrow – but that wasn’t enough. Fortunately for me, my Colonel liked me. My first military trial went about like this: he was on the phone with the Commanding General, who was about to assume command (was it Matan Vilnay? I’m not sure). He was discussing the party planned for him. When I came in with the trial form, the following conversation took place:

Him: “No problem, we’ll have the way you want it… …are you willing to be tried by me?”

Me: “What?”

Him: “No problem, we’ve already ordered the special lighting… …are you willing to be tried by me?”

Me: “Oh. Yes.”

Him: “They’ll all come, don’t worry… what do you have to say in your defense?” (without having read me the charge sheet.)

Me: “I admit the facts, do not plead guilty. I was on vacation and my replacement…”

Him (cutting in): “I understand. Not guilty!”

That was my first lesson on independent military jurisdiction.

My main lesson from the intake base was that the soldiers do not want to be in the army. If you want to reward Israeli soldiers, don’t give them a bonus on their ridiculous pay or a higher rank: give them time off duty. Soldiers spend their time in the IDF waiting for the longed-for leave to go home – and paradoxically, my experience shows that this holds even more for support staff than for combat soldiers.

Dir Al Balah was something completely different. I was Comm Sergeant there, not quartermaster: it is a much more responsible and much more interesting position.

Dir Al Balah taught me many lessons about bullying. I learned that you can, when conducting a search, pretend you’re searching a glass table by pitching the steel butt of a weapon through it, at great speed. I learned that the penalty for anyone who writes a proclamation, found by people who couldn’t even read it, was a smashed face. I learned that firing a rifle over the head of a sleeping child did not merit punishment. I learned that an Israeli soldier – albeit a settler – could open the door of a moving jeep straight into the belly of a passerby, snicker and keep going, and be considered not a crazy bully but quite a guy. I learned me that an officer could slap an Arab child for smiling at him or beat another man unconscious because he committed the offense of construction without permit. From him, my direct commander, I learned about forgery – he made the report I wrote vanish and convinced the doctor not to report the incident. (We called a doctor, after all, and a report had to be written.)

Dir Al Balah also taught me about corruption: on one of the first days of my service there we visited our highest ranking collaborator, the mayor. The scene was amazing: a small country estate, about ten minutes’ ride outside the city. A huge barbecue pit, about five yards long, loaded with many different kinds of meat. The mayor, nursing his water pipe, while two of his lackeys waved great palm tree leaves over him, to banish heat and flies. It was the local version of Gone With The Wind And the driver said – I wasn’t close enough to notice this – “I think that’s not tobacco there, in the water pipe. Did you see how his eyes were glazed over?”

And there was Eli, the operations sergeant who mentored me and who responded first and correctly, that time we were shot at, but also had a penchant for expensive pens owned by the locals.

All of us operations sergeants made minor mistakes. Dvorah, an Outstanding Soldier decorated by the President, made none – though she made two big ones.

The first was during a ride to the daily briefing at the regiment. The army and the Civil administration were hostile to each other, and our deputy governor abhorred the assistant battalion commander. When Eyal, a friend and a second lieutenant, left for a meeting at the regimental headquarters, Dvorah radioed him the information that the deputy governor was not on the base, in case the assistant battalion commander was looking for him. Unfortunately, the assistant battalion commander heard the conversation – he was right next to Eyal when Eyal contacted the base.

Eyal was one of the district officers, famous for his successful capturing of UFOs – these were the unbranded carts. All he wanted was the battalion’s assistance in ‘debt collection’: entering the homes of local Arabs in the middle of the night, claiming that they owe the authorities money (more about this below) and confiscation of anything they could lay their hands on for the benefit of the Civil Administration. The assistant battalion commander wanted to enter the mosque: “entering the mosque” was the phrase used for raiding them. He was afraid there were weapons there. Entering a mosque used to require quite a pile of permits. When the assistant battalion commander heard Dvorah’s words he puffed up like a blow fish and announced that Eyal would accompany him for the raid on the mosque, and that this was an order. So Eyal called the deputy governor, who empathically told himnot to raid the mosque. The assistant battalion commander called on the battalion commander, who ordered Eyal to raid the mosque. Eyal called on the district governor, who informed him that it would be unthinkable for him to raid the mosque. So the army called upon the brigade commander, and he ordered Eyal… etc. And the district brought the deputy head of the Civil Administration onto the radio network, which told Eyal he was NOT to raid the mosque. So the military sneakily called on the Division Commander, who told Eyal that he was to raid the mosque, and do it right away. But our forces foresaw this action and got the head of the Civil Administration out of his bed (all this took some time, of course), and he announced that Eyal was not going to enter the mosque, no matter who said otherwise. So the military pulled out its doomsday weapon and recruited the Commanding General, in his capacity as the governor of the Strip, and he ordered Eyal to raid the mosque. But the Civil Administration was nobody’s fool. The Government’s Operation Coordinator in the Territories was also a major-general, and he also had an opinion about raiding the mosque. Guess what that was.

