“A routine of violence”: Moral rot caused by militarism, racism, and occupation

by Yaniv Reich on January 30, 2010

“They sat [the child] down and put his hand on the chair and simply broke it right there on the chair,” recounted a female IDF soldier.

The blogosphere is burning today with the recently published accounts of female soldiers in the IDF, who are expected to compensate for their relative physical weakness with extraordinary violence and hostility. These gut-wrenching stories are part of Breaking the Silence’s ongoing effort to collect soldier testimonials. Indeed, they are evil.

I do not want to hear about “the most moral army in the world” ever again. Israel is not a light unto any nation. The moral degradation of decades of militarism, of occupation, of relentless (and necessary) dehumanization of Palestinians has gone septic—it reaches everywhere in Israeli society and turns the whole body politic into a large moral abscess.

This is not the fault of any suicide bombers, rocket launchers, religious fanatics, or non-religious fanatics. Its the inevitable consequence of a society that has become so militarized, racist, and thereby dehumanized itself that it is able to deal psychologically with its occupation of another people for more than four decades. We should have expected nothing less and nothing more. But the manifestations of hatred you are about to read are entirely our fault.

These are our crimes.

Senseless humiliation

A female Seam Line Border Guard spoke of the chase after illegal aliens: “In half an hour you can catch 30 people without any effort.” Then comes the question of what should be done with those who were caught – including women, children, and elderly. “They would have them stand, and there’s the well-known Border Guard song (in Arabic): ‘One hummus, one bean, I love the Border Guard’ – they would make them sing this. Sing, and jump. Just like they do with recruits… The same thing only much worse. And if one of them would laugh, or if they would decide someone was laughing, they would punch him. Why did you laugh? Smack… It could go on for hours, depending on how bored they are. A shift is eight hours long, the times must be passed somehow.”
[…]
In her frustration, the same female soldier told of how she once spit on a Palestinian in the street: “I don’t think he even did anything. But again, it was cool and it was the only thing I could do to… you know, I couldn’t take brag that I caught a terrorists… But I could spit on them and degrade them and laugh at them.”
[…]
When the interviewer asked her if the Palestinians “suffer even more from the women in the Border Guard”, she said: “Yes. Yes. Because they don’t know how to accept the women. The moment a girl slaps a man, he is so humiliated, he is so humiliated he doesn’t know what to do with himself.”

Child torture

“I don’t know who or how, but I know that two of our soldiers put him in a jeep, and that two weeks later the kid was walking around with casts on both arms and legs…they talked about it in the unit quite a lot – about how they sat him down and put his hand on the chair and simply broke it right there on the chair.”

Even small children did not escape arbitrary acts of violence, said a Border Guard female officer serving near the separation fence: “We caught a five-year-old…can’t remember what he did…we were taking him back to the territories or something, and the officers just picked him up, slapped him around and put him in the jeep. The kid was crying and the officer next to me said ‘don’t cry’ and started laughing at him. Finally the kid cracked a smile—and suddenly the officer gave him a punch in the stomach. Why? ‘Don’t laugh in my face’ he said.”

Corruption

“They take things all the time at checkpoints in the territories. You’ll never see a soldier without musabaha (chickpea past similar to hummus). And that is something they give many times. . . . They are so desperate to pass that they even sort of bribe the soldiers a little…”

A female Border Guard officer spoke of how Palestinian children would arrive at checkpoints with bags of toys for sale – and how the Border Guard would deal with them: “‘Okay, throw the bag away. Oh, I need some batteries,’ and they would take, they would take whatever they wanted.”

“Toys, batteries, anything… cigarettes. I’m sure they took money as well, but I don’t remember that specifically.” She also spoke of one incident in which the looting was caught by a television camera, and the affair blew up. “Then, the company commander gathered us and reprimanded us: ‘How did you not think they might see you?'” No one was punished: “Really, it was an atmosphere in which we were allowed to hit and humiliate.”

Complicity in civilian crimes

Another female Sachlav soldier told the story of the time an eight-year-old settler girl in Hebron decided to bash a stone into the head of a Palestinian adult passing by her in the street. “Boom! She jumped on him, and gave it to him right here in the head. . . . then she started screaming ‘Yuck, yuck, his blood is on me'”.

The soldier said the Palestinian then turned in the girl’s direction—a move that was interpreted as a threat by one of the soldiers in the area, who added a punch of his own: “And I stood there horrified. . . . an innocent little girl in her Shabbat dress… the Arab covered the wound with his hand and ran.” She recalled another incident with the same child: “I remember she had her brother in the stroller, a baby. She was giving him stones and telling him: ‘Throw them at the Arab’.”

Murder of children and its cover-up

A female Border Guard officer in Jenin spoke of an incident in which a nine-year-old Palestinian, who tried to climb the fence, failed, and fled – was shot to death: “They fired. . . . when he was already in the territories and posed no danger. The hit was in the abdomen area, they claimed he was on a bicycle and so they were unable to hit him in the legs.”

But the soldier was most bewildered by what happened next between the four soldiers present: “They immediately got their stories straight. . . . An investigation was carried out, at first they said it was an unjustified killing. . . . In the end they claimed that he was checking out escape routes for terrorists or something. . . . and they closed the case.”

Systemic dysfunction

“The system is deeply flawed. The entire administration, the way things are run, it’s not right. I don’t know how I would… I don’t think I did the right thing in this incident but it was what I had to do. It’s inevitable under these circumstances. . . . Yes, this entire situation is problematic.”

The full article was originally published in Yediot Ahronot. The full report can be found under the Resources (then Data Sources) tab on this website.

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