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How an army of defense became an army of vengeance

I will never forget the evening my friends and I were sent to kill Palestinian police officers in a revenge attack. We went from soldiers sent to defend our families to murderers of innocent people.

By O.K.

A month has passed since we were informed of the kidnapping of Eyal Yifrah, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Fraenkel. Ever since, there has been unrest in the region. Along with their families, we all hoped for good news, and mourned with them when the teens’ bodies were found. However, over the past few weeks our computer screens and our streets have been filled not only with sorrow, but also with cries for revenge. Israeli citizens and leaders alike have openly called for avenging the deaths of the three boys.

“No more playing by the rules,” said MK Ayelet Shaked. The Secretary General of World Bnei Akiva youth movement called for bloody vengeance. These calls of action, among many others, led Israeli citizens to take to the streets and attack Palestinians indiscriminately. This air of revenge claimed the life of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, the Palestinian youth from Shuafat who was murdered by Jewish Israelis.

Right-wing Israeli settlers burn a Palestinian flag and shout racist slogans during an anti-Palestinian demonstration at [Gush] Etzion junction, a bloc of settlements next to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, June 16, 2014. Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped near the Etzion junction late last week. (Oren Ziv/Activestlls.org)

Right-wing Israeli settlers burn a Palestinian flag and shout racist slogans during an anti-Palestinian demonstration at [Gush] Etzion junction, a bloc of settlements next to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, June 16, 2014. Three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped near the Etzion junction late last week. (Oren Ziv/Activestlls.org)

The cycle of violence didn’t end with the youth. The Israeli leadership responded to the demands for revenge by mobilizing the Israeli military as an army of vengeance, and Hamas responded in kind. The military operation that commenced in the West Bank as a result of the kidnapping included collective punishment of thousands of Palestinian civilians. Hamas returned to shooting rockets from the Gaza Strip at Israeli civilians in Israel, and the Israeli army launched a military operation against the Gaza Strip. Over 200 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians, and one Israeli citizen have been killed since the upsurge in violence. The Israeli army has carried out approximately 1,825 air strikes in the Gaza, and Palestinian militants have fired more than 900 rockets into Israeli territory. At this point, there is no end in sight to the cycle of reciprocal violence that continues due to the logic of revenge.

Read +972’s coverage of the latest round of violence in Gaza and Israel

Following the vengeful civilian actions, a debate emerged among the Israeli public between supporters and opponents of revenge; yet the majority of the Israeli public has remained indifferent to the mobilization of Israeli combat soldiers in operations of revenge. I know this indifference well, as I myself was sent as a military officer to carry out such a mission, and hardly anyone thought twice about it.

I want to tell you about one day in 2002 when my soldiers and I were sent to seek revenge for the deaths of six soldiers. I served in the Israeli army as a combat soldier and an officer in an elite unit during the Second Intifada. In February 2002 I was with my unit near Nablus when we were informed that Palestinian militants had killed six military engineers at an army checkpoint at the Ein Arik junction and had managed to escape.

The next day we gathered for a briefing prior to the operation. Our commanders informed us about the events at Ein Arik and explained that our unit would be sent to checkpoints in the area manned by Palestinian police officers with the objective of killing any officer we found. They didn’t say, “You’re going to seek revenge,” but there was no need to state it explicitly. We knew we were going out to avenge the deaths of the soldiers and we spoke about it explicitly among ourselves.

Until that day, we were expressly forbidden from opening fire on Palestinian police officers. We also knew that the army had a special agreement with the Palestinian security forces, whereby we were to avoid harming them. However, that evening none of this was relevant anymore. We did not know who we were sent to kill – neither their names nor what they had done in their past – yet we knew for certain that they had nothing to do with the murder of the soldiers at the Ein Arik checkpoint. We left behind a few human bodies that had posed no threat to us at all. I am sure that those police officers had not expected anything; they likely had no idea why they were attacked.

Hebron, West Bank, 17.6.2014

That same night, as part of the same “revenge operation,” two similar attacks took place near two other posts guarded by Palestinian police officers in the West Bank and Gaza. All in all, 15 Palestinian police officers were killed that night. The morning news headlines about the operation read: “IDF Objective: Palestinian Police.” The IDF responded regarding the motives for revenge by stating, “The Palestinian police failed to prevent the entry of terrorists into Israel.” For many readers this response was enough, and many others probably didn’t care. But I knew what we did. We avenged the deaths of six Israeli soldiers with the deaths of 15 Palestinian police officers. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

I will never forget that evening, the evening when my friends and I were transformed from soldiers of an army of defense to soldiers of an army of vengeance. We changed from soldiers sent to defend our families into murderers of innocent people.

