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The Occupation Testimonies (Part II): It's not about security

Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran IDF soldiers working to expose the everyday reality of the occupation, is releasing a new book of soldiers’ testimonies from the years 2001-2010.

The collection of 101 testimonies shows the degree of control Israel has over the lives of Palestinians. Unlike previous publications by BTS, this one is not (only) about war crimes. More than anything, the testimonies reveal the banalities of the Occupation: the roadblocks, the nightly raids, the mass arresrs and the daily humiliations which take place everywhere in the West Bank.

The book is divided into four chapters, corresponding to the four code-words given to IDF operational modes in the West Bank, “separation,” “fabric of life,” law-enforcement” and “prevention”.

The following are four testimonies from an advanced copy of the book. With the exception of the second testimony, they are of the “milder” events exposed by breaking the silence. We chose to publish them – and not the more “sensational” testimonies – because these are the sort of events that take place everyday in the West Bank, for more than forty years. They demonstrate how the occupation is present in the lives of all ordinary Palestinians; how arbitrary it is; and how it leaves people at the hands of 18 year old kids, who are, more than anything, bored and indifferent to their fate. The occupation is not about security – its about control over the lives of millions of human beings.

[all images in this post are by IDF soldiers]

An IDF post inside a Palestinian home (photo: breaking the silence)

Testimony 48: “In reality you are just abusing the population”
Unit: Field Intelligence; location: South Hebron Hills; year: 2005-2008

What operations did you do in South Mount Hebron?

It’s the same operations, lookout activity. Sometimes we would… the brigade would try to play with us. We would go on missions of… we would join some infantry company or organize some kind of team, they would go into a house, just do whatever… as a demonstration of presence. In order to draw… it’s a mission which has a kind of logic, but in reality you are just abusing the population. You arrive… the idea is like this: The infantry team takes control of some house; and we take one under cover so no one will know.

The Same House?

No. The house across from it. Meaning the same street. One here, one here. They make noise and chaos so there will be a protest. They really burned tires there on the house.

The Soldiers?

No, the Palestinians, because they took control of the house as a protest, meaning they put up flags, made noise, stun grenades. That was their mission.

What time was this?

It was during the day. We came at night and all the action was during the day.

At dawn?

Yes. The idea was that maybe some armed man would come to the area and then we’ll succeed in taking him down, because we are there secretly, because we are at a different corner. In reality an armed man didn’t come, fine, OK, and their house was destroyed. Tires were burned on the house. An innocent house, just a house on the map, that the Shin Bet checked and there wasn’t any… that it’s really innocent population… that’s what they check.

They are innocent, so you enter their house?

Yes and we destroyed the house. The windows were broken, they threw stones into the house. That’s it, an entire house was destroyed.

Where was the family?

I think they threw them out

Where was this?

It was in Yatta. So do you, like, understand? The thought at the beginning, when you sit with a map with the brigade commander, then it seems very nice… ‘you take control of this house with a demonstration of presence, you’ll be hidden, and an armed man will come and everything will be fine and dandy.’ But in the field you destroyed the house of a family and left, that’s it. And it happened every day, all the time.

It’s not an unordinary activity?

It is an activity that the infantrymen do.

Did you do it more than once or twice?

Yes, yes.

It was routine?

Yes, But that was more unique because it was in the heart of Yatta and we did it secretly.

.

Palestinians detainees in Hebren (photo: breaking the silence)

Testimony 57A: patrol in order to beat up Arabs
Unit: Kfir Brigade; location: Hebron; year: 2006-2007

There are a lot of incidents. Just all kinds of nonsense that we would do. We would beat up the Arabs all the time, nothing special. Just to pass the time.

Do you remember an incident where you opened fire on Palestinians?

You know how many times it happened, when there would be disturbances and we would open fire?

Live ammunition?

When you had to, yes, when you had to, when enough came at us – then yes, at the
knee, the knees.

You said that you would think about how to heat up the atmosphere all the time.

Of course.

What does that mean?

You know, we wanted it to be interesting, we would only look for methods to rile up the Arabs a bit, so that we would shoot a lot of rubber bullets, and it would be interesting, and so the time would pass a little faster in Hebron.

Who thought of methods?

You think there was a lack? Soldiers, commanders.

Sitting with the company commander?

What do you mean, company commander? Never, I’m telling you, it would never leave
the platoon. The platoon is like state secrets, that’s what we would say. No one knew.

So you sat only with the platoon commander?

What the hell. The platoon commander also didn’t know.

So who sat?

Commanders and a sergeant.

Where did you sit?

In a room. There is the senior room, and the junior room, [we sat] in the senior room.

So what do you say: “today on patrol we do this and that”?

Yes.

You plan ahead?

Of course.

So what would you do?

All kinds of nonsense. We would do a lot, we would say: a patrol for what? A patrol is in order to beat up Arabs. Children, Arabs, all kinds of nonsense.

