Testimonies of Israeli soldiers who have served in the Occupied West Bank city of Hebron, where they protect 500 Israeli settlers illegally planted in the midst of the city's 175,000 Palestinian residents. Recorded for the Breaking the Silence exhibition, and cited by Yitzhak Laor, In Hebron (London Review of books, July 2004):
1. "First week, first time at the checkpoint, at the passage between the Palestinian area and a street where only Jews can go. Those guys have to stop, there's a line, then they hand you their ID cards through the fence, you check them, and let them through. This guy with me yells: "Waqif! Stop!" The man didn't understand and took one more step. Then he yells again, "Waqif!" and the man freezes. So the soldier decided that because the guy took this one extra step he'll be detained. I said to him: "Listen, what are you doing?" He said: "No, no, don't argue, at least not in front of them. I'm not going to trust you anymore, you're not reliable." Eventually one of the patrol commanders came over, and I said: "What's the deal, how long do you want to detain him for?" He said: "You can do whatever you want, whatever you feel like doing. If you feel there's a problem with what he's done, if you feel something's wrong, even the slightest thing, you can detain him for as long as you want." And then I got it, a man who's been in Hebron a week, it has nothing to do with rank, he can do whatever he wants. There are no rules, everything is permissible."
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An Israeli woman looks at car keys which former Israeli soldiers that served at checkpoints in the southern West Bank city of Hebron say they confiscated from Palestinian motorists, during an exhibition in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, June 1 2004. The exhibition, called ''Breaking the Silence'' and made by former Israeli troopers, displays photos and video they made during their military service in and around the Palestinian town. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
2. "It was Friday night, and the auxiliary company, which was stationed with us in Harsina, eliminated two terrorists. Friday night dinner was, of course, a very happy affair, and the whole base was jumping. As I was leaving dinner, an armoured ambulance arrived with the terrorists' corpses, and the two terrorists' corpses were held up in a standing position by three people who were posing for photographs. Even I was shocked by this sight, I closed my eyes so as not to see and walked away. I really didn't feel like looking at terrorists' corpses."
An Israeli policeman stands smiling and pointing next to the body of 16-year-old Sabri Fayez al-Rujoub, who has just been shot dead by an Israeli soldier in the West Bank city of Hebron; 14 Feb 2005. (Reuters/Nayef Hashlamoun).
3. "Our job was to stop the Palestinians at ... checkpoint and tell them they can't pass there anymore. Maybe a month ago they could, but now they can't. And we knew there was another way they could pass, so on the one hand we were not allowed to let them pass, and on the other hand there were all these old ladies who had to pass to get to their homes, so we'd point in the direction of the opening through which they could pass without us noticing. It was an absurd situation, we couldn't say "we, the soldiers, did that." Our officers also knew about this opening. Like, they told us about it. Nobody really cared about it. It made us wonder what we were doing at the ... checkpoint. Why was it forbidden to pass? It was really a form of collective punishment. Any terrorist could know about and pass through the opening. It was just a form of collective punishment. You're not allowed to pass because you're not allowed to pass. If you want to commit a terrorist attack, turn right there and then left, but if you do not want to commit a terrorist attack you'll have to make a very big detour or you won't get there at all, which was really brilliant ..."
The Hebron-Halhoul road, 19 Sept 2003. The open road on the left is an Israeli by-pass road, meant for Israeli cars only. The road on the right is a Palestinian road closed by two machsoums or dirt piles placed there by the Israeli army. The army says such roadblocks are to deter Palestinian militants from moving throughout the West Bank and into Israel. (Christian Peacemaker Teams)
4. "I was ashamed of myself the day I realised that I simply enjoy the feeling of power. Not merely enjoy it, need it. And then, when someone suddenly says no to you, you say: what do you mean no? Where do you get the chutzpah from to say no to me? Forget for a moment that I think that all those Jews are mad, and I actually want peace and believe we should leave the Territories, how dare you say no to me? I am the Law! I am the Law here! Once I was at a checkpoint, a temporary one, a so-called strangulation checkpoint blocking the entrance to a village. On one side a line of cars wanting to get out, and on the other side a line of cars wanting to get in, a huge line, and suddenly you have a mighty force at the tip of your fingers. I stand there, pointing at someone, gesturing to you to do this or that, and you do this or that, the car starts, moves towards me, halts beside me. The next car follows, you signal, it stops. You start playing with them, like a computer game. You come here, you go there, like this. You barely move, you make them obey the tip of your finger. It's a mighty feeling."
