Israeli soldiers' new occupation: opening up a closed conflict
To bring home the reality, the group has interviewed more than 700 former soldiers about their experiences during the decade-old intifada, or armed struggle. Interviewers noticed striking similarities in the soldiers’ experiences and use of language that, like George Orwell’s newspeak, often expresses the opposite of what it means.
The Israeli military strategy of “prevention”, for instance, goes far beyond preventing terrorist attacks. In the past decade the group says “prevention” has expanded beyond killing those who pose a threat to killing those who might be a threat or who were a threat. This creates moral dilemmas for soldiers, who soon realise their superiors are just as morally compromised.
“It’s like the Wild West and everyone . . . does what he wants,” one soldier writes in Our Harsh Logic, a book accompanying the exhibition.
“I knew the [Palestinian] man was not dangerous, yet the commander issued the order and we killed him,” another soldier writes. “I think of the US where . . . every death sentence goes through thousands of appeal hearings . . . Here, a 26-year-old guy, my commander, declares a death sentence [over the radio] on an unarmed man. Who is he anyway?”
The book details other strategies used by the Israeli army in the occupied territories. “Demonstrating presence”, for instance, is an elastic term former soldiers say is designed to intimidate Palestinians into believing the Israeli army is everywhere. From random firing of machine guns to arbitrary car checks and destructive house searches, demonstrating presence is sometimes based on concrete intelligence, often not.
Breaking the Silence has vocal critics in Israel. Some say the group presents one-sided propaganda of a complex conflict; Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, insists “there is no silence to break”.
Dana Hebron says there are new limitations on the group’s work and a creeping process of “de-democratisation” under a government she says equates Israel’s right to exist with its right to occupy. “The meaning of that is that I can only fulfil my right to self-determination if I prevent Palestinians doing the same,” she says.
“We would like to live peacefully and not suppress other people. As the people sent to perform this task we would like to end the occupation. Nothing can come out of this.”
Change can only come from within Israeli society, she says, but this can be influenced by outside pressure.
With their online testimony and worldwide exhibitions, these former soldiers hope to break a second silence: of the international community on Israeli human-rights violations.
“I only understand what is so wrong about the occupation after serving,” says the former soldier Nadav, in Berlin; “how it is destroying Israeli and Palestinian society.”
Breaking the Silence is at Willy Brandt Haus, in Berlin, until September 29th; breakingthesilence.org.il. Our Harsh Methods is published by Metropolitan/Macmillan