At the end of the farce the division commander and head of the civil administration kissed and made up, and Eyal raided the mosque. It was too late to collect taxes.

Dvora’s other screw-up was more deadly. The Gaza Strip was under curfew during the Gulf War. This time – and as a change from the standard curfew procedures – the order ended with the menacing words: “anyone who leaves their house will be shot.” One of the residents of the Moghazi refugee camp had a problem: his wife and children were very sick, and they were out of medication. He called the Civil Administration and talked to Dvorah. There was a communication gap: he spoke no Hebrew, she spoke no Arabic. He stuttered, she shouted; she was edgy, and he, terrified and desperate, decided to go to the UNRWA clinic without a permit.

He got there, got the medicine and was on his way home when he ran into an IDF patrol. They called out “halt!”; he remembered that anyone who leaves his home will be shot and started running. He was shot to death. When one of our officers arrived on the scene and looked at the body, surrounded by the scattered shards of the medicine bottles, the officer in command of the patrol said that the Palestinian tried to grab his weapon . Which is a common IDF claim, when it turns out its soldiers shot an innocent bystander.

Dvora wasn’t reprimanded. It was nearly the end of her military service, in any case.

I’ve already written about my direct commander, who abused the local Arabs. Upon advice from advocate Avi Oren, of blessed memory, who was the chairman of Ratz in Petach Tikva, I made a complaint to B’tselem, via Knesset member Dedi Zucker. Soldiers may approach members of Knesset. There was a God-awful row, which taught me what happens to the man who breaks the omertà code and reports the crimes of his fellows. The Mob and the IDF have internalized the idea that anyone who reports a crime is a snitch, not out to fix things.

My direct commander tried to abandon me in the middle of a refugee camp. I cocked my gun at him and we continued our ride. He did not report the fact that one of his soldiers cocked his gun at him; I did not report that my direct commander took me for a ride with the explicit purpose of leaving me out in the center of a refugee camp. Although neither he nor I spoke about it, the story got out. This improved my status a bit; people walked up to me and said: “Well done.”

This was neither the first nor the last time a soldier was abandoned in the refugee camp. The first time was when soldiers from the Givati brigade were chasing after a kid who had thrown a rock at their vehicle. They left a soldier to guard one of the houses they broke into – and forgot about him. Luckily for him – he was standing there like a bump on a log, inside a house in the refugee camp – the house he was in belonged to a collaborator. The collaborator called me, a little nervously, and asked what he should do about the soldier who had been left at his house. After I recovered from my initial shock I called an alert for the entire sector. The soldier was removed from the camp accompanied by most of a battalion. The officer was not punished. This was the same officer who tried to scare his secretary by tossing a stun grenade at her. He forgot that a stun grenade has only a two second delay mechanism, not a four second one, and it went off in his hand and fractured his arm in multiple locations. (This was the second case of inappropriate use of a stun grenade in the course of that company’s security stint).

The other case was rather more dramatic. A fresh new officer, Noam, whose claim to fame was being kicked out of Officer training after dozing off while on duty, and completing the training on his second try, tried to find out why there were riots in the village of Zweide , a bit to the north of Dir Al Balah. which was generally peaceful. He took two reservists with him, an interpreter and a driver. They got there, and Noam and the interpreter visited the village mukhtar [Israel-appointed leader], heard the usual calm-down patter, and left. Outside they found a raging crowd, and the other reservist, the driver, simply drove away. They were left alone to face the mob – when suddenly an IDF vehicle emerged, maneuvering backwards with all possible haste. Noam jumped onto the jeep, and escaped, leaving his interpreter behind. It was the interpreter’s first day in the sector.

The interpreter made his way to the mukhtar’s house – which was very near – and asked for coffee. After drinking coffee for an hour, the mukhtar understood that something was wrong, and he sent his son to the Civil Administration – a twenty minute run away. Noam had been at the base for an hour, but he said nothing. We rescued the man, and everyone waited to see what sort of hell Noam would catch from the crazy governor. I checked the law books, in the paragraph about “cowardice in the face of the enemy” and was pleased to see that it could come to a death penalty.

It came to shouts and nothing more. Very loud shouts, indeed, shouts that the whole base could hear – but only shouts. The governor wanted to get his Colonel rank, and he didn’t want trouble. If he’d have reported that such an officer was working for him, he would not have been promoted.

