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I was IDF property for three years — today I'm traumatized

Every time I hear about another Druze who refuses to go to the army, I think about how he won’t have to suffer. He will avoid the trauma of becoming the human property of the IDF.

By Fayez Abu Hayeh

The 109 Submarine Course ending ceremony, May 24, 2016. (Ron Hirsh/IDF Spokesperson)

The 109 Submarine Course ending ceremony, May 24, 2016. (Ron Hirsh/IDF Spokesperson)

“Soldier, straighten up!”

It was 2 a.m., I was lying on the ground, my backpack under me. The commander yelled: “Soldier, straighten up!” and I, an exhausted soldier, didn’t understand. All I wanted was a place to escape to, a framework that would take me in. Today I understand that I was the IDF’s property, like every Druze, like everyone who serves in this army. It was a long and tiring day, the day I finished my enlistment process that unfortunately most Israeli children will have to undergo.

My army experience began with great excitement. Between the hallways of the IDF induction base in never-ending lines. We were children, full of wonderment. I remember exchanging words with others. I made small talk on the bus after waving goodbye to the parents of my friends. My parents did not come because I never told them I was enlisting. As we drove off, I looked back at my friends’ parents and all I could think was, “I am going to protect you, to protect you from an enemy that sees you only as an enemy and wants to cause you harm.”

I waited three years for another vaccine or x-ray of my teeth. Today I understand that our time was meaningless. We each received dog tags and military IDs with our personal number — that’s it. That’s all I was during my service. A number. In the eyes of the army, that was the moment I ceased being Fayez Abu Hayeh; rather I was turned into an entity defined by six digits. I was so excited back then. A day before my enlistment, I finished my final matriculation exam in math. My induction symbolized the end of my childhood and the beginning of a real, adult life. How naive I was.

December 2012

Then came Operation Pillar of Defense, in which Israel decided to attack “terror” targets in Gaza. It had been nearly two years since I enlisted, I was 20 years old and serving in the navy. I worked as a mechanic on missile boats. We were assigned to one of the career soldiers, alongside whom we worked on and fixed engines.

I remember it like it was yesterday. The time was 4 p.m., and I had just returned from firefighting training, so that I could be part of the emergency force in case there was a fire on base. I came back to my platoon only to realize everyone was gone. I called a friend who told me that we received an order — to check the engines on long-range boats. We weren’t allowed to ask about the details. We did our job and went back to our routine, going out to eat falafel without a care in the world.

A Palestinian child in Gaza on the third day of Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian child in Gaza on the third day of Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. (Activestills.org)

Two days later I discovered that two of those missile boats attacked targets in Gaza; one of them opened fire on a warehouse that Hamas had turned into a bunker for weapons. The second target was a mosque. Both the “bunkers” blew up. One contained weapons, the other people. You know, the place people go to take cover in the shadow of God, in his “bunker.”

It was at that moment that I realized I was the property of the IDF. Then, only then, did I understand that I was part of a dangerous system that only brings about destruction. No more guns, I told myself. That slap to the face continues to ring in my head, especially every time I hear about another Druze who refuses to go to the army. It must be so nice, I think. He won’t have to go through the trauma. He will avoid the trauma of being the human property of the IDF.

Channel 2 news wouldn’t leave us alone. Another update on another attack on a “terror target.” I remember the fear that gripped me and my friends, people who were like brothers to me after four years of studying together in an officer’s school in Acre. I remember how I learned to love the traditions of the people with whom I ate during Friday night dinners and on Passover. Inside, however, I loved dancing dabke most of all.

After I came to understand my trauma from military service, a friend who served with me asked: “Fayez, how can you still defend them when they hide weapons under homes?” and until today I still do not know how to answer. I do not think I have ever been able to articulate my feelings about being too small a cog in a machine of death, that I am not interested in who is right and who is wrong, and which side counts more bodies. The eight difficult days I spent there after realizing that the boat I worked on destroyed a mosque helped me understand that all I ever wanted was to cease being the property of people who are sending us to kill and be killed.

