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'Breaking the Silence:' Women Soldiers Speak Out - 'Breaking the Silence:' Women Soldiers Speak Out

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'Breaking the Silence:' Women Soldiers Speak Out
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A Menashe Regional Brigade First Sergeant spoke of abused detainees brought in, soldiers guarding them, ordering them around, kicking them. "There were two detainees shackled, blindfolded, the works, surrounded by at least fifteen guys who were harassing them...It's fine, because they're Arabs so they're terrorists."

An Erez Crossing Sergeant said "It's terrible at the checkpoint....Palestinians came with bags of clothes, they'd be ripped....women are stripped" to their undergarments by female soldiers but not gently....they do this all the time." Some are entirely stripped. It's very degrading.

A Qalandiya Checkpoint Sergeant called her checkpoint duty "very shocking. I had a hard time....I felt uneasy from the first, found it difficult to think about."

A Hebron Sergeant said "one girl....slapped an Arab. He answered (her) rudely, so (she) gave him a slap in the face....the mere thought was just shocking. Other girls said they had done it and threatened them. One aimed her rifle at his face and coked it right there. I was shocked that they were my friends....guys do it often, cocking their rifles while threatening children, grownups, everyone."

A Gaza Lieutenant said that to cope you have to see humans as not quite human. "It means if you want to function, you have to protect yourself somehow. You mustn't feel too much. You have to be quite mechanical, quite detached. So I don't think (of Palestinians) as bad people or beasts" or our soldiers who abuse them. "I don't justify it for a second, but I think I would go crazy under such circumstances....I can imagine why a soldier might....beat up people, go home and beat up the whole world....because they've lost it much more than we have....They're constantly in this state of tremendous anger that is directed toward anything."

A Hebron Sergeant said a soldier on this post attacked an Arab boy and broke his leg. "I don't know who, and I don't know how it happened, but I do know that two of our guys got him into a Border Patrol jeep, and hardly two weeks later this kid was moving around with his two arms and two legs in plaster casts, in a wheelchair."

A Hebron Medical Corp Lieutenant described her experience as "Lots of blood. A nightmare....I only wanted to erase everything. Later, after a while, it began to pop up again." In the Territories, it's "a different world, different rules, different manners."

An Erez Crossing Sergeant said inspections are frustrating and scary. "I know the Border patrolmen take out their frustrations on the Palestinians. They are armed, it's the easiest way out. The slave with the scepter, kind of. I mean, you have the gun, the Palestinian doesn't. Usually he's holding stuff because he's been at the checkpoint since 2 in the morning, and he hasn't seen his wife for three months already and he can't even remember his kids' names." Still the Border patrolmen make fun of them behind their backs. And they humiliate them and tear their belongings. "I think it's horrible. I thought it was horrible then, too."

A Hebron Sergeant said "we were the good guys. The Border patrolmen were the bad guys. They would settle accounts in a big way. As for hitting - they were on jeeps the whole time, less on foot, so they would simply take people into their jeeps and beat them to a pulp. You'd see a jeep pass by and a person thrown out of it suddenly....thrown into the street.....They would check someone right next to me and do it brutally....They were about dominance."

A Seam Zone First Sergeant said another patrolwoman with her talked about women combatants being more violent than men. Some kids came along with bags, and she called them out to come over. "She opened their bags and found this kind of fly-swat inside. So she (told them to run) up and down the hill in ten seconds. They're scared....So they ran (but she) hit him with that fly-swat. The kid began to cry."

But she kept harassing them and threatened to beat them up. Finally she let them go. Guys did it, too, so she asked them "why are you beating up this kid....treat him like a human being so he won't want to blow himself up on you tomorrow. There were guys who did listen, not everyone wants to beat up Arabs. But there was definitely that atmosphere and it was totally routine.

An Erez Crossing Sergeant explained ways of harassing Palestinians, such as saying: "You want to pass tomorrow? Bring me a pack of cigarettes" or food or something else to take from them. "It was the norm."

"You go down to the checkpoint and your bullet-proof vests have "Death to Arabs" written on them. "Stuff like that." You do all sorts of things to humiliate them and brag "about all the loot" you bring back. "The Arabs are the enemy. The more you make them suffer, the better."

A Hebron Sergeant said "There was this one single time I harassed an Arab brutally....There were lots of soldiers punishing Arabs," making them do all sorts of things, including threatening them with pointed weapons or making them wait for hours.

A Jenin Sergeant said she was with her squadron-commander who shot a kid riding a bicycle near the Separation Wall. Other soldiers killed another boy when he got scared and ran away. She related other incidents of firing rubber bullets and tear gas at demonstrators. She herself was on standby and didn't shoot.

Other incidents involved shackling, blindfolding and slapping boys who threw stones, then "dry them out in the sun." Property was also destroyed and concussion grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets used freely against demonstrators.

A Hebron Sergeant said some commanders and soldiers talk about human dignity, "that it's really important. But when it comes to facts on the ground, it's all bullshit. People behaved as they pleased." They disregard people, shove them, curse them, harass them in other ways.

A Hebron Sergeant said soldiers' "brutality comes out in the toughest situations. And I think the Border patrolmen I lived with for half a year were people whose very language is violence. They also communicate violently with each other. Verbal aggression, plenty of dirty talk (and) that's how they behave....Whether it's the Palestinians or each other....The rules are just for appearances. There are no rules."

