BREAKING THE SILENCE
Children and Youth –
Soldiers’ Testimonies 2005-2011
“Breaking the Silence” is an organization of Israeli veterans who served during the Second Intifada, beginning in 2000. The organization aims to make public the everyday life routine as it exists in the Occupied Territories, a reality that remains voiceless in the media, and to serve as an alternative information conduit for the public at large about the goings-on in the State of Israel’s ‘backyard’.
The organization was founded in 2004, and since then has received unique public and media standing, bearing the voice of soldiers who have previously kept silent. Since its inception, over 800 male and female soldiers have given testimony about their experiences in the military. They described the reality of military rule in the Occupied Territories for the
past twelve years, as reflected by the soldiers’ point of view.
The main purpose of “Breaking the Silence” is to arouse public discussion of the moral price that Israeli society pays for a reality in which young soldiers face a civilian population and dominate it on a daily basis. Every testimony published by the
organization undergoes careful research. This includes verification of the facts and crossing-checking them with other testimonies and archive materials of human rights organizations active on the ground. Our journalistic mode of operation requires the identity of testifiers to remain confidential.
The testimonies published in this booklet have remained in their original formulation, except for dropping any information that might help identify the witness. Certain short notes have been added in parentheses in certain cases, to clarify content and military terminology.
We wish to thank our volunteers and activists who have dedicated their time and energy, enabling this publication. Without their extensive assistance we could not bring such important testimonies to the attention of those who must be made aware
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1: “What is that job, really?”
Unit: Armored Corps
Rank: First Sergeant
We moved to the Ariel area, near Nablus. We were in charge of the entire road that crossed the West Bank from west to east, all the way up to the checkpoint at Tapuach Junction. Our designated mission was to prevent acts of terrorism. Simply handle the population. We would enter villages on a daily basis, at least twice or three times a day, to make our presence felt, and… it was like we were occupying them. Showing we’re there, that the area is ours, not theirs.
How is this done?
A patrol goes in, or two patrols, two hummers secured by a jeep, and raise hell inside the villages. A whole company may be sent in on foot in two lines like a military parade in the streets, provoking riots, provoking children. The commander is bored and wants to show off to his battalion commander, and he does it at the expense of his subordinates. He wants more and more friction, just to grind the population, make their lives more and more miserable, and to discourage them from throwing stones, to not even think about throwing stones at the main road. Not to mention Molotov cocktails and other things. Practically speaking, it worked. The population was so scared that they shut themselves in. They hardly came out. Earlier I recall a lot of cabs with people on their way to work near the main road. Then it hardly existed any more. The whole village shut itself in. This just shows what a company commander is capable of doing.
What level does this reach? What is he able to do?
At first you point your gun at some five-year-old kid, and feel bad afterward, saying it’s not right. Then you get to a point where… you get so nervous and sick of going into a village and getting stones thrown at you. But it’s obvious, you’re inside the village, you’ve just passed the school house, naturally the kids will throw stones at you. Once my driver got out, and without blinking, just grabbed some kid and beat him to a pulp.
And that kid was just sitting in the street and looked like some other kid, or wore another kid’s shirt, or perhaps he was that kid but that’s not the point. He beat him to a pulp. Didn’t detain him. Just beat him. And I remember they had this pool hall. These were already the more ‘serious’ guys, the ones who throw Molotov cocktails.
In order to get them out, detain and interrogate them, we’d catch them – my company commander caught a 12-year-old kid there once, and made him get down on his knees in the middle of the street. Yelled like a madman – it looked like some Vietnam War movie – so that the other guys come out or else he’ll do something really bad to them. He’d do something to that kid. I knew it was just a hollow threat, and after all the guy’s an officer, and I don’t think an officer would do anything, but…
Actually shackled him?
