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'Breaking the Silence:' Women Soldiers Speak Out

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'Breaking the Silence:' Women Soldiers Speak Out
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Breaking the Silence is an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects anonymous testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifada." They recount experiences that deeply affected them, including abusing Palestinians, looting, destroying property, and other practices "excused as military necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases."

They disagree in describing "the depth of corruption which is spreading in the Israeli military" to which its society and most Western observers turn a blind eye. Since 2004, "Breaking the Silence" collected over 650 testimonies, including from combat veterans. Most  remain anonymous to avoid recriminations, but feel compelled to go public - to "demand accountability regarding Israel's military actions in the Occupied Territories perpetrated by us in our name."

Last year, a collection of 54 damning testimonies from 30 Israeli soldiers was published. On January 31, a new publication was released titled, "Breaking the Silence: Women Soldiers' Testimonies," a collection of 96 stories from dozens of women who served in the Territories since 2000.

On January 29, Israel's ynetnews.com reported that "Female soldiers break their silence," revealing accounts of "systematic humiliation of Palestinians, reckless and cruel violence, theft, killing of innocent people and cover-up."

On July 15, 2009, Reuters reported that participating IDF soldiers in the recent Gaza conflict said "they were urged by commanders to shoot first and worry later about sorting out civilians from combatants. Accordingly, they (said, they) went into Gaza with guns blazing," with comments like the following typical of others:

-- "If you're not sure, kill;"

-- "Better hit an innocent than hesitate to target an enemy;"

-- "In urban warfare, anyone is your enemy; no innocents;" and

-- "They kept repeating to us that this is war and in war opening fire is not restricted....There was a clear feeling, and this was repeated whenever others spoke to us, that no humanitarian consideration played any role in the army at present."

In his book titled, "The 'Good Soldier' on Trial: A Sociological Study of Misconduct by the US Military Pertaining to Operation Iron Triangle, Iraq," Professor Stjepan Mestrovic documented disturbing evidence of illegal US rules of engagement (ROE); namely, that commanders order troops to commit war crimes, citing an Army brigade colonel saying kill every military-aged Iraqi on sight, even civilians posing no threat.

Yet when the truth comes out, low-ranking soldiers are blamed, prosecuted, and punished to absolve superiors up the chain of command to the top. Mestrovic correctly observed "that a crime becomes a 'war crime' when it involves the government, which is to say, when a crime is the result of unlawful social policies and plans."

According to noted sociologist Emile Durkheim, "The immorality of war depends entirely on the leaders who willed it - the soldier and even those government officials who had no part in the decision remain innocent."

It's true in America, Israel and all sides in times of war.

Anonymous Testimonies of Female Combatants

Like their male counterparts, courageous female soldiers went public, "shed(ding) additional light on what happens in the back yard of the State of Israel," that what once was "exceptional," is now the norm. As a result, Israeli society is sliding down "an ethical slope together with the entire military system."

A Border Patrol First Sergeant said:

"Somehow, a female combatant has to prove herself more, on the ground too. Again a female combatant who can lash out is a serious fighter. Capable. A ball-breaker. There was one with me when I got there, she'd been there long before, she was - wow, everyone talked about what grit she had, because she could humiliate Arabs without batting an eyelash. That was the thing to do."

She had a good reputation in her company until in the field and wasn't tough. Too "wimpy," (she said), unlike "guys (who) need to prove themselves less in this respect....We (talked about) tough female combatant(s) having no problem beating up Arabs....Take a look at that one, a real 'ball-breaker,' see her humiliating them, slapping them, what a slap she gave that guy! You hear this kind of talk all the time."

A Hebron Regional Brigade/Education Corp officer said she witnessed two soldiers "pacing around a detainee - blindfolded, his hands shackled behind his back. Suddenly I see that one of the guys simply approaches him, and without any warning, knee-kicks him in the head."

She leapt at him saying, "You're coming with me now," but he didn't understand how a female soldier could order him around. Her rank concealed under a fleeze jacket, "He shoved me off, this was a big guy - he pushed me away and ran into the barracks." Complaining to the deputy commander, she was told "Let it go, it's pointless." She had a hard time accepting it.

A Border Patrol First Sergeant recounted incidents of violence, including harassment, keeping Palestinians on their feet, in formation made to sing and hop, and if anyone laughs he gets punched. "It can last for hours" against anyone, including women, children and the elderly. "Some (of us) had absolutely no restraint and abused anyone."

A Gaza Division Education Corps Officer described the "everyday routine of combat service," saying only in retrospect did she realize "to what extent I had not been a human being out there....it's like a movie with a lot of death around you, an unreasonable reality, with soldiers doing inhumane things to others....doing irrational things to other people."

