A former Israeli soldier’s lucid memoir on his ideological conversion from a boy raised amid Holocaust memorials to a young man whose belief in Zionism and absolute evil was shaken.
Chayut, whose childhood was marked by anger, sorrow, shame and the “unwillingness to be a part of all this [Jewish legacy],” soon accepted the anti-Arab rhetoric of those around him, served as a youth counselor, joined the Nahal Brigade with pride and proclaimed Israel's cause to raise funds in the United States. Doubts regarding his service in the "most moral army in the world," however, were planted during the course of a routine excursion when he encountered a villager who returned his smile with fear—a moment he would later consider pivotal and which helped him to realize that in the girl’s eyes, he was the enemy. Through travel after leaving the army, meeting Bedouins, Palestinians and others, Chayut gradually distanced himself from his former righteousness. The latter half of the book chronicles the author’s efforts with Breaking the Silence—an organization that urges Israeli soldiers to record their experiences in the occupied territories—and includes some of the testimonies he has gathered over the years: e.g., “Soldiers shoot wildly into residential areas without even knowing where the shots they’re supposedly reacting to are coming from….Neighborhoods are sprayed with gunfire and the guys laugh their hearts out.” Readers initially drawn to this title for its controversial topic will find that the book is more layered than a straightforward confession of military crimes. The author skillfully plays out questions of regret, nationalism, misplaced loyalty and the courage to remake one’s life against the chance meeting with the girl who unwittingly sparked reflection.
Chayut’s account of self-reckoning is remarkable not only for the portrait of an unexpected turnaround, but also for its appealing prose.