A few years after that night, I broke my silence because I believed that the Israeli public needed to know what takes place, in its name, on a daily in the occupied Palestinian territories. I am breaking my silence again today because I believe that the Israeli public and its leadership need to know what they are asking for when they call for revenge. They need to know that when they seek revenge they are actually asking us to turn today’s soldiers – our friends, siblings, and children – into murderers. It is the same bloody transition my friends and I underwent back in 2002.

With respect to the victims of vengeance on both sides, and for the sake of the youths sent to be turned into murderers, the time has come to stop this cycle of revenge.

*O.K. served as an officer in the paratroopers reconnaissance unit during the Second Intifada and is a member of Breaking the Silence.

Related:
Why there is no room for diplomacy in Gaza
The unfolding lie of Operation Protective Edge
I am the woman who translates the names of the dead

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    1. Sonnenuhr

      OK seems to have a problem with facts:

      “The Israeli leadership responded to the demands for revenge by mobilizing the Israeli military as an army of vengeance, and Hamas responded in kind.”

      The Prime Minister of Israel offered Hamas a chance to return to the ceasefire of 2012 before mobilizing forces. Netanyahu showed great restraint in the face of calls from others for an immediate ground invasion. Israel responded to rocket attacks by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hamas affiliated PRC and other factions. 150 rockets had been shot into Israel in 2014 prior to the current war and deluge of rockets fired at Israeli civilians with the goal to kill or injury them. Israel has responded to a terrorist threat with its air force.

      The government of Israel has an obligation to defend its people. Hamas and the other terrorist groups have no right to wage terrorism against Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        “150 rockets had been shot into Israel in 2014 prior to the current war”

        And none of them, as Israeli security experts will readily admit, came from Hamas.

        You are wrong. Hamas only responded with rocket attacks AFTER Israel had bombed several sites in Gaza (during operation Brother’s Kepper).

        Get your facts straight.

        Reply to Comment
      • Eliza

        I don’t think that OK has any problem with his facts. His description of the IDF revenge killing of Palestinian police in 2002 rings true. He gives a clear eyed account.

        But I don’t think that the current Israeli bombing of Gaza is primarily motivated by revenge (though I’m sure that many Israeli Jews may individually want revenge for the killing of the three young Israeli Jews). The emerging reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is a threat to the Israeli divide and conquer tactic and if the current duck shoot in Gaza impedes this, then Israel will have achieved its object.

        The I/P conflict is not a feud between two parties feeding off revenge. Israel has occupied millions of non-Jews for decades in its quest for enough land to establish and then maintain a Jewish state. Its foundation lie of a land without people for people without a land has not yet been acknowledged by Israeli Jews as a lie. The non-Jews who are indigenous to the land must go; either to other states or humbly submit to life in a small Bantustan or die. No matter which really. What Israel now does to Gaza, it will do to any future Bantustan in the West Bank.

        Israel will fight to the end to prevent an independent sovereign Palestinian state coming into being. There are rational (if despicable) political reasons for the periodic attacks on Gaza; on a population which does not control its borders or airspace and which is accurately described as the world’s biggest open air prison.

        Yes, individual Israelis and Palestinians may feel revenge and this may allow them to needlessly take life. And yes, Israel is feeding off its own young by kitting them up as teenage toy soldiers able to humiliate, harm non-Jews with impunity. One day these laid back soldiers may have to face a war with party which is armed and able to defend itself.

        I just don’t think the attacks on Gaza are a function of revenge but the logical outcome of Zionism and the desire for more land. No-one knows how this will end; all we know for sure is that the two state solution is dead.

        Reply to Comment
        • whiplash

          The account is not clear or complete. Those who carried out the attack against Israel belonged to Arafat’s Police,were members of Fatah and the al-Asqa Martyrs Brigade. Palestinian policemen doubled as police and terrorists. The al-Asqa Brigades claimed responsibility for the killings. Israel went out and found and killed members of this group. There is no reason that Israel could not kill Arafat foot soldiers.

          Reply to Comment
        • CigarButNoNice

          “Its foundation lie of a land without people for people without a land…”

          A lot of you anti-Zionists have yet to acknowledge this misquote. It’s “A land without a people (=nation) for a people without land.” Other than the Jewish people, there is no nation that can justly call itself the nation of the Land of Israel. The “non-Jewish Palestinian nation” fakery notwithstanding.

          “The non-Jews who are indigenous to the land…”

          None exist, except possibly for the Samaritans. The ones deceptively calling themselves “Palestinians” are actually Arabs, and are indigenous to the Arabian Peninsula and settler-colonist land-thieving invaders on the Land of Israel. For the sake of justice, they must evacuate all the land they’re stealing from the Jewish nation.

