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MITA'AM - A Review of Literature and Radical Thought, Edited by Yitzhak Laor


STEEPED : In The World of Tea. A Literay anthology



Occupying Hebron

Closing a school, abusing civilians at a check point, following orders, staying in a family's comandeered home, posing for trophy photos with enemy bodies, being the law, enjoying power, feeling ashamed, getting addicted to controlling people, dispersing a funeral, wanting to forget, not caring, the ease in which you actually do whatever you want to do unsupervised, the unbearable lightness of these things that happen. 12,643 words of testimonies

Shovrim Shtika - Breaking the Silence

30 Jun. 2004

Testimonies page 3:

This is the most revolting sentence that, for me at least, has the most negative connotations in the world, and you’ll hear almost every soldier speak: "I’m a soldier and I'm just following orders."


In a patrol in Abu Sneina a commanding officer and three soldiers, patrolling the area. We make a check post. Its a station where you stop cars and check ‘em out. We stop a guy whom we know, who always hangs around, doesn't make trouble… and no, personally, I never had a run-in with him, in short, a guy who looks all right, it happens. Connections are made, even if we don't speak the same language and even if it's hard to explain. The commander stops him, the guy with the car, two soldiers on one side. "You cover the front. You cover the back." So I cover the front. The commander goes to him: "Do you know the commercials for Itong? "Go on, get going." "Get out your jack." The guy just stands there and stares. He doesn't understand what they want from him. 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 it look humane to you?" He has this 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 and fall on the stone wall, still covering from the front, and I cry. There's nothing I can do.


It was in the middle of an operation in Jabal Johar, actually in all of Hebron but specifically in Jabal Johar, where my company took position. As part of the house to house searches, there were lots of Border Police in the street. One of them overhears some guy insulting a sergeant from my unit. So they came and said, "No problem," took the Palestinian and brought him back about 20 minutes later. He's trembling in fear. They tell him, "Okay, now start singing 'Carnival in the Nahal' [name of an army unit].”

Q: How did you feel then?

I didn't like it. It looked like everybody there thought it was funny, so okay, I just sat there and kept quiet. I won't start fighting with my comrades."

Q: Why did you keep quiet?

I don't know. Maybe it wasn't important enough for me to say anything… I don't know. You just take a deep breath and keep doing what you’re doing. It's the duty with which I’ve been entrusted. Right now I'm just a little cog in the wheel. I do my job and live from one furlough to the next, until my service is over. That's how it was all the time.


The great thing about Hebron, the thing that gets to you more than anything else, is the total indifference it instills in you. It's hard to describe the kind of enormous sea of indifference you’re swimming in while you're there. It’s possible to explain a little, through little anecdotes, but it's not enough to make it really clear. One story is about a little kid, a boy of about six, who passed by me at my post. We were at… 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 turn someone who was an educator, a counselor, 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.


If I'm standing at a checkpoint that prevents people from going somewhere, somewhere it's obvious they need to get to, like from the grocery store to their house, and they can't get there because I'm standing in their way, it really doesn't matter how polite I am. I don't have to behave cruelly for it to be unjust. I can be the most courteous person in the world and still be unfair. Because from their point of view, it makes no difference if I'm a nice guy. I still don't let them go home. What difference does it make if I try to be nice? Or humiliate them? The very existence of the checkpoint is humiliating. As long as I’m doing my duty according to the regulations, something completely legal, I’m doing something that is inflicting pain on people, harming them unnecessarily. 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 whatsoever how pleasant I am to them or how pleasant my company commander is, it simply… won't make it any better. I will still be their enemy. There will still be a conflict between us. And sometimes, the fact that I may be nice to them will only cause me trouble because then they’ll have someone to argue with, someone to turn to. But there is nothing I can tell them. You can't go through the checkpoint because you can't, and that's it!! It’s an order, based on security considerations. As long as you want to protect these 500 people, that's what you have to do. As long as you want to keep these folks 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 them 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 in tact, even without undue cruelty, the cruelty is there, and it doesn't matter whether or not we act nice.


Q: When you hear the word Hebron, what's the first thing that pops into your head? What connotations does the word have for you?

I don't want to go there… I don’t want to be there… I've really got nothing to do there. It’s a place I’ll never go near again, it seems to me. I don't want to remember where I stood or where I didn't stand, where I was, in what post or on what corner I was positioned. And this is what happened here… No… No, I don't want any of it, I don’t want to remember anything…


In one of our conversations with the Border Police in Hebron, two of them were bragging about how much they liked to take a Palestinian whom they caught throwing stones or just throwing a word at them, or looking at them the wrong way. They’d put him into an armored jeep and then hit him with the spark-mufflers of their weapons in the chest or the stomach or the neck. Then they’d bet how fast they could take the turn in the road where they’d throw him out of the armored jeep. If you ask me, then yes, it really bothered me, but what could I do about it?

Q: You know that the Border Police did this to someone afterwards and he was killed. They murdered someone.

That's very sad. And, so?

Q: Did you recognize any of the murderers, the guys who are standing trial now?

No. I didn't recognize anyone. I don't know them. I just heard ‘em talking.


I can’t remember exactly at what stage of the assignment it was…. I only remember that on a certain Friday we went on patrol. On patrol… that is walking towards… in… Square. We crossed Shlomo Square twice. The second time was a half an hour later. A half an hour after the first time, we discovered a large metal object lying there. Now, you have to understand Fridays in Hebron have an atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else, not in any Israeli settlement, or anywhere else. You really feel that here, on the Sabbath, someone could kill you at any moment. A Sabbath of tension. Every Sabbath I spent there shortened my life by a year or two. The tension is unbearable. And that’s how it was, Sabbath after Sabbath. I don’t remember what… we saw this object there, and our commander didn’t quite know what to do. He contacted the company commander over the radio and the company commander sounded tense. The patrol commander wanted to call in the bomb squad or something like that, to remove this thing. You can’t know what it is. Its clearly been put there in our honor, but its not clear whether its just laying there, or whether someone’s watching to see what we’ll do. Confusion. And the company commander was nervous over the radio. I didn’t have a radio, I could hear him yelling through my commander’s headpiece. Okay, we went up toward Abu Sneina, past the concrete blocks that once marked the boundary between what was then the Israeli-controlled areas of Hebron and the Palestinian areas, and there we saw what looked like an explosive device... We took some guy with us… Our commander stopped somebody and made him go down there, you could see that this man was totally confused. The commander told him to move the object, to lift it up from where it was lying. I remember the whole thing took a minute, maybe even less. The man went over there. I remember his face was trembling, he seemed unsure whether or not he really should do it. And we were standing there, four soldiers with the… four soldiers standing around at a safe distance. When this man went up to the object and began to move it, he was really, really scared. After it was all over and he was allowed back, after we let him go on his way, only then did I fully realize what we had done. Now, it was half a minute… a half-minute like any other half-minute on patrol in Hebron. So routine, nothing out of the ordinary. And I remember that afterwards me and… said to ourselves we have to go and do something about it, go to the regiment commander perhaps, how is it that we didn’t refuse to carry-out orders and so on… and this and that… But somehow it just seemed to fade away. comments: Names and other details that may idengify individual speakers, or others they describe, have been ommitted from the public version of this text by the organizers, for reasons that have not been declared.