Who would initiate the patrols?

All kinds of people. The patrol commander wasn’t to know about it.

Sergeants and squad commanders?

Yes, officers are not connected.

They would say: “now we’re going out to…”

We would know where we were going, we had a briefing before. We would go out on patrol.

The squad commander would come and say: “now we’re going out on patrol?”

You know you are going out on patrol. Again listen, it’s not with every squad commander that you do it, you know with which squad commander you do it. When a force goes out on a patrol, it’s not by its own choice. Everyone knows there is a patrol. That’s the mission: to patrol, to protect. We just continued, you know.

What does the company commander say to you when you go out? What does he say?

He also knows it’s going to happen. He also takes, he would choose the people that would go with him. Let’s say, I told you about ***, I would never go out with him, there is no chance in the world he would let me go out with him.

What would happen?

We would go out on patrol, just an example, some kid would look at us, it didn’t seem like a good look to us – he would get slapped.

Who would slap him?

The squad commander, the soldiers

.

Graffiti on a Palestinian shop: "Rabbi Nachman will kick out the Arabs" (photo: Breaking the Silence)

Testimony 49: “We go into innocent people’s homes, every day, all the time”
Unit: Field intelligence; Location: General; Year: 2004-2006

The thing that shocked me, that caused me to be shocked, was that you, every day you do missions in which you go into houses and it’s…to families… We got to this family which didn’t even have a bathroom in the house – it shocked me. That’s why it also, it’s something that sits on my heart a lot… that day the Palestinian [living there] was planning to take out the chickens. We were able to somehow communicate a bit, I had someone on the team who spoke Arabic. So his work… he collects the eggs, he sells the eggs, that his job. His wife doesn’t work; she’s in the house with the kids. So you grab your head and say: “that’s it, I stopped him from making a living for a day.” That’s what we do: we go into innocent people’s homes. Every day, all the time.

There are those who would say that they are not innocent, that it could be they are hiding things.

Of course. No, there are also those who would say: it’s good to go even into innocent people’s homes; the sanctity of the mission is above all, OK? Meaning, there isn’t some kind of problem here, they’ll tell you there is no ethical problem with what you are doing. You aren’t harming the army’s moral code, you aren’t beating them up. If they resist, then you have the permission to give it to them, to respond or whatever, so there is no problem with regard to the punishment. So everything is OK, and it’s for the good of the mission, it justifies the means, and that’s it. But in the field, when you summarize the period, most of the missions aren’t always thought out to the end. There were a lot of missions which didn’t have much purpose, or we were sent on a mission where the intelligence was so weak that maybe it would have been better to avoid it. In the end, bottom line, that family got it and that’s it, that’s what happened on that mission.  And it doesn’t happen…that’s most times. Let’s say 95 percent of the incidents, their whole purpose was to strike a family and go back.

Deliberately?

That’s what happened in practice. And then you start thinking. OK, but you can’t know. Speaking from experience, we saw which missions succeeded. Those which had very, very focused intelligence, very, very clear, and that work was done with the whole web of intelligence, meaning the Shin Bet and whatever. But [for other missions] the army always has all kinds of reasons, which means basically: even if you don’t feel it, it has other ramifications. There is the presence of the army, there is always that thing of presence, the large missions

.

IDF checkpoint (photo: breaking the silence)

Testimony 38 It’s called “segregation”
Unit: Civil Administration; location: Nablus; year: 2006

In 2006, we received a complaint from students of the A-Najah University in Nablus, because they didn’t allow them to enter from the Bet Iba checkpoint, which is a checkpoint that was open, I think it was open until a few months before this, and then it was just closed. I don’t remember why. I think it’s related to the settlements there, because the checkpoint leads to them, among other things. The checkpoint closed for almost every possible case. The army, the brigade, calls it “segregation.”

Segregation means that you only allow residents of certain ages to enter. Men above a certain age, say around 35, 40. And women from a younger age. They didn’t allow the young students to enter. They live in the villages near Nablus. It’s as if you were a resident of Ness-Tziona and you would want to go to Rehovot [names of Israeli suburbs] and they wouldn’t let you. I remember it specifically because it was the first complaint I received. A nice English-speaking student called, I was happy that I was able to communicate with him, and it’s very disappointing to give the answer, there is segregation…

Did they give you the reason for the segregation?

I also gave it to him. I explained to him what it was, and that he can’t enter at his age. I don’t remember the exact age, but that if he was a different age he could have entered. In a different incident four women, some sick and some escorting, were detained at the Bet Iba checkpoint. They were sick and needed medical attention. This was two months after the thing with the students.

Was it still the same segregation?

I can’t say, but it was still segregation.

You don’t know the ages?