No one paid any attention to Noam after that. People felt they could tell him, openly, that they don’t take orders from him. He had enough sense not to protest.

A short while after I was almost abandoned, my commander had me face military justice. Here’s how it happened: Dvorah and I were given leave. We stood at the Han Younis hitch-hiking station and waited for a ride. A ride to Tel-Aviv stopped for us, but it was a pickup truck, and Dvorah, who was orthodox and wore a skirt, didn’t want to climb into the truck; she was afraid the soldiers – about twenty of them – would see her legs. I asked her if she minded if I took that ride, and she said she didn’t. So I climbed on.

When I got home, I was ordered back to the base, to be tried for endangerment. Our commander saw Dvorah standing at the junction, all by herself, and decided that I had abandoned her. I came in and was tried by the deputy governor, who told me: “I don’t see any sense in this charge. Take a warning.” In other words, he convicted me. If he had not convicted me, it would have been a statement that my officer was picking on me. A member of the slave-owning class could not do such a thing to a fellow member of that class.

There were other sorts of officers, of course. I remember Giora Inbar in particular. At the time, he was the commander of the Givati brigade. The Gaza Strip was ablaze after Ami Popper murdered seven Gazan laborers, and the whole Givati brigade came to help out. I remember him as being an extraordinary person. One of his officers, a deputy company commander, stood a few local men in a row and said: “I’m gonna’ do to you what they did in Rishon” (the city where the massacre took place), and shot in the air over their heads. We heard about it, because one of our collaborators happened to be standing in that line.

When Giora heard it, he went ballistic. He jumped out of the operations room, roared to his driver “come on”, and they careened to the junction, where his soldiers were bivouacked. As the astonished soldiers watched on, he pulled the officer – violently, so the story made the rounds – out of a group of officers holding a discussion, handcuffed him and tore off his insignia. No similar incidents occurred thereafter.

One day he asked me if I’d eaten yet. I told him that I hadn’t, and I’d be relieved soon. He said, “Go eat”; I told him I’d be relieved soon. “There’ll be no food left soon. Go eat.” When I hesitated he added, “This is an order.”

“And what about you?”

“Don’t worry about me. Brigade commanders don’t go hungry.”

The next day he took a can of coke from me. Coke was a rarity. There was no PX in our base, only a mobile store, which came once a week. One of the local collaborators ran an imitation PX, selling particularly turbid beverages. The reason he did so well was that we did not have potable water – neither we, nor anyone else in Dir Al Balah. He took a can from me and said: “I’ll get one back to you.”

Two days later he left, along with all the other Givati soldiers. I totally forgot about the can of coke. And two weeks later, at 2 a.m., I was paged by the gate: “There’s an officer who wants to talk to you.”

“To me, particularly?”

“Yes.”

Giora was there, in the jeep. “Your coke. I didn’t forget about it,” he smiled, handed me a can of chilled cola, and left.

But Giora was unusual. Everyone knows one of these, I think, an officer that you know – if we had another thousand like him, the whole army would be different. Most of the officers I met were fools . Or lazy. Or stupid. Or incompetent. Or all of the above.

I’ve already mentioned my direct commander. One day he decided to cut off the electricity to the entire Nuseirat camp. He was a second lieutenant at the time. This kind of decisions are taken by second lieutenants. He explained that most of the residents – by far, most of them – don’t pay their electric bills, and there is no reason we should give them electricity for free.

“But,” I protested, “there are about ten or fifteen percent who do pay.”

“So what?”

“So we’ve got to leave them electricity.”

“But I’d have to work about three hours for that. I only need ten minutes to cut electricity off for the whole camp.”

“Look, E., these people were already screwed over twice: they paid the bill and are enjoying the same service as all the people who don’t pay, and they’re considered collaborators, because they pay. If you cut off their electricity, they’ll be screwed over yet again, having paid for a service they did not receive. Do you think they’ll pay the next bill?”

“I’d have to work three hours for that,” he repeated, and went to cut off the electricity to the whole camp.

I wasn’t on duty when Amnon Pomeranz was murdered; Dvorah was. The news was choppy, but she passed it quickly: an Israeli vehicle was seen entering the Bureij refugee camp; a burning vehicle was seen in Bureij; a collaborator reports that there is a general escape from Bureij… Hamud, the Arab Affairs Advisor, was the first to piece the reports together. He jumped into the jeep and drove to the camp alone, with no driver; that’s how much of a rush he was in. On the way he alerted the police, the army, the fire fighters. Too late. Amnon Pomeranz, who gave up his weapon and pleaded for his life, was swallowed up by the flames.