Another Border Patrol First Sergeant recalled chasing a Palestinian who was ordered to halt when he began running. Even though he wasn't a threat, they shot and killed him. "An investigation was carried out. First they said it was really an unjustified killing. He was a child about nine years old....Eventually the army claimed he was doing something (like) checking escape spots for terrorists....And that was that, the file was closed."

An Erez Crossing Sergeant said "there was this procedure, before you released a Palestinian back into the Strip, you'd take him into the tent and beat him up." Commanders took part....even if I let an illegal go at my side of the checkpoint, until he'd get to Gaza he'd go through hell. (He'd) be stopped along the way and every soldier would take his turn beating him. Commanders, too."

A Border Patrol Seam Zone (between the Green Line and Separation Wall) First Sergeant recalled "patroll(ing) the Fence and a group of tiny children were standing near (it) and throwing these little stones at the vehicles of the fence construction firm." They weren't harming anyone, but the commander ordered, "Okay, load rubber ammo," so she loaded and explained that bullets come in units of three, and soldiers peel off the rubber "because that hurts more." It also kills or badly wounds.

She fired low, in the ground near their feet, angering her operations officer who took her gun and said, "You don't know how to shoot." She responded, "Where do you want me to shoot? He came along, fired....Straight at the belly. Fortunately he missed. But he fired straight at their belly, and of course they ran."

A Jenin Border Patrol First Sergeant said she felt guilty about not having said anything about what went on, but believes "it wouldn't have made any difference....There is still an air of violence so when "things get boring....let's invent an incident." Make one up. "Get on the radio and report: Stones have been thrown at me on this street. And then you detain someone and start questioning him....Naturally, when they're caught, they're beaten up" even if nothing happened.

An Etzion Regional Brigade Sergeant said stone-throwers "get beaten up and taken to brigade headquarters....They beat the hell out of (them) or take (them) to division headquarters....If kids throw stones, all the shops in the village would be shut down."

A Hebron Hills Border Patrol First Sergeant spoke about daily roadblocks and her position as a crew commander. "You've got to throw your weight around, show authority....I mean, I've never raised a hand against (Palestinians). There are other ways to make them understand. Once we were blocking a certain road and there were about ten vans with 20 - 30 passengers each. (They) have to stand waiting....everyone gets off with their belongings, their permits, and they're checked one by one. (At times) there were detector dogs, trackers, explosive and weapons detectors that would join us."

She'd "start checking them (all). They would wait inside the cars." Everyone is checked on the police computer to learn who's authorized to drive. Those who aren't are detained and turned over to the police. They're fined and if they don't report to a traffic police station in two day "there would be an arrest warrant against (them) and more fines." The idea is to teach them a lesson and make them pay so "they'd not mess with us any more."

A Hebron Sergeant complained that she wasn't cut out to be a combatant, then explained that when "An Arab says something to her that he shouldn't, for example - she calls some four guys from her company to come handle him (and they) beat him to a pulp." She then detains the person.

She said once when she was on alert, there was a boom. "We heard a shot and of course I was on patrol so we ran over to see what happened, and there's a girl soldier standing like this, facing an Arab bleeding on the ground, and she says something like: 'He tried to attack me.' We look at him and he's shot in the belly (and) we ask her. What did he do? How did he attack you?"

She was confused and didn't know what to say, then "told some story about asking him for his ID and he wouldn't show it, and then he attacked her and somehow she tried to get away and turned around and shot him in the belly, something of that sort. You look and see an Arab who's been shot at point-blank range and he's holding his ID. And you say to her: Listen, this is impossible. Your story doesn't add up."

Apparently he approached to hand her his ID. "She then shoved him off with her rifle" and shot him in the belly. Instead of saying what have I done, we hear her saying he tried to attack me. This girl finally admitted he really got too close so she shot him....And she was not prosecuted....She was re-assigned to the Military Police. That was her punishment."

The commander tried to cover up the incident. He said "Just stop it! Stop asking her what she means! Enough of this! She's telling you he tried to attack her, what's there not to understand?"

So you can shoot someone, spit in their face and never get caught. "I think that this determination 'never to get caught' really shows that what I'm doing is wrong - so I mustn't get caught....It means everyone was pretty much aware of what went on there, and that it's not right." But soldiers do it all the time.

Another Hebron Sergeant talked about Palestinian children fearing Israeli ones because they threw stones at them as they passed by. And their parents said nothing. It became routine. "Since the one (throwing stones) was Jewish and the other Palestinian, it seemed all right....And the Palestinian had done nothing. I know this kid's parents teach him to hate Palestinians. I'm a Jewish Israeli soldier, and I'm supposed to be against the Arabs who are my enemies, (but I think) the Jews are wrong. So wait a minute, no, I have to switch my mind and go on hating Arabs and justifying the Jews.  But wait," it's not okay.