He had a plastic shackle. I remember it was raining. We went in, and as usual stones were thrown at us. My communications man who runs fast caught this kid who supposedly threw stones, shackled him and took him to the company commander. Brought him back to this place in front of that pool hall. The vehicles were parked there. He got him down on his knees and yelled as if…
No, in Hebrew, very loud so that the kids from that club would come out so we could interrogate them. They didn’t come out on their own.
What did he yell at the kid?
He yelled at him to shut up and the kid cried of course… He also peed in his pants, in front of the whole village. He got him on his knees and began to scream in Hebrew, to swear at him: “Those fucking kids from the club should come out already!” “Get those whores out!” “Let him be scared!” “Look what I can do!” “I’ll show this kid.” Finally the kids didn’t come out, but we always had in mind that image of the old Arab with his keffiya and stick. Regardless if there’s shooting or stones, no matter what, he’s a kid in the middle of the street. Kids and soldiers both would respect him. So this old guy comes along and somehow convinces my company commander to release the kid. And that’s how that episode ended. We got out of there. The next day two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the main road. So we didn’t really do our job. And you wonder what that job really is.
2. “Until someone comes to pick them up”
Unit: Nahal Brigade
Rank: First Sergeant
On your first arrest mission, you’re sure it’s a big deal, and it’s actually bullshit. You enter the Abu Sneina (Hebron) neighborhood and pick up three children. After that whole briefing, you’re there with your bulletproof vest and helmet and stuck with that ridiculous mission of separating women and children. It’s all taken so seriously and then what you end up with is a bunch of kids, you blindfold and shackle them and drive them to the police station at Givat Ha’avot. That’s it, it goes on for months and you eventually stop thinking there are any terrorists out there, you stop believing there’s an enemy, it’s always some children or adolescents or some doctor we took out. You never know their names, you never talk with them, they always cry, shit in their pants.
Was there a case of someone shitting in his pants?
I remember once. Always that crying. There are those annoying moments when you’re on an arrest mission, and there’s no room in the police station, so you just take the kid back with you to the army post, blindfold him, put him in a room and wait for the police to come pick him up in the morning. He sits there like a dog… We did try to be nice and find a mattress for them, some water, sometimes some food, and they’d sit there blindfolded and shackled, left like that until morning. Those were the instructions. That, or just to leave them in the war-room. That was also standard procedure. Until morning, until someone came to pick them up.
4.”We put some kid to sleep”
Unit: Paratroopers Brigade
Rank: First Sergeant
When there’s a “disturbance of the peace” the unit commander is authorized to ask the battalion commander for permission to shoot the leader in the leg.
What is a leader?
These are kids. Everyone participating is a kid. No older than 16. At most, 18. Usually when we come in, they don’t go to school. We’re the attraction and they come out to ‘play’. I even remember once we put on music for them through some cellular phone. We also got used to this. We were relatively sane, took things fairly in proportion. We’d get… cement blocks and crazy things thrown at our vehicle and you… at first you use some rubber ammo and then realize, it’s silly. Once… there’s this PA system we have (a sound system for addressing a large public), so we put on music from a cell phone and everyone started dancing.
Yes, it was huge. We put on music and suddenly they all stopped throwing stones and began to dance. It was eastern music so they were dancing with their hands. Then the song ended and they went on throwing stones. It was really serious. You realize who you’re dealing with here. These are kids. Chances are I’d do exactly as they do if I were in their shoes.
There was a case of a unit commander who decided to shoot a guy in the leg because he runs the show, and it happened.
Yes. Live, not rubber. You know, from the point of view of the commander, they would have stopped throwing anyway.
When you begin getting hit with stones, you get out of the jeep?
You shoot the rubber ammo from inside the jeep?
You shoot through the loophole.
Where do you aim? Do you choose some kid at random?
Yes. Choose someone, aim at his body.
Center of mass.
10 meters range at the center of mass?
I remember one time we put a kid down. We didn’t kill him but someone hit the kid in the chest and he fell and probably lost consciousness, or at least, it was pretty close. About 10 meters’.
Were you instructed as to how to use rubber ammo?