Whenever there's an incident investigation, it ends with no conclusion. Some of the things gotten away with are awful because you're in a position to do anything you want - harassing, beatings, shootings, anything, including against children. "It's horrifying," but goes on all the time.

Abuses in Times of War

The above abuses happened during the second Intifada. During wars they're far worse. On February 3, The (London) Independent's Donald Macintyre quoted an Israeli commander saying: "We rewrote the rules of war for Gaza." As a result, civilians were freely targeted. People posing no threat were shot or attacked by drones or helicopters. A junior officer said the policy followed the 2006 Lebanon war to assure "literally zero risk to the soldiers."

It was Israel's Dahiya Doctrine, named after the Beirut suburb the IDF destroyed in the conflict. The idea was to treat civilians the same as combatants, an approved plan according to Northern Command General Gabi Eisenkot at the time. Southern Command General Yoav Galant used the strategy to "send Gaza decades into the past," with no regard for the safety or welfare of civilians or the entire infrastructure of the territory. Major General Giora Eiland said it was to destroy "the national infrastructure and (inflict) intense suffering among the population."

Dahiya tactics were central to the overall war strategy to inflict mass civilian deaths, injuries, destruction, and human suffering on 1.5 million Gazans. Israel waged its most brutal offensive since its 1948 War of Independence. Still under siege, Gaza is prevented from recovering, and its people keep suffering.

Israeli Conscription

Israel alone requires men and women to perform military duty. In February 1948, all 19 - 25 year old married and single males became obliged to serve. In August 1948, conscription of single and married women without children became mandatory - to "tak(e) care of the (IDF's) special needs (serving as) nurses, signal operators, drivers, clerks, quartermasters, cooks, and more." Additional roles today include intelligence, technology, combat support, and as volunteer combatants.

During Israel's War of Independence, women performed combat service. Afterward, they were exempted until the late 1990s. In 2001, its first female fighter pilot graduated. In the 2006 Lebanon war, 14% of female reserves saw combat duty, many as medics.

During the British Mandate, the Haganah operated as a paramilitary force. In May 1948, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) replaced it, comprised of the Army, Air Force and small Navy.

Today, Israel's 1986 National Defence Service Law is the legal basis for conscription. It requires all Israeli citizens and permanent residents to serve, both men and women. However, the Ministry of Defence has discretion under Article 36 to exempt non-Jews, except the Druze. Israeli Arabs may volunteer, but they're not encouraged, and very few do. Reserve service is also required up to age 51 for men and 24 for women.

Exemptions are possible for reasons of:

-- educational requirements;

-- religion (Orthodox Jews are exempted);

-- health;

-- family considerations;

-- married or pregnant women or those with children;

-- persons convicted of crimes;

-- the undereducated until they complete at least eight years of school; and

-- other considerations at the Defense Ministry's discretion.

Israeli law rejects conscientious objection rights for men and only partly accepts them for women on the basis of religion. Those refusing to serve may be prosecuted and imprisoned.

Yet, as a UN Charter signatory, Israel is obliged to comply with the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Its Article 18 guarantees everyone "the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion." So does the Universal Declaration of Human Rights under Article 18 stating the same thing.

By rejecting conscientious objection and requiring those claiming it to serve, Israel violates international law and a fundamental human right afforded everyone under it. As a result, under Article 35 (a) (2) of the National Defence Service Law:

-- failure to fulfill an obligated duty is punishable by up to two years imprisonment;

-- evading military service is subject to five years in prison;

-- refusing to perform reserve duties calls for up to a 56 day sentence, renewable if the objector refuses repeatedly;

-- helping someone avoid military service is punishable by a fine and up to two years in prison; and

-- disobeying call-up orders means facing up to five years imprisonment, although sentences rarely exceed 12 months.

Convictions are usually for the following reasons:

-- refusal to obey an order;

-- absence without leave;

-- desertion; or

-- refusal to be mobilized.

Continued refusal can mean discipline or court-martial, and repeat offenders face re-imprisonment, in violation of Article 14, paragraph 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stating:

"No one shall be liable to be tried or punished again for an offence for which he (or she) has already been finally convicted or acquitted in accordance with the law and penal procedure of each country."

Of course, international laws, including the UN Charter, Geneva and Hague Conventions, and Nuremberg Principles prohibit premeditated aggressive wars (and participation in them), defining crimes of war and against humanity, exempting no nation ever, under all conditions without exceptions.

Under Nuremberg's Principle VI, "crimes against peace" were defined as:

-- "planning, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances;" also participation in a plan or conspiracy to commit these violations;

War crimes included, but were not limited to:

-- "murder....ill-treatment of prisoners of war....killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity."

Crimes against humanity included:

-- "murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts done against any civilian population, or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds when such acts are done or such persecutions are carried on in execution of or in connection with any crime against peace or any war crime."

Throughout their history, Israel and America committed grievous crimes of war and against humanity, yet neither country has been held accountable under international law so they repeatedly commit them with impunity. So far, that is, until their eventual day of reckoning because things that can't go on forever won't.

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