Now I don’t know, then I certainly knew. We applied tremendous pressure, both myself and *** who was a coordinator in the civil administration. We applied pressure so that at least the sick women could cross the checkpoint. The escorts had to take a long detour to the checkpoint in Ein Bidan, and then they apparently met up.

Who gave the segregation order, and when was it repealed, allowing entry again?

There are segregations which can last for months. I remember a segregation that stretched from all of Samaria to Jericho, the whole Eastern part. A Palestinian from Ramallah who wants to get to Jericho only has one route, via Jenin. A resident of Jerusalem who wants to get to the Dead Sea? Go via Afula.

Which checkpoints can you pass through?

I don’t remember the names, I think via Beqaot, Tiasir.

Did you know exactly which checkpoint you could pass through?

Yes, the Palestinians also knew.

What was the reason?

Terrorist attack warnings. It was explained to me that it’s in order to prevent terror attacks.

How long did it last?

I don’t remember. There are certain segregations on certain days and at certain hours, and sometimes it lasts weeks.

Who removes the segregations?

Someone on the major-general level if it’s more than a few days, and it can go up to the brigade commander.

Are there segregations which don’t have a time limit, if you were to want to verify when the segregation ends?

I think there is a certain limitation. There is a military orders group, which there is no reason to get into, but there is segregation, they establish it for an amount of time, and they extend it for an amount of time.

And you know when it ends?

Yes, and I tell the Palestinians. The Palestinians know because there are rumors that run from mouth to mouth, and the village leaders and the Palestinian police announce it.

You are less involved in the announcement?

I don’t announce at all. I have no connection to the village heads. But if a Palestinian calls me and asks if he can transfer goods via Efrayim, which is a “back to back” checkpoint in the area of Tul Karem [a checkpoint through which only goods, but no vehicles, can pass], even though today is Memorial Day for the fallen IDF soldiers, then I tell him yes, until 12 noon. We are also a kind of information service, which are another few undocumented conversations during the day. It’s a whole story to roam between the checkpoints…The real story is that this lousy checkpoint only protects the settlements.

Bet Iba?

Yes. Another interesting story is the story of a taxi driver who took a sick person to the hospital in Nablus, and he wanted to return to his house in Bet Furik so he had to cross the checkpoint there. The checkpoint closes at eight. Israelis move to daylight savings time in April, the Palestinians change the clock two weeks later. He and the sick person are waiting at the checkpoint, but the checkpoint is closed. The soldiers that were there didn’t open it for them, and they only let them cross in the morning. They stayed the night in Nablus.

No one did anything?

No. Here is a sixty year-old Palestinian with cancer. He was called, and he had permission to receive treatment in the Asuta hospital. A volunteer waited for him at the Reihan checkpoint who would take him to his appointment in the hospital at ten in the morning. The soldiers wouldn’t let him cross. It was seven in the morning and it takes three hours [to get there] and he doesn’t want to miss his appointment. It seems that this man had a permit for the Gilboa checkpoint, and not for Reihan, so it was made clear to him that he was requested to go to the Gilboa checkpoint which is an hour ride for Palestinians, and from there he could leave to [enter] Israel. I can only say one thing: Why? He is a sixty year-old with cancer, what difference does it make if he accidentally went to a different checkpoint…

But what’s did you do?

All of a sudden you’ll start following procedure. It goes without saying that he missed his appointment, and I think he just went back. A twenty day-old baby sick with jaundice. This happened. They didn’t let the ambulance with the baby cross the A-Zaim checkpoint, a Jerusalem checkpoint. They let her pass only after forty-five minutes. [unclear]… Another incident: In Jenin, at the Reihan checkpoint […] they didn’t allow humanitarian equipment, for example, to be transferred into Barta’a and Reihan. A truck driver who transports fruits or vegetables called me and said: “I’m coming from Jenin, I want to enter the village because the people there don’t have anything to eat.” Only at the end of the day, after he spoke with us at nine in the morning, only at a quarter to five did they allow him to cross.

A truck or a van?

He sat there for eight hours and waited and afterwards they let him cross. There were a few trucks there.

Did they inspect it?

They inspected it, but that’s not its [the checkpoint] function. They just didn’t let him cross, because it was the orders of someone, and that guy was stuck somewhere. There were very basic complaints that they didn’t open the agricultural gates. I didn’t see it as intentional but soldiers were one, two, three hours late. Meaning that a Palestinian would wait for three hours to get onto or leave his land and to get back home, and it happened more than a few times. It happens because of the negligence of the soldiers, or [the orders from] HQ, or an operation which presumably prevents soldiers from opening it. Because who opens the agricultural gates? Soldiers.

Read More on Breaking the Silence’s report:

Part I of Breaking the Silence testimonies

Joseph Dana: the moral corruption of Israeli society

Yuval Ben-Ami: The birth of tragedy from the spirit of occupation

Mairav Zonszein: BTS: the IDF’s magnum opus

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