Wars are never pretty. They’re even uglier in the Middle East, where the lines between conflict and quiet are always in flux. The images that greet us daily from the Muslim world are the most glaring; the endless rampage of hate-fueled violence makes you sick. Forget about the millions who are cowed into silence; even more abhorrent is the constant stream of popular support violence receives. Just look at The New York Times’ front page story today on the many respected middle-class Pakistanis — lawyers, and the like — who are defending the religous fanatic who asassinated Salman Taseer, an outspoken liberal governor, last week.
This kind of violence, especially the uncomfortable number of educated Muslims who openly support it, is what worries Israel. Israel’s fears are entirely justifiable. But it is not impossible to both denounce the radicalism in the Muslim world while also denouncing the violence Israelis often mete out–and the far too many citizens and Jews who say nothing too.
There is a new book out–"Occupation of the Territories: Israeli Soldiers’ Testimonies 2000-2010"–which gives an unusually revealing picture of what this violence, meted out by Israelis against Palestinians, looks like. There has not been a suicide bombing inside Israel in many years, in large part because of the tough actions taken by their military. But what does that tough action look like on the other side of the barrier, inside the West Bank? That’s what this book uncovers through hundreds of testimonies from Israeli soldiers who’ve served there over the last ten years.
If you think Israel’s occupation is defensible, given the threats, this will make you think again. I cannot see how Palestinians, moreover, will emerge from this occupation believing Israelis really want to make peace. The harm it does to the many innocent Palestinians is only part of the problem–many of the soldiers who testify in this collection give a devasting look at what the occupation does to themselves.
The new book, highlighted by the Israeli journalist David Shulman here, shows the daily indignities in the West Bank. To read it is to feel pained, outraged, and ashamed. Here’s one testimonial hundreds given by IDF soldiers who have served in the West Bank:
I was guarding, and I see in the middle of my shift, around the afternoon, an old man with a cane coming down, an Arab from Abu Sneina, the old man looked 60 plus, with a cane, he gets to the Abu Sneina intersection, to Gross square, and all of a sudden three 16-17 year-old [settler] kids jump on him, they take him down to the floor within a second. They take a stone, open up his head. They start kicking him on the floor, opening up his head. A 60 year-old man with a stream of blood from his head…. An officer came on patrol, he didn’t know what they did, so he didn’t catch them. They just ran. And immediately the company medic came and started bandaging the old Palestinian, and we took him out in an ambulance…. It shocked me.
Afterwards I went to the officer really with my eyes tearing. A soldier for 7 months in the army, I didn’t understand what was going on here. I said to him that it can’t be like this, that we can’t protect them [the settlers], I didn’t understand how it could be. I was very shocked by that incident, it destroyed everything for me…. The soldiers don’t talk with each other about these things, there is no serious discussion in a company of combat soldiers. The male atmosphere, everything is jokes, and they treat everything with a lack of seriousness and all in all they try to get through the shit together. Because again, I told you, on the scale of unfortunate ones, you are pretty unfortunate as a soldier in Hebron. You are a sacrifice yourself.
I understood that basically everything that goes on there, [Palestinian] kids, 14 years old, 8 years old who die for no reason, innocent, where settlers go into their homes and shoot at them, and settlers go crazy in the streets and break store windows and beat up soldiers and throw eggs at soldiers and lynch the elderly, all of these things don’t even make it to the media. There is a small and isolated world in Hebron, the Avraham Avinu [settler] neighborhood sits alone in Hebron, more soldiers protect it than people live there. The people who live in that neighborhood do whatever they want, the soldiers are forced to protect them …
And it exists here in the State of Israel, and no one knows about it, and no one wants to know, and no one reports about it. People prefer not to know and not to understand that something terrible is happening not far from us, and really no one cares. And the soldiers there are unfortunate and the Palestinians are super-unfortunate. And no one helps them.