by Adri Nieuwhof, EI
The Israeli veterans’ organization Breaking The Silence has documented numerous confessions over the last nine years.
These shocking admissions from Israeli soldiers document the maltreatment of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. The confessions prove that the immoral behavior seen in the disturbing images posted on Israeli soldiers’ Instagram accounts, as revealed by The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah are not the case of a few bad apples.
Here follows a selection of a few of the group’s confessions.
“Beating some Arab to a pulp”
The practice of taking abusive pictures of Palestinians captives was confessed by several soldiers. For example, a staff sergeant from the Golani Brigade witnessed “people took photos of dead men.” He mentioned:
a photo of my crew taken with a shirtless prisoner, wearing a Golani cap and everyone standing around him.
A staff sergeant from the paratroopers in Hebron confessed that photos are taken while someone [a Palestinian] is picked up for interrogation, blindfolded, hands tied, and he’s placed in a post like that and…”
When asked if everyone would come along and get their pictures taken with someone who is shackled, he replies, “Yes, that was normal.” He said the soldiers would hang the photos up at home.
The rules of engagement are not clear confessed a staff sergeant from the paratroopers. “We did not get any clarification orders.”
[I]f something really happened, they would deny it somehow and not take it up to higher echelons, so they would not be screwed themselves. That is why there were many instances where instead of being taken up, they remained on the company level. Eventually, the company commander knows about it but doesn’t report it.
The same sergeant confessed that he had witnessed soldiers who took a Palestinian into the back alley in Hebron:
When I got there the officer and another soldier were beating some Arab to a pulp, and another guy stood by and took pictures. This reached the company commander first. When the company commander heard this… he was busy and didn’t have time to run the company, things got really chaotic and he did nothing about it.
Finally, the sergeant who witnessed the incident informed the battalion commander who “got rid of the company commander.”
In response to the question why a soldier comes and takes pictures of “his commander beating up an Arab,” the sergeant replies:
It’s a game, like getting pictures taken with a woman’s underwear and bra (the witness told about such an incident at a Palestinian home in the Ramallah area, earlier in the interview). So that’s how it is…
“Morals and war don’t go together”
The confession of a lieutenant from the educational corps gives a clear insight into the morals of the Israeli occupation forces.
The education officer had “to analyze and evaluate some value or educational content of the events.” The soldier said to have worked mostly with commanders and staff officers at the division headquarters. The confession exposes there was no framework for how to execute and report such “value analyses:”
[I]ncidents that involved human dignity and such, we’d simply write it up ourselves, the whole thing. It also seemed pretty pretentious to me to scold them, tell them it was out of line.
The educational officer said the following about the task of issuing propaganda bulletins:
I don’t know, I felt like the propaganda minister of the Nazis or something. It was this really fascist stuff, I had to tell them what value they had violated in what they did, why this was important and why we should never [do] this again. Practically speaking, who am I and do I think I am, I who have no idea of values, or of warfare, and what good would it do, anyway. I mean, they are obliged to do these things, and if something doesn’t break inside you, like I said earlier, then you simply can’t function. So you’ll get discharged on psychological grounds, or you’ll be a conscientious objector, or you’ll shoot yourself in the head, or something will break and you’ll turn into some, I don’t know… Frankly, I’d sit there facing thisSpirit of the IDF document and try to analyze the values and simply couldn’t believe a word I read there and I couldn’t care less because it seemed to me so totally unconnected, so detached, and not about what the hell we’re doing in this place. If we’re in this place then what is the point of talking values? Morals and war don’t go together.
Looting personal property
The Israeli soldiers’ confessions reveal that looting Palestinian property is a common practice. A staff sergeant testified that during house searches:
there was not one person on the team who didn’t take some prayer beads or a picture or some other souvenir, and with time these became more than just prayer beads and souvenirs, people started to really look for stuff. You’re searching anyway, so let’s really search and look for lighters and cigarette boxes, and take such things. Finally, it got to discussions about taking money.
Another staff sergeant confessed there were
two guys in his company who went around sporting [Palestinian] prayer beads and other guys with these beautiful Arab daggers. I don’t believe they bought them, so I assume they took them off someone but I wasn’t present at such moments.
An education officer from the Nahal brigade testified that on her first day on duty almost all soldiers returned to the army base with prayer beads and small Qur’ans. When she asked “Where did you get these?” They said, “What do you mean? We’ve just been to Qalqiliya now, we took souvenirs from homes.”
After having informed her commander,
he got very annoyed right then and there, nearly threw the table and called up the advance-guard company commander. The company commander said, “I’ve never seen this girl, she’s lying, making it all up. No way! My soldiers wouldn’t do something like that.” The battalion commander hands me the phone and I tell the company commander, “Listen, it happened.” He answers, “Who are you, anyway? You little punk, you don’t understand.”
Another staff sergeant confessed:
Everyone knew that guys were picking up stuff. Everyone was walking around handling some prayer beads. You didn’t see anyone without them and the company commander certainly knew… I remember once, the company commander saw something like that and yelled for everyone to return it all, but no one really looked into this. No one got into those things.
Question: It was common knowledge that people had picked up money here and there. What size sums?
Answer: Several hundred shekels, but there were stories of thousands too. The Arabs keep their money at home, cash, as we know. Under the floor tiles… I can’t say these things with certainty, but no big deal was made of this. Much larger sums were taken. People’s whole savings.
A staff sergeant told Breaking the Silence about a horrible case of vandalism:
[I]n our first entry to Abu Sneina. We were in a house for some days and had to get out, and the things was that under that officer there were two soldiers, too, in my own platoon, who were very extreme with these things. Before they left that house, they simply vandalized anything they could there. They smashed floor tiles, all the lamps…
Question: How long did you stay there?
Answer: A week. Some days. One of the soldiers defecated on their bed. Like, really, all lines had been crossed. At the last moment, right before leaving, there was this crazy event, leaving Abu Sneina. The company commander had seen the house, by chance, he went in and saw it all, and he made them go back inside and fix everything, but they simply left. Simply left it all the way it was. There was nothing one could do about it. That’s another instance, and these were good soldiers, and the platoon commander knew about it. I mean, there’s a soldier who defecated on an Arab’s bed, in his own home. I mean…
Question: These soldiers were punished, eventually?
Answer: Nothing at all. It stayed like, nothing was passed on.
Question: Did the company commander know about it?
Answer: Not about this. The company commander knew that the house had been knocked up as it should be, he didn’t know about the shitting part specifically. The platoon commander did.
The soldiers were not punished.