HEBRON REFLECTION: Conversations with Israeli soldiers


27 April 2011
HEBRON REFLECTION: Conversations with Israeli soldiers

Recently I realized I had not
spoken with Israeli Jews very much throughout my three years in Hebron,
Palestine.  I decided that in the
spirit of nonviolent living, it was time for me to know soldiers more
personally and hear their stories. 
My first year in 2008 I thought of all the soldiers as coming from the
same mold, but now, eight stints later, each uniformed young man and woman  equipped with an M-16 has a name:  Nadeem, Udi, Michael, Alex , Mya, etc. 

I spoke to Udi many times as I
monitored soldier activity at the Mosque checkpoint, asking, “Why the
aggressiveness? Why the rough talk to the Palestinians? Why all the ID checks
of young Palestinian men?”  His
reply was, “It’s my job.” Other times Udi talked about his own history.  A suicide bombing killed his fiancée years
ago; yet, he wanted to treat the Palestinians like human beings with
respect.  Soon after this
conversation, Udi handled a young Palestinian man very roughly at a checkpoint.  In observing him, I remarked,  “Udi, that’s exactly the kind of
treatment I’ve been talking to you about. 
How can such treatment possibly be respectful or promote security?” What
is such treatment also doing to your spirit?” Very deliberately he said, “I’ve
been trying to act less aggressively lately.”

One soldier pleaded, “Look! Don’t
speak to us soldiers.  You’re
interfering in our job.” Others said bluntly, “I’m doing my job. You do yours
and I won’t interfere.”   One
Russian Israeli soldier looked the other direction as Jewish settlers destroyed
a small  road the Palestinians had
made to enable their tractor to cross the barrier the military had constructed.  One soldier said “Don’t talk to
me.  I’m going to speak about all
this when I get out of the Army.” 
Another soldier, “You think we don’t think about all this?  Every night!” 

The soldiers at the checkpoints obey
daily specific orders their commanding officer, the ones most responsible for
perpetuating the oppression, gives them: “Today stop teachers and hold them as
they’re on their way to their classrooms.” “Today search women’s purses.”  “Today check at least twenty backpacks
of the kids.” “Today stop young men.”  

Is it any wonder that the Israeli military
has the highest suicide rate of any population group in Israel?  One ex-soldier of ten years told he had
never wanted to join the Army. Once he was drafted, he made himself think of
the Palestinians as “things” or as “sacks” that needed to be moved from one
place to another. He survived psychologically with drugs and drinking.  Later he had to face up to the
brutalities he had committed; he said if he met a Palestinian now, he would say,
“I’m sorry.”

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