No. It’s like… There are rules. They tell you to shoot four. There’s this cluster of rubber bullets, pieces with four parts, packed in a kind of nylon. You can break it in two, so it’s stronger and flies further. As soon as it’s four it’s less strong and flies less far. We’d usually break it in half.
Is this something you were told to do? That if you want to achieve a longer range you break it in half?
No, we figured it out ourselves. It’s something that’s common knowledge in the army. People know about this. It’s not… When you use a weapon, you get to know it pretty well, I guess.
Just so you know, as soon as this pack is broken in half, it becomes lethal.
Really? Well, that’s what we did.
We did, too. As soon as the ‘tampons’ are separated, they’re lethal. The nylon must not be removed.
We barely fired a whole cluster, I mean four. It’s like you want to save ammo, too.
12. “Human advantage”
One night, things were hopping in Idna village, so we were told there’s this wild riot, and we should get there fast. Our officer wasn’t there. The sergeant, plus a team of six soldiers, mount a secured vehicle, and we go to Idna. At some point it was really crazy there, burning tires, burning garbage bins in the middle of the road. We drive and whole rocks land on the vehicle, thrown from the rooftops. Our hearts were pumping madly.
You entered the village?
There were lots of forces there. Us, and the front command jeep with the company commander, battalion commander, his deputy and the command of another three companies, three patrols. The village was swamped with army personnel. We drove the company commander’s jeep along quite a main street in the village, next to the mosque, several times. Suddenly we were showered with stones and didn’t know what was going on. Everyone stopped suddenly, the sergeant sees the company commander get out of the vehicle and joins him. We jump out without knowing what was going on – I was last. Suddenly I see a shackled and blindfolded boy. The stoning stopped as soon as the company commander gets out of the car. He fired rubber ammo at the stone-throwers and hit this boy. The boy was holding his belly and tried to run or throw another stone, there are several versions of this. This is what I was told afterward, I didn’t see it myself. The company commander punched him, very fast, made him fall on the ground and the medic and communications man tied him up and blindfolded him. All this happened within 20 seconds from the moment the vehicle stopped until I saw him shackled. He was put in our vehicle and you saw he was filthy from the stones. He asked: “What did I do? Why me?” I tried to talk to him a bit, gave him some water on the way, and he asked again why he was detained. I told him he had thrown stones, he said he hadn’t, and so back and forth a few times.
Finally I told him: “You’re lying, shut up.” The sergeant also got annoyed and said: “Don’t talk to him.” Two guys there were excited by their first action in Hebron and had their pictures taken with him.
Did he object?
No, he was blindfolded, he didn’t know. He asked for water so one of the guys said: “Water?” and gave him a hard hit on the head. I argued with that guy a bit and with the two guys who were photographed. At some point they talked about hitting his face with their knees. At that point I argued with them and said: “I swear to you, if a drop of his blood or a hair falls off his head, you won’t sleep for three nights, I’ll make you miserable.” I took it hard.
How did they respond?
They knew I was like that, I never hid it. They laughed at me for being a leftie. “If we don’t show them what’s what, they go back to doing this.” I argued with them that the guy was shackled and couldn’t do anything. That he was being taken to the Shabak (General Security Services) and we’d finished our job. A few weeks later, I heard one of them saying things that sounded different: “If someone’s shackled, why should I touch him?”
So why did they want to abuse him?
Because they were caught up in a storm of action, wanted to show the Palestinians who’s who, and the adrenalin kicked in. Mine did, too.
You rode on and out of Idna?
Yes. Maybe other jeeps picked up more people. We took him for a medical examination and that was that. The argument about whether he should have been beaten up or not continued for some days. It became the business of anyone who was there, and people who joined around, from the platoon. Most said the Palestinians should be beaten up so they’ll know what’s what, because that’s the only way they’ll learn. I was really surprised. I knew that’s the way minds worked in general, but I thought that Battalion 50 (Nahal) would be more humane. But there’s no humane advantage there at all. Later I heard worse stories about places where guys who wanted to beat up Palestinians were not stopped at all, in other battalions. After a while, still I looked alright, compared to others.