Two members of the Al Dalu family, Mohammad and Raneen Al Dalu were found under the rubble four days after the Israeli military airstrike which killed 9 members of the same family, Gaza, November 22, 2012. (Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Two members of the Al Dalu family, Mohammad and Raneen Al Dalu were found under the rubble four days after the Israeli military airstrike which killed 9 members of the same family, Gaza, November 22, 2012. (Photo by: Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

I’m from Beit Jan, a village with the highest ratio of slain soldiers to number of residents in the country. And yes, I believe that I still live in a country of laws. I am a law abiding citizen. But what is the law in this country? What is the point of a law that turns innocent children violent? What is the meaning of the same law that makes it okay to kill? And why, for God’s sake, is there no law in this country that prevents harming innocent children in Gaza or the West Bank, yet there is a law that determines who is and who isn’t IDF property?

Today I am 25 and a theater student in northern Israel. I went back to my parents’ home due to financial issues. It is too expensive for me to sit at a cafe once or twice a week, not to mention pay rent. As property, we were never educated about financial responsibility. As property, we were abandoned by the army with our testimonies. With our traumas.

I’m traumatized, because I was IDF property for three years.

Fayez Abu Hayeh is a former staff sergeant in the IDF, a theater student, and a production coordinator. This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. Jan

      My Israeli born niece and her Israeli born husband left Israel with their three children some 20 years ago. They didn’t want their children to serve as IDF property and as oppressors as they had. They have had a far happier life outside of Israel than they did and they are grateful that they saved their children from doing what they had done.

      Reply to Comment
      • Itshak Gordin Halevy

        Thousands of Jews make aliyah every year. They are happy to leave Europe and its violence and to come in Israel to live in a real Jewish reality. Most of the new immigrant are proud to serve the IDF.

        Reply to Comment
    2. i_like_ike52

      No doubt Fayez would prefer to live in the Druze communities in Syria or Lebanon where things are much more quiet than here in Israel and he could live with a clear conscience in those prosperous, peaceful countries that have far better records on human rights than here in Israel, right?

      Reply to Comment
      • carmen

        more whataboutery. Why should he live anywhere but his own country? He can complain and write all he wants about ‘israel’ and if you don’t like it, so what? freedom of speech is part of a healthy democracy as is freedom of the press, etc. Would you tell a jew to go to brooklyn or golders green or sydney or capetown if they bitched about israel? what does Fayez have to do with syria? What does any druze or palestinian have to do with syria FFS?

        Reply to Comment
        • Nizar

          Yes, I would. You should go live in Brooklyn or London if you don’t like Israel.

          There is a difference between complaining about an issue and bitching about how much you dislike/hate the place you live in. The first can be practical. The second is just pointless embittered b1tching. If you hate the place you live in, the best advice that can be given, is gtfo.

          If every other place in the region is even worse then you are just a spoiled privileged brat that ignores the prevailing conditions in the region that explain your condition for the purposes of your egocentric temper tantrum.

          Reply to Comment
          • carmen

            The advice to get the fuck out is the same thing bullies have been saying forever and not many people heed that advice since it only serves to keep the status quo. I’m guessing ‘Nizar’ that you’d be among those who bitch, whine about and slander those israeli jews who’ve decided not to stay and fight the power but leave for london, germany, usa, and other places without an ethnoreligious supremacist autocracy instead. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Art Sadin

      The author asks a legitimate question, “What is the point of a law that turns innocent children violent?” I assume he is referring to the laws of the PA that rewards families for turning their children, way younger than this man, into suicide bombers. Oh, I forgot, we are only allowed to criticize Israel and look at it in a vacuum of an assumed perfect world. But since we all believe in free speech, I think, may I ask”What is the point of the laws of Islam that turn innocent children violent?” Shiite children kill Sunnis implementing the laws of Islam regarding apostates. Sunni children kill Shiites implementing the laws of Islam regarding apostates. Pakistani Taliban children killed Salafists just this week implementing the laws of Islam regarding apostates. All over the Arab world children join in “honor killings’ implementing the laws of Islam concerning family “honor” as they call it. I could go on. This guy seems like a decent guy. He anguishes over the apparent civilian deaths in Gaza in the bunker. Does he or 972 supply a single verified confirmation that there were indeed civilians in the bunker. Was this an IDF finding of the very detailed study regarding events that occurred in Gaza during that conflict? Or is it a Hamas report of such an incident? If so, that is no report at all. Maybe he is anguishing over something that never happened. Your magazine provides zero factual support for the allegation that such an event even happened. Is that journalism or just weaponized words?

      Reply to Comment