Palestinian boy feeding pigeons on a roof in the West-Casbah area of Hebron. Photo taken through a sniper’s rifle sight. (via Breaking the Silence)
5. "The very existence of the checkpoint is humiliating. I guard, or enable the existence of, 500 Jewish settlers at the expense of 15,000 people under direct occupation in the H2 area and another 140,000-160,000 in the surrounding areas of Hebron. It makes no difference how pleasant I am to them. I will still be their enemy. As long as you want to keep these 500 people in Hebron alive and enable them to go about their existence in a reasonable manner, you have to destroy the reasonable existence of all the rest. There's no alternative. For the most part, these are real security considerations. They're not imaginary. If you want to protect the settlers from being shot at from above, you have to occupy all the hills around them. There are people living on those hills. They have to be subdued, they have to be detained, they have to be hurt at times. But as long as the government has decided that the settlement in Hebron will remain intact, the cruelty is there, and it doesn't matter whether or not we act nice."
A Palestinian woman shows her identification papers to Israeli soldiers as she tries to cross a checkpoint near the West Bank city of Hebron; 25 Oct 2004. (AFP/Hossam Abu Alan)
6. "Whenever we feel like it, we choose a house on the map, we go on in. "Jaysh, jaysh, iftah al bab" - "army, army, open the door" - and they open the door. We move all the men into one room, all the women into another, and place them under guard. The rest of the unit does whatever they please, except destroy equipment - it goes without saying - and there's no helping yourself to anything: we have to cause as little harm to the people as possible, as little physical damage as possible. If I try to imagine the reverse situation: if they had entered my home, not a police force with a warrant, but a unit of soldiers, if they had burst into my home, shoved my mother and little sister into my bedroom, and forced my father and my younger brother and me into the living-room, pointing their guns at us, laughing, smiling, and we didn't always understand what the soldiers were saying while they emptied the drawers and searched through the things. Oops it fell, broken - all kinds of photos, of my grandmother and grandfather, all kinds of sentimental things that you wouldn't want anyone else to see. There is no justification for this. If there is a suspicion that a terrorist has entered a house, so be it. But just to enter a home, any home: here I've chosen one, look what fun. We go in, we check it out, we cause a bit of injustice, we've asserted our military presence and then we move on."
A three-year-old, Palestinian boy, Imran Karameh, cries as he watches Israeli soldiers take his father out of his house during a military operation in the West Bank city of Hebron, 9 Feb 2005. (Reuters/Nayef Hashlamoun, via Palestine Today)
7. "On patrol in Abu Sneina we make a check post where you stop cars and check them out. We stop a guy we know, who always hangs around, doesn't make trouble. Connections are made, even if we don't speak the same language and even if it's hard to explain. The commander stops him. "You cover the front. You cover the back." So I cover the front. The commander says to him: "Go on, get going. Get out your jack." The guy just stands there and stares. He doesn't understand what they want. So the commander yells at him that he should get out his jack and begin to take the wheels off. I'm standing near a stone wall and the guy comes over and takes a stone to put under the car, and then another stone. At that point, the commander comes over to me and says: "Does this look humane to you?" He has a horrible grin on his face. It's awful. I can't do anything. I don't have enough air to say anything. I take my helmet off and lean on the stone wall, still covering the front, and I cry."
Bringing in their catch: Israeli soldiers in Hebron sometimes round up large groups of random Palestinian men and bring them to checkpoints. At the checkpoints the Palestinians' IDs are check to see if any are wanted by Israel. ID checks have been known to take up to eight hours. These were the men rounded up by the IDF in Bab i Zaweyya, Hebron, on 12 January 2003. (Photo by John Lynes, for CPT)
8. "When I served in Hebron, for the first time in my life I felt different about being a Jew. I can't explain it. But the Tomb of the Patriarchs, the ancestral city, it did something to me. I don't know if I was defending the State of Israel, but I was defending Jews who were part of the state, and in a city where the controversy is different from other Arab cities. It was the worshippers' route. One day, out of the blue, a group of about six Jewish women with six or seven little girls simply started running around, started kicking stalls and turning them over, and spitting on Arabs and elderly people. One of the women picked up a rock and shattered the window of a barber shop. A man comes out, and I find myself, on the one hand, trying to take the rock away from her, and on the other hand, defending her, so that they won't beat the shit out of her. So on the one hand you say to yourself, fuck it, I'm supposed to guard the Jews that are here. But these Jews don't behave with the same morality or values I was raised on. If they're capable of writing on the Arabs' doors "Arabs Out" or "Death to the Arabs," and drawing a Star of David, which to me is like a swastika when they draw it like that, then somehow the term "Jew" has changed a little for me."