17. “The guys are bored, they want action”
Unit: Kfir Brigade
Rank: First Sergeant
… So there’s a school there. We’d often provoke riots there. We’d be on patrol, walking in the village, bored, so we’d trash shops, find a detonator, beat someone to a pulp, you know how it is. Search, mess it all up. Say we’d want a riot? We’d go up to the windows of a mosque, smash the panes, throw in a stun grenade, make a big boom, then we’d get a riot.
And the locals were praying at the time?
Yes, possibly. Everything goes. It’s best, in the middle of prayers. That annoys them the most. You know what it’s like. Soldiers are bored. They want action. Some are already waiting for the Palestinians outside, to fire rubber ammo as soon as they come out. Once we came – actually this was not planned – one of our guys went up to the window of the mosque, smashed it, and suddenly a riot broke out. So we came, shot rubber ammo, and they all scurried back inside. So a soldier went up and threw a gas canister inside.
Into the mosque?
Sure. Can you imagine what sort of riot broke out there? I tell you, I never saw one like that. In Hebron we were provoking them like crazy. Then the company commander was alerted, the command jeep, because we needed more permission for these riots. The commander arrived, and said: “Look for this and that, shoot at the knees.” We had a screwed up company commander, a real Arab-hater, too. We went out and there was this terrific riot, cement blocks were thrown at us from rooftops, everything. I had never seen such a riot in Hebron. You know, they’d get really upset at us when we threw stun grenades into their holiday prayers. So the commander got annoyed, stopped, froze everyone, just when all the Palestinians want to come back from the mosque. He wouldn’t let anyone through. Old people want to get home – nothing moves. It’s already 11 p.m., they’ve been standing there for some four hours.
People are getting really nervous. He goes: “Okay, marksmen, up on the roofs. Soon Molotov cocktails will be flying.” We were waiting for this. He says: “Wait, they’re getting annoyed.” He is used to annoying people: “Give them time, we’ll warm them up.” Some begin to push. He picked up stones, threw them at people, said: “No one gets through.” A car came. He picked up the blocks that had been thrown from the rooftops, and boom boom, smashed the car. “Get out of here, fuckers!” Smashed the whole thing. Lights, everything. Left nothing whole. Crazy.
How did the riot end?
It was a big one. We fired a lot of rubber ammo. A lot. Every time we’d catch Arab kids, hold them like this, with stones, like retards. You know, so that the others would throw stones at them, not at us.
Turn them into human shields?
Did it work?
Sometimes. Depends how much you provoke them. With the mosque it was a bit hard, because we were stoned from all directions.
The kids don’t want to run away? Don’t manage to get away?
You know how badly beaten they get? You catch him, push the gun against his body, he can’t make a move, he’s totally petrified. He only goes: “No, no, army.” You can tell he’s petrified. He sees you’re mad, that you couldn’t care less about him and you’re hitting him really hard the whole time. And all those stones flying around. You grab him like this, you see? We were mean, really. Only later did I begin to think about these things, that we’d lost all sense of mercy.
44. “As soon as you light a Molotov cocktail – you are free game”
Unit: Kfir Brigade
Rank: First Sergeant
In Ramallah, a friend of mine was on an ambush – there’s the Beit El settlement and above it, the Jilazoun refugee camp. Once a night or two, guys at Jilazoun send out kids who throw a Molotov cocktail in the direction of Beit El. None of them ever really reach Beit El. It was always kids throwing, and for a while we would lay ambushes there, and once in a while a Molotov cocktail would be hurled at one of our forces, and they’d be chased. One of my friends was sitting at Beit El in a sort-of marksman’s post, and a kid came out and threw a Molotov cocktail, and he shot him. The moment they light up the bottle, they’re free game.