“I saw it from up close,” Hamud said, and I sat behind him in the car, riding home two days later, and saw how his hair had gone white as snow overnight. “I saw it from up close, I wanted to go in, to save him, but the car was on fire and I was sure it would explode…” and it did explode, a few minutes later. It was determined that Amnon Pomeranz was dead about ten minutes before Hamud arrived, on his own, at the abandoned scene of the murder.

I was not on duty when he was murdered, but I was duty when the officers started to blame each other, over the radio when it turned out that the observer, who was supposed to have noticed that an Israeli soldier was being stoned and attacked in a refugee camp, had gone down to have lunch, and by the time he returned, the murder was over and done with. I was on duty when the head of the UNRWA in the Middle East arrived, and there was no one to talk to him, except Corporal Gurvitz.

I was on duty when the GSS (Shabak) guys brought in the hostage. He was six years old, the little brother of the scum who had poured the fuel on Pomeranz. They brought his grandfather with him. It was early in the morning – about half past three a.m., I think – and the child’s pants were stained with urine. His eyes were covered, a flannel gun-cleaning cloth tied around them. His hands were bound by a plastic tie. I fed him a can of tuna fish. No one else paid any attention to him. To this day I torment myself with the question of whether I did the right thing, whether the right thing would not have been to release him, to remove the plastic tie and the flannel cloth, to send him home. Did the fact that I fed him not constitute acceptance of this taking of hostages, did it not make me an accomplice to that, while paying a tribute to my conscience?

But they would have just found him and brought him back, wouldn’t they? And the next time, there may not have been someone to feed him a can of tuna fish.

Later on I read that the GSS guys threatened the parents that the child would be sent to a detainment camp, where he’d be raped. His brother turned himself in that very day.

I can guess his sentence, because I got to pre-arrange a sentence once, too. One of my regular rides to Gaza was with the presiding judge in the Gaza military court. He was a neighbor of mine, and you might recognize him as the judge from David Grossman’sYellow Wind.

A few months before I was discharged, Anat – the other Comm Sergeant, on the shift that locked in with mine – was hit on the head with a rock. She stood by the gate, smoking, and someone threw a rock at her, that smashed her jaw . She survived it, but did not return to service. A few weeks later someone was caught who admitted that he’d thrown the rock. I talked to the judge – I knew him personally, from my father’s synagogue – and asked what we should do. “Bring the rock, bring an affidavit from the injured party, and I’ll send him away for twenty-five years.”

We brought the rock, we brought an affidavit from Anat, and he sent him away for twenty-five years.

And while I’m on the subject of military justice, here’s what may be the best story in my service. There I am, standing at the Erez checkpoint, waiting for a ride. Unfortunately for me, that day was designated “proper uniform day” by the Military Police. Now, I was an excellent soldier, with one exception – I did not wear the insignia of my rank. Discipline in the Civilian Administration was so lax that only officers wore their insignia.

A military policewoman walked up to me and looked me over, suspiciously. I ignore her. A ride comes, which will get to the middle of the Gaza Strip; I try to board it, and she gets in between me and it. Someone else gets the ride. When this happens a second time – it’s not easy to hitch a ride to the middle of the Gaza Strip – I ask her what’s the deal. And I don’t ask politely.

“Gimme your military ID!”

I handed it over.

“Gimme your prisoner of war document!”

I handed it over.

“Show me your first aid pack!”

I showed it.

“Dog tags!”

I showed those.

Apparently she couldn’t find anything else – shaving was ok, polish was ok – so she spent some time on my military ID. A few seconds later, she came up with that smile MPs get when they catch you red-handed.

“It says here you’re a corporal!”

“If that’s what it says, it’s probably right.”

“Go to that line.”

I went.

We were waiting to be tried by the deputy brigade commander of the northern brigade. He had a fixation on the number 28. A reservist who showed up with civilian shoes was fined 280 sheqels, a regular soldier who was headed home in a work uniform got 28 days in prison, and a friend of mine, from my own unit, who was accused of having a forged pass (not true) was given a suspended sentence of 28 days – it would go into effect if he were “caught” again.

It was my turn. Since I didn’t want to have my own personal multiple other 28, I thought quickly. I was marched in by a purple capped master sergeant from the Givati brigade.

“Are you willing to be judged by me?”

“No, jerk, I want to be judged by the division commander,” I refrained from saying. I said, “Yes.”

“You are accused of being without the insignia of your rank. What do you have to say in your defense?”

“I admit the facts but do not plead guilty,” I recited. Which, from experience, should be the standard response in any military trial. He gave me a perplexed look. “Explain.”

“I don’t believe in ranks,” I said. The master sergeant gave me a terrified look, as if he were about to faint. The Colonel smiled. “Elucidate.”

I spoke for a few minutes straight. I told him my opinion about officers and ranks, about the officer training base, and other matters. A few minutes later, when I paused for a breath, he raised his hands, signaled that I should stop, smiled, and said: “I accept your arguments. I relieve you of the requirement of wearing the insignia of rank and hereby demote you to the rank of private.”

I saluted and left.

A week later, at the base, the quartermaster sergeant came up to me and said, “you have to be at the governor’s in an hour, wearing dress uniform, with your hat and rank insignia. There’s a demotion ceremony.”

“If I had rank insignia, none of this would have happened.”

They brought rank insignia from the warehouse, and pinned them to my sleeves.

I got there. The governor read me the verdict, with two other soldiers present, said “I hereby reduce you to the rank of private,” and tore the rank insignia off my sleeve.

I saluted and left. Truth be told, I was hoping for something a bit more impressive. I thought that perhaps, like Dreyfus, they’d break my gun over my knee or something. Nothing doing.

A week later the quartermaster sergeant was after me again. “You have to be at the governor’s in an hour, wearing dress uniform, with your hat. There’s a promotion ceremony.”

What?”

It appears that some quick mind in the adjutancy discovered that a colonel (the deputy brigade commander) can only demote a soldier by one rank, not two. And since the unnecessary private, first class rank was still used by the IDF, a promotion ceremony was held for me. We took great care not to look each other in the eye, so as not to burst out laughing.

I’ve been a proud private, first class, from that day on.

A last story (there are more, but this could take hours). Late at night (two? three?), six weeks before I’m discharged. Michal, the Comm Sergeant from the southern brigade. She speaks and I note with some concern that he voice sounds horribly robotic. She usually had a sense of humor.

She reports the murder of a young girl (16? 17? I don’t remember). Her crime was having gone about unveiled. Hamas forces showed up at her house. Her father tried to defend her. Neither of them made it. Michal details, at length and in a robotic tone, every single wound they found on the bodies. There were lots. About a page and a half on the log.

I finished taking it all down, hesitate, and decided not to say a thing to Michal. I woke up the Comm Officer. I read him the report. “Take this shift,” I told him. “I’m going to throw up. And after that, I want a new job.”

I left – and threw up. And after that I switched to another job, an unimportant one. A job that was designed as a treat for soldiers about to be discharged: mooring supervisor. You get a suntan, sitting by the sea all day long.

After my three years of service, I thought I was entirely prepared for the idiocy and appalling waste of reserve duties.

I was wrong. It is much more idiotic and wasteful than I had thought.

* * * *

Early in 1994, two and half years after being discharged, Eyal called me. We had been good friends in the yeshiva. “Turn on the television! Quick! Channel 1!” he shouted.

“What happened?”

“Just turn it on!”

I turned it on. A Palestinian soldier was climbing the northwest tower of our base, and flying the Palestinian flag from it. Our base was the first that was handed over to the Palestinians.

I had an odd moment. As part of my duties, I had burned dozens of Palestinian flags seized by our men. I had been on that tower dozens of times. The flag flying there was an enemy flag.

But was that not what I wanted? Yes, definitely. As far as I was concerned, the entire service in Gaza was meant to ease the transition to an independent Palestinian state.

Ten years later, we stand before the shattered debris of this dream. The Palestinians bear a considerable part of the blame.

But so do we. We lost our humanity during the years of occupation. The army became an occupying force, grew comfortable in its hobnailed boots, and accustomed Israeli society to the idea that “what cannot be resolved by force can be resolved by even more force,” as some of my fellow soldiers inscribed on their billy clubs. Our Civil Administration was staffed almost exclusively by soldiers. That represented our entire pattern of thinking about the territories.

The solution must be a civilian-based one. As Herzl wrote, the army must be returned to its barracks. It won’t become smarter or more efficient, but at least we’ll keep its elephant footprints out of the china shop. We ought to leave diplomacy and politics to the civilians.

And civilians who did not serve in the army have a great advantage, in this case. We need people who have not raided homes in the dead of night, looking for outlawed flyers. People who are not used to seeing every Palestinian person as a military target, a con man, or a potential collaborator.

It seems to me that there is a yawning lack of this kind of people.

(Note: I wrote this way back, in the early 2000s. The translation is the result of a cooperation between me and Dena Bugel-Shunra. All errors in translation are, of course, mine. I am also leaving on vacation for a week, and will hopefully blog again next Saturday. Have a good one).

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