Burning Conscience: Israeli Soldiers Speak Out

A visit to a past of hatred & Zionism

It’s not Kabul, it’s Jerusalem

For most Israeli Jews, even those who live in Jerusalem, the “mental map” of the Holy City includes a number of uncharted regions, Palestinian areas of which most Israelis are completely unaware.

“We never pass by these neighbourhoods despite the fact that we are in Jerusalem every day,” remarked Eli and Simcha Shuval, who live in the Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Zion.

“Even in the Old City, we just started to go back two years ago. I don’t want to live anymore in the denial of the situation, like most of the Israelis.”

As other Israelis were celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, its its Arab eastern half captured from Jordanian control in the 1967 Six Day war, the Shuvals were among some 50 people from across the country taking part in a tour specifically designed to expose Israeli Jews to sections of the city they had never seen.

The tour, which tells “the story behind the picture” was organized by a group called Ir Amim (the “City of Peoples”). Ir Amim’s tour guide Eldad Brin led the participants in an exploration of “a less romantic and optimistic side” of the sacred city: the municipality’s Arab neighbourhoods located along the “Jerusalem Envelope.”

Fears on the part of the participants failed to weaken their willingness to “see with their own eyes what is going on in the field,” commented Cila, a 60-year-old participant from Tel-Aviv.

In the course of the four-hour bus tour along the West Bank separation fence, they heard of the human reality surrounding the barrier, from Gilo in the South to Pisgat Zeev in the North, through Tzur Baher and Abu Dis. A journey in a foreign land for most of them.

The tour has been a focus of Ir Amim’s activity since its creation in 2004. The Jerusalem Envelope, the official name for the 168 kilometer separation barrier surrounding Jerusalem and the Ma’ale Adumim settlement-city, was planned in 2002 by the Sharon government after a deadly wave of bomb attacks.

Once completed, the barrier should completely cut the city from the West Bank, a goal opposed by people at Ir Amim, who argue for a viable and equitable two-state solution with Jerusalem as capital for both states.

Eldad admits that he is amongst the few in the organization that favor the barrier, but he insists that “we all think that the barrier route should be drawn in a way to minimize its negative impacts on the Palestinian population.”

In Ir Amim’s view, the “Jerusalem envelope” is not primarily about security, as it primarily separates Palestinians from other Palestinians. It is an argument that Eldad will have four hours to prove to participants who, by a majority, back the concept of the barrier.

After a stop in Gilo and the settlement-suburb of Har Homa, the main attraction of the tour is soon to come. Eldad warns the people to “have a last look at the clean streets, large sidewalks and trees of the Jewish neighborhoods of Har Homa.”

This scene indeed disappears for good as the bus enters Tzur Baher. For most of the tour participants, this is the first time have ever been in a Palestinian neighbourhood. Eldad explains that “this side of the city does not exist for a majority of Israelis, and even of Jerusalemites. It does not even exist on the people’s ‘mental map’ of Jerusalem.”

The scene unfolding before the participants, who all stand on their bus seats to take in every detail of the scene, is now a totally foreign one.

“Here, it’s not Kabul, Afghanistan, but the city of Jerusalem!” Eldad says. He explains to the group that this “third-world” situation is rooted in a lack of public services and the land shortage for which the municipality has responsibility.

This “leftist explanation,” as most of the participants tend to see it, slowly finds an echo as Eldad provides a wealth of details regarding issues like education and land allocation.

Itamar and his mother Cila agree that while they favoring the wall, “if kept like this, it will come back to [strike] us in the face on the long run.”

According to Itamar, “the route of the fence is just another example of the common way in which our government is taking decisions: without any consideration for their future consequences.”

Leaving the Arab neighbourhood, Eldad exclaims: “That’s it, we left Tzur Baher safe and sound!” Although spoken with irony, Eldad?s statement enunciates a feeling widely shared amongst the participants. Narkis, 56, a retired police officer from Yavne, confesses: “I am afraid. I would not have come here alone.” He believes that “if an Arab would have known that I am Israeli, he would have attacked me.”

Even Eli and his wife Simcha, who experience everyday life in the reunified city, are not feeling at ease. Eli admits: “I was a bit afraid to go into these neighborhoods without an armed guard, but the fact that we are travelling in an Arab bus calmed me down.”

At the last stop, in front of the wall that separates the Jewish neighbourhood of Pisgat Zeev from the Arab ones of the Shuafat refugee camp, Eldad rejoices. “Judging by your questions, I can see that you all got a sense of the absurdity of the situation that is prevailing here. If we agree together that it cannot continue like this, so we have already gone a long way together.”

Within the group, however, impatience is at its height. Itamar finally asks the question: “So what is your solution for a long-term resolution in Jerusalem?”

Eldad declines to disclose his personal viewpoint, insisting that he is “as confused as they are.” The debate is still open.

On the way back, each participant argues for his own solution. “Most of the Israelis identify with the slogan of ‘a reunified city,’ but since 1967, nobody comes here anymore,” Eli notes. “They don’t understand that the reunification means sharing the city and its public services with more and more Palestinians …

“This town could just be a paradise for two separate peoples.”

Ref: Haaretz by Helene Sallon

Dividing Jerusalem / Report to address repercussions of a split Jerusalem

The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS), which in the past supported removing Arab neighborhoods from the capital’s jurisdiction and placing them in Palestinian hands, will submit to the prime minister and policy makers a detailed document setting out the thorny legal and municipal issues involved in dividing Jerusalem. The institute’s researchers now question whether Israel actually stands to “profit” (demographically and economically) from the removal of Arab neighborhoods from East Jerusalem, as the supporters of the city’s division had until now assumed.

The experts of JIIS, including Prof. Ruth Lapidot, former