So "on the one hand you're angry at your own people for being here....On the other hand, you also hate the Arabs because they kill your buddies and give you a hard time." So you end up hating everyone. "I'll swear" and spit at Arabs....it was a cool thing to do. I mean I can't go around boasting of having arrested anyone, or be proud of having caught a terrorist....But I can spit at them and humiliate and ridicule them."

Another Hebron Border Patrol Sergeant recalled going on a weapons search mission at 2AM. "So we entered these people's home, the father opens the door for us, in his robe, and the mother and grandmother and two little kids woke up too....The kids were absolutely horrified. The soldiers turned their whole house inside out, I never imagined it like this....you can open a drawer and throw all of its contents out, and leave it like that....The soldiers go on, opening and trashing and trashing just about everything in the house....And we didn't find a thing. Nothing."

They spent a hour "and were going nuts because (we) were certain, (we) had information, I don't know what, (we) were confident (we) were going for a find. So (we) trashed and trashed and left not one thing in its place. Then we went on to the second house, and I couldn't understand why we do it this way. And that was the first moment I realized why we are looked at like that, and why we are so hated. You enter in the most disgusting manner, without a drop of humanity....And the owner keeps pleading, saying don't do this to me....I just wanted to get out of there, just get out." When the men entered, they kicked the father in front of the kids.

A Hebron Sergeant told of an Israeli girl who saw an Arab walk by so "she grabbed this huge rock and ran toward him, leapt and boom! She banged his head with it....And this man was just an old man walking along the street. Then she started yelling: 'Yuck, his blood is all over me, so sickening!' (Then a soldier) charged at him (for yelling at the girl) and punched him as though he was threatening (her). I stood there in absolute shock."

A Hebron Medical Corp Lieutenant recalled cases where Palestinians were denied aid. "In Hebron, on the seam-line when a Palestinian got hit, the first procedure was to summon the Red Crescent....The medics of Kiryat Arba - Hebron do not approach Palestinians to give them aid." Once, she acted on her own initiative, spoke to the division medical officer in charge, "and he yelled at me, no way! We don't confirm such events. So I still activated MDA Kiryat Arba, sent them in after all, in other words lied to them and said it was authorized, and yes, go on, take the guy in. I got yelled at on every possible echelon later on....The division medical officer (told her) to forget it. Who cares....Yes....Right. He's a doctor."

A Seam Zone First Sergeant told about women combatants slapping Palestinian women. "There were two of them who really enjoyed hitting out. But the guys, too, had no problem slapping women. If she would scream they would (say) shut up and slap her. It was routine violence there. Again, there were guys who didn't, but everyone knew about this."

A Border Patrol First Sergeant was teamed "with some guy, we stopped someone (and) the soldier said: What are you laughing at? The guy was not laughing, (but the soldier said) I'm not a Border patrolman, let's fight. Obviously the guy is not going to hit him back, only pleaded and pleaded with him to let him go." The soldier kept taunting him to punch back, so "he pick(ed) up his rifle and start(ed) using it to hit the guy....This was routine there."

A Gaza Erez Crossing Sergeant described it, saying "It's constructed as a vast compound with lots of concrete ledges, but not too high. The checkpoint is huge. It's a giant installation you can see from very far off....you can always see the Palestinians moving around....It seemed to me like a jail....there are these metal pens, with people, soldiers scattered along several strategic points. Everyone's armed of course....It's all metal doors, a highly upgraded checkpoint as it were, hardly any human contact at all."

Palestinians queue up when the gates open at 3AM. "There's already crowding around one AM, they'll wait and quarrel and all. Because they're not told how many will be allowed in....Back in the good old days....tens of thousands came through....(Now) there are no humanitarian work permits....In short, regulations have gotten much tighter since I got there."

A Gaza Education Corp Lieutenant said she was shocked by a video showing "some old Palestinian farmer who got too close to the (Separation) fence, and you simply see the tank shell coming and blowing him up....It doesn't make sense and it's inhuman." There were many other cases like it. "Cases where Palestinians didn't mean to infiltrate or anything like that, as it came out in inquiries after the fact, but were shot" for being under suspicion....it looked to me like some kind of video game, you're not really seeing a human being." It's like "it's not happening."A Golani Brigade Sergeant said she attended a class to learn some Arabic, basic things like "open fire instructions (and) Stop! Stop or I shoot!" Five minutes "into class time, a guy stands up (and said to the instructor): "Listen, cutie, forget it....We don't talk. We shoot. Then maybe we talk." They see no one as innocent, so all Palestinians are fair game.

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