A soldier’s-eye view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Breaking the Silence, an NGO founded in 2004 by Israeli Defense Forces veterans, isn’t likely to gain fans among the Likud for this collection of oral histories and testimonials from Israeli soldiers, almost all of them recounting episodes of oppression of the Palestinian minority. “In school they’re given the same worth as other human beings,” says one soldier of the Palestinians, whom he encounters daily at checkpoints and on patrols, “also at home, and also in the army according to the rules, but when you interfere in people’s lives like that, and you’re in control, and you can decide when he eats and when he does whatever, he slowly loses his worth.” The soldiers are nothing if not self-reflective, but their “harsh logic” would seem to be no different from that of any other occupying force: The other is to be feared and mistrusted, but also separated and tightly controlled, even at the risk of dehumanizing both occupied and occupier. “I hated them,” says another soldier. “I was such a racist there, as well, I was so angry at them for their filth, their misery, the whole fucking situation.” The testimonials have a depressing sameness: We thought we had to do it, many of them say, and we did it to a fault. That “it” might involve kidnapping or killing a suspected terrorist, but just as likely it involved lobbing shells to keep people from their sleep in a psychological ploy, to say nothing of entering a home and smashing a family’s belongings. All these things come through loud and clear—as does the soldiers’ disdain for illegal Israeli settlers who only multiply the bitterness and bloodshed.
Humanitarian activists and opponents of those settlements will find much ammunition in these pages.