Did the kid mean to throw it at the force?
No, he was the furthest away, he wasn’t endangering my friend who shot him with his marksman’s rifle.
And he killed him?
How old was the kid?
Young, 16 years old. There was a Molotov cocktail being thrown from Jilazoun to Beit El every night, but not in a way that it even reached the settlement or crossed the fence. They weren’t Molotov cocktails being aimed at a person’s body or at a vehicle. Nothing. They were stupid kids who felt like protesting.
Do you remember when this happened?
July-August 2008. We had lots of X’s [Note: Marked on the side of a soldier’s rifle, indicating the number of people he’s killed] at that time. The battalion loved it. There was an ambush around there where a kid coming up with a Molotov cocktail had his leg blown off. They laid ambush exactly at that spot. Kids came, the soldiers were there, the kids lit a bottle, and they were shot in the leg.
At what range were they standing, when, you say, they were throwing the bottle towards Beit El?
A few hundred meters. In an open space between the village and Beit El.
46. “Jeans and a red shirt”
Unit: Armored Corps
Rank: First Sergeant
Once we were driving on Road 443, and a frightened [settler] woman stopped us saying stones were thrown at her. The commander immediately turned around – “We’re entering the village” — and we went to Lower Beit Ur village, the whole show, storming in on the jeep, the lookout directs us, we arrive at the house, there were 20 children there. “Everyone line up.” My commander liked me, but before we got going he said to me: “***, don’t be a wimp here,” meaning, don’t show any mercy. We get there, face them: “Stand in line! Who threw stones?” Everyone is scared. Five soldiers, with guns, try to catch those two 13-year-olds who threw two stones.
The woman stops next to you and tells you that stones were thrown at her? The lookouts were on to this?
No, we saw two children on the road beyond the fence, and later she came and we realized it was them. The lookout said they were identified and that they were on their way back to the village. We didn’t know exactly where they were, we got to the house and caught those three kids by their clothes, none of them confessed. We were there for about 20 minutes, they were lined up in front of the house, we were pointing our guns at them and facing a bunch of trembling kids, who’d be pissing in their pants in a moment, and the commander yells: “Who is it?!” and grabs the oldest one. “Tell me who it is and you won’t get in trouble, don’t worry, we’ll take him and bring him back.”
We picked up three kids there. The mother was crying, the women were all in tears, the kids were shackled, taken into the jeep, scared. I just try to think what they must have felt, what it’s like to be taken in an army jeep. I was sitting in back with one of those kids and the jeep bumps along the road, those roads out there… I took the driver’s helmet because he doesn’t need it in front, and placed it on the kid’s head. The driver turned around, saw the kid with his helmet, and said: “What are you doing?! I can’t wear it after this!” I got annoyed, I mean, what? If he wears your helmet then it’s filthy? “You’ll wash it out for me,” he said. What a buddy… When he got to company HQ, first he washed out his helmet in soap and water, and only then put it on his head, because it had been on the kid’s head for a few minutes. And this is a guy who votes for the Labour party, claims he is a leftie, but this disgusts him. How has this happened to us?
What happened to the children in the end?
I think they were brought back two days later. No jail space would be wasted on them.
The kids confessed at some point?
No, we got a lookout’s identification for them, jeans and a red shirt. One of them escaped me when I shackled them, not too tight, so he released himself and ran. He was not chased. We were not sure it was them, and only on Friday night, back from Bil’in, our commander said: “They were it, alright,” and everyone applauded. So we weren’t sure, we picked up whoever was closest to the description. I thought then that if that’s how they’re treated, they’ll be back two days later, and instead of throwing a stone they’d want to hurl a fire bomb… They should have been given chocolate and a sandwich and a good talking to. Now I know that wouldn’t have helped either. Bringing their mother and saying to her: “Your kids can get in trouble,” with a smile. This is one of those little incidents that you just take for granted. You choose two who look close to the description, and then you have a soldier washing out his helmet after the kid had it on.