L-R: "Kahane was right!" Graffiti on a Palestinian store, shut down by Israeli military order, in Hebron Old City; (via Breaking the Silence).
Jewish settlers, some of them masked, hurl stones at Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron Sunday Jan. 15, 2006; (AP Photo/Oded Balilty).
Two Palestinian women look out their window as they take cover behind a pilow as Jewish settlers throws stones at Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron Sunday Jan. 15, 2006; (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi).
Israeli settlers stand in front of a new wall that IDF soldiers had to build around a Hebron home to protect the Palestinian family living there from settler harassment, April 7 2005; (REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen)
9. "Once a little kid, a boy of about six, passed by me at my post. He said to me: "Soldier, listen, don't get annoyed, don't try and stop me, I'm going out to kill some Arabs." I look at the kid and don't quite understand exactly what I'm supposed to do. So he says: "First, I'm going to buy a popsicle at Gotnik's" - that's their grocery store - "then I'm going to kill some Arabs." I had nothing to say to him. Nothing. I went completely blank. And that's not such a simple thing, that a city, that such an experience can silence someone who was an educator, a counsellor, who believed in education, who believed in talking to people, even if their opinions were different. But I had nothing to say to a kid like that. There's nothing to say to him."
10. "That morning, a fairly big group arrived in Hebron, around 15 Jews from France. They were all religious Jews. They were in a good mood, really having a great time, and I spent my entire shift following this gang of Jews around and trying to keep them from destroying the town. They just wandered around, picked up every stone they saw, and started throwing them in Arabs' windows, and overturning whatever they came across. There's no horror story here: they didn't catch some Arab and kill him or anything like that, but what bothered me is that maybe someone told them that there's a place in the world where a Jew can take all of his rage out on Arab people, and simply do anything. Come to a Palestinian town, and do whatever he wants, and the soldiers will always be there to back him up. Because that was my job, to protect them and make sure that nothing happened to them."
Israeli settlers disrupt the Palestinian harvest at Yatta, nr Hebron, kicking away some harvested bundles of wheat and throwing others from the back of a tractor. Israeli soldiers intervene to stop CPT volunteers from taking photographs. 20 May, 2002.
11. "Once I was in Hebron, when from a gate near our post that leads to the Kasbah, and from which it is forbidden to enter or exit, came a man in his fifties or sixties with a few women and small children. You walk up to him and say in Arabic: "Stop, there's a curfew, go home." And then he starts to argue with you. And he gets bold, like he believes that he'll get through in the end. He's not trying to weasel his way through, he really believes that he's in the right. And that confuses you. You remember that actually you would like to let him pass, but you're not supposed to let him pass, and how dare he stand there in front of you . . . Finally the patrol shows up, and from an argument between two soldiers and ten people, it becomes an argument between ten soldiers and ten people, with an officer who, naturally, is less inclined to restrain himself. Weapons are cocked, aimed, not straight at him, but at his legs. "Get the hell out of here, enough talk!" I was standing closest to him, about a metre or two. He was all dressed up, wearing a suit and a kaffiyeh, he looked really respectable. And I was standing there with my weapon, close to my chest, trying to defend myself, protect myself. I was afraid that he was going to try something. And the atmosphere was charged, more than usual. Then he sticks out his chest, and both his fists are tightly closed. My finger moves to the safety catch, and then I see his eyes are filled with tears, and he says something in Arabic, turns around, and goes. And his clan follows him. I'm not exactly sure why this incident is engraved in my memory out of all the times I told people to scram when there was a curfew, but there was something so noble about him, and I felt like the scum of the earth. Like, what am I doing here?"
Israeli soldiers turn back an elderly Palestinian couple at the check point in the centre of the West Bank city of Hebron on November 18, 2005. (REUTERS/Najeh Hashlamoun)