          Anti-Zionism is a pro-colonialist, pro-imperial stand, where the unjust expansionist aggression of Arab imperialism is supported in its ambition to prevent the Jewish nation from exercising its natural, sacred and inalienable right of self-determination on its own land. Anti-Zionism is a stand for the illegitimate irredentist claims of the Sudeten-Arabs colonizing Jewish land.

          Reply to Comment
      • spoken like a member of the group mentioned in Revelation 2:9 & 3:9 prophecy.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Dr John Jennings

      This pious nonsense is reminiscent of that published by Lord Kestenbaum, UK reflecting on his stint in the IDF in 1988. Their underlying assumption is that because they admit their offences with a degree of contrition then they somehow become protected from international law

      Reply to Comment
      • Alun Palmer

        You are right, one of my FaceBook ‘friends’ admitted to standing guard over house demolitions. These contravene the article prohibiting collective punishment in the Geneva Conventions. He admitted it on FaceBook, but he is still a war criminal. This is what’s known as the Nuremberg defence – ‘I was only following orders’.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Goldmarx

      The government of Israel is under no obligation to provoke rocket attacks from Gaza, which is what it is doing. By doing so, it endangers its own citizens and is thereby guilty of treason.

      In 2007, Israeli intelligence chief Amos Yadlin said Israel wanted Hamas in charge of Gaza so Israel would have an excuse to treat Gaza as an enemy state.

      In its nascent stage, Hamas’s existence was promoted and funded by Israel as an alternative to Arafat’s PLO. Why should anyone feel sorry for Israel if the Frankenstein monster turns on its creator?

      Reply to Comment
    4. whiplash

      The old lie, Israel is responsible for Hamas. Sheikh Ahmed Yassin formed an Islamic charitable organization called Mujama Al-Islamiya in the 1970s. Under Israeli administration the charitable organization was allowed free speech, the right to organize and set up an Islamic University, build clubs and dispense charity.

      Yassin’s organization from time to time clashed with Fatah. In 1984 Israel arrested Yassin for storing weapons in a mosque to use against the secular Fatah. Yassin spent one year in Israeli jail.

      In or about 1987 Yassin and others formed Hamas. In 1988 they passed a Charter for the destruction of Israel and the formation of an Arab state from the River to the Sea.

      In 1989 Hamas carried out its first major attack against Israel which led to the rearrest of Yassin and the explusion to Lebanon of 400 Hamas members. In Lebanon Hamas hooked up with Iran and the rest is history.

      If anything Israel was guilty of tolerance in granting Arabs freedom of speech, religion, and association which Hamas used to form a violent jihad organization out of an organization which started out with charitable objects.

      Reply to Comment
      • Goldmarx

        “Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years.

        Israel “aided Hamas directly — the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization),” said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies.

        Israel’s support for Hamas “was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative,” said a former senior CIA official.”

        Those are excerpts fro a UPI piece in 2002 by Richard Sale. Here is the full article:

        http://web.archive.org/web/20021112131048/http://www.upi.com/print.cfm?StoryID=18062002-051845-8272r

        Reply to Comment
    5. Empiricon

      After 20 years of carefully watching this tradgedy unfold, after visiting Israel and the West Bank, I now unfortunately must say that we are at the tipping point where Israel is increasingly likely (though not certain) to accelerate their genocidal policy to even more horrific levels. All hope is not quite lost, but there seem to be almost no moral compass left within Israeli society (or her supporters abroad). No act is too extreme. Everything that Israel does is “justified” in some way. The humane left is a mere speck, and they are beginning to be met with violence as well. The genocidal Israelites have returned — Canaanites beware.

      Reply to Comment
      • Whiplash

        I hate to tell you but the Jews were part of the Canaanites and separated from the group in the Bronze age. The Jews are the only survivors of the diverse group of people known as the Canaanites. The Jews of ancient Israel managed to establish a state which fell first to the Assyrians and Babylonians but re-established under the Persians and continuing under the Greeks, under self rule and Roman rule until the exile of much of the population in 135 C.E. Yet all the Jews did not leave what was ancient Israel. By the Seventh Century C.E. there were hundreds of thousands of Jews living in their former homeland. For the next 1400 years the Jews were treated a small step above slaves, often subject to pogroms, mass killings, rape and pillage by both Christian and Muslim overlords. However Jews continued to occupy Israel continuously from the Bronze age to when the League of Nations re-established the Jewish home in 1922.

