«Fat Ass» and «Cocksuckers» are only two of numerous invectives with which the settlers welcome an international group visiting Hebron, guided by an ex-Israeli soldier before being commanded at this place. This man knows what he is talking about. With noise attacks, the settlers try to disturb any spreading of information, for example, how settlers regularly attack the Palestinians, and already shot down their market in 1994, terrifying them by organised stealing acts and permanent aggressions, protected by a phlegmatic military that seldom gets active during those attacks. The settlers are protected by Israel’s civil law when on the same territory. At the same time, the Palestinians fall under military law. They cannot even pass the frontier into Jerusalem for the occasion of a family member’s funeral. The result: settlers spray graffiti, insults, break things, destroying water supply infrastructure, or harvest the olive trees before the Palestinian farmers can claim their crop – the fruit of their labour. Farmers sometimes even get beaten up on their own fields, not to mention incidences of violence breaking out; for example, when a settler breaks into a Mosque and kills 29 Palestinians with an automatic gun and wounds a further 120. The result: A curfew of two months for Palestinians, a time used by settlers to sometimes enter into Palestinian houses and take what they need, for example, wood for their bonfires.
The serving soldiers hadn’t been mentally prepared to arrive in these violent zones. The reality on the borders is quite taboo in Israel’s public media. Their frustration often transforms them into equally aggressive protagonists against Palestinians. Abusive food and water restriction and beatings in prison, sometimes a day-long, had been reported.
The Good Soldier
The testimonies to this reality are the Israeli soldiers themselves, speaking out after their service. Silvina Landsmann reported in The Good Soldier, their memories of service and experiences after their return to daily life. They are members of the BTS (Breaking the Silence) Organisation, dedicated to sharing the stories of Israeli soldiers who served in Occupied Territories.
It would be naive to think only the settlers are racist, brainwashed by mind groups. BTS members are confronted every day on the streets of Israel with comments about Palestinians as: «they are all murderers, they deserved a bullet in the head each and everyone». These fanatics are not isolated cases but guidelines by official politicians as Defence Minister Ya’alon, who banned the BTS organisation from working with soldiers, or Education Minister Bennett announcing they are no longer welcome in Israeli schools.
The BTS members want to clarify that the soldiers are not to blame, but the political system, the government, and the general society are. The hate spreads in all social groups, including some students, arguing «they are terrorists» and even claiming «there is no occupation». From the top, BTS members are accused of being why Israel is criticised on an international level.
The BTS activities are the direct result of Amos Oz’ and historian Avraham Shapira’s book Talks with Israeli Front Soldiers (Siach Lochamim), published in 1970 – a documentation of the traumatic experiences of Israel’s soldiers during the 6 Day war in 1967, based on testimonies on audio-tapes just a short time after.
Although in public they were celebrated as heroes, many of these men carried a lifelong burden. The soldiers’ refer to killing the captured and uprooting entire villages. These testified facts lead them to question whether the war was more about expansion than survival. These statements stayed quite unperceived and also censored. The publication offered only 70% of the actual recordings.
Although in public they were celebrated as heroes, many of these men carried a lifelong burden.
This changed only 48 years later when Mor Loushy got access to the original tapes by Avraham Shapiras. In her documentary Censored Voices (2018), besides the emotional impact of evident war crimes, she underlines the surprising fact that these soldiers already in 1967 anticipated the future, understanding that Israel’s control over these territories would end in catastrophe.
Silvina Landsmann’s perspective on Israeli reality offers the vision of a wrong going system, which initiatives try to correct, preventing further damage. One of these groups is BTS, in other words, the (ex) soldiers themselves.
The First 54 Years
Avi Mograbi, the world-renowned critic of Israel’s occupation politics, offers in The First 54 Years – An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation a quite advanced analytical vision. For him, these accused realities are neither false nor containing errors. All these aggressions and violence are a necessary part of a clear strategy from the beginning: To win the land, to get rid of the Palestinians living and working in Gaza and The West Bank. When they finally remark that all their strategies; like the intimidation acts by the military and settlers violence, but also political strategies had failed, like causing conflicts between Palestinians (Divide and Rule), for example, by punishing communities for individual acts, the recognition that the resistance can’t be broken becomes evident, the last phase of the government’s «interventions» begins: just creating terror. Their destruction activities ultimately give them legitimation as an answer to the suicide attacks on Israel’s territory.
Their destruction activities ultimately give them legitimation as an answer to the suicide attacks on Israel’s territory.
The phase of permanent intrusions in houses, degradations, incarnations without trial, total control of movements between towns, creation of sterile zones (forbidden for Palestinians) or the simple destructions of homes, trees, and plantations are just the helpless answer of a painful disillusion. In Mograbi’s view, the military’s «misbehaviour» or the settlers intrusions are just part of the same enterprise. Each Palestinian now is a potential «terrorist». Also, Mograbi shows soldiers, but this time speaking about purely causing pain and shedding blood, revenge killings, and random shootings with heavy weapons of everything that moves behind a sterile zone.
Besides Mograbi’s «winning-land» accusation, the question about the real strategy can be answered in an even more frightening way. Here we have to go back to 2013, when at the Nyon’s Vision du Réel, Yotam Feldman analytical documentary The Lab (Hamaabada) was presented, which shows the profound impact of the military industry on the economic surviving of State Israel. Israel cannot be interested in peace because they use the ongoing conflict as a publicity machine to sell their weapons worldwide. The consumer demand is enormous: Starting with the Brazilian military police to various mafias and criminal organisations worldwide, all of them invited as hospitality guests, drinking, eating, and joking, to see, practice with, and buy Israeli weapons, a proven and guaranteed effectiveness by demonstration.
The completed picture
To complete the picture, we also should see Mohammed Alatar’s documentary Broken – A Palestinian Journey Through International Law (2018), about the powerlessness of international law facing the 700 km-long wall between Israel and Palestine, declared as illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Finally, Ada Ushpiz in Children (Yeladim) (2020) points out the impact of the war and its media on the mental development of children being used from all sides for political interests, entities being programmed to perpetuate the war in the next generation.