        In 1947 the Jews offered to share their home with the Arabs colonists who had settled on lands belonging to the Jewish people. The Arab response was an attempted genocide which failed causing a rupture of Palestinian society which the Palestinians have been trying to repair by terrorism and the elimination of the Israeli state and harm to its people.

        What the Arabs have found is that the Jews in Israel will not lay down like lambs to the sacrifice. Arabs complain when Jews defend themselves and families against Arab acts of terrorism.

        If Arabs want peace, they will need to give peace. If not they risk another catastrophe.

        Reply to Comment
        • Atway

          Did you learn your history in an isreali school? The Palestinians were never colonists. Common sense is underrated. There were millions of refugees expelled from Pslestine bcz there were millions of Palestinians in homes on the land in the area. The fact is that until Isreal was created, Palestininans (both Christian and Muslim) lived peacefully with Jews. It wasn’t until a new Zionist govt was formed in the area th that the bloodshed began.

          Reply to Comment
          • CigarButNoNice

            “The Palestinians were never colonists.”

            The faux-“Palestinian” “nation” was only recently invented. No publication in the West prior to 1960 mentions such a nation—it’s “Arabs” everywhere until the joint Soviet-Arab propaganda ruse caught on.

            They are Arabs, and Arabs are colonists everywhere outside their indigenous territory the Arabian Peninsula. Outside the Land of Israel this may not matter, but as for the Land of Israel, the Jews here are the indigenous people, and they are fighting a war of resistance against the Arab imperialist ambition to steal their one and only piece of land in the world.

            Anti-Zionism is pro-imperialism and pro-colonialism.

            “Palestininans (both Christian and Muslim) lived peacefully with Jews.”

            Male bovine droppings. Inhabitants of Palestine both Christian and Jewish were dhimmis, second-class subjects under the jackboot of Islam’s apartheid system. If that’s “living peacefully” then we might as well say blacks lived peacefully with whites in America back before the Civil Rights movement.

            Anti-Zionism is pro-apartheid.

            Reply to Comment
        • Empiricon

          Tell it to the people of Deir Yassin, of Lydda, of Saliha, etc.

          Nakba denial — intellectual cousin of Holocaust denial.

          Reply to Comment
    6. Shafeeqah V. Smith

      This is ungodly behavior that has gone on far too long. Both sides MUST put their weapons down and live in peace. Free Palestine!

      Reply to Comment
    7. Viedoklis_lv

      I find it most unproductive to discuss weather there is or isn’t Palestinian territories. It’s like keeping discussion – is world flat or not.

      International Court of Justice where 14 judges from countries all around world including US has rolled out opinion that there is Palestinian occupied territories and there is Israel illegal settlement in them that are against international law. So of course some could say that world is flat, but everyone else knows it’s not.

      So – only a paid troll would direct discussion about that there is no Palestinian territories.

      Regarding Israel – it’s a state – it has been recognized by UN. That is all it needs, and as a state it has borders. And for today Israel has went out it’s state borders and occupied Palestinian territories and build there illegal settlements and keeps Palestinians under occupation and in Gaza under blockade too. That’s a fact.

      Now, I don’t support Hamas rockets, because no-one should die, not a single Israeli, nor a single Palestinian. But I can understand why they shoot them, because they are under occupation – not Israel. When this unjust occupation and blockade will stop, than those Hamas rockets will stop. But Israel Zionist politicians are not interested in that, they need to kill more Palestinians, because than there will be more people who will want to revenge Israel and will join Hamas military to desperately shoot those useless rockets that are really no use. As you see about 300 dead in Gaza and now 1 in Israel. Statistics say it all.

      So – as soon as Israel will start to respect international law and will stop blockade and occupation and will return to it’s state borders as in 1967, than there will be two states living by their side – and in peace. It is possible.

      Reply to Comment
    8. David m

      We are finally integrated into the Middle East! Vengeance
      Is the low road chosen by our gov…tomorrow it will be
      The same but with a prayer attached,as already one battalion commander used.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Kevin Ngare

      The government of israel has a right to protect its people in any POSSIBLE way, at most the attacks on HAMAS are justifiable. Any government would do that, try firing 1000 rockets to any european country or the US and see how peaceful they will react.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Hugh Hill

      It was and will always be Palestine, there is no right for squatters you will eventually be removed and all your toils will be in vain. Everything will return to pre 1948. and those who wish to live in peace with the Palestinians will be allowed to live in Palestinian under their laws.
      Palestinians and Jews will be allowed to mix and live together and eventually their blood will mix and wash away the hatred and in time wounds will heal and blood shall wash away.

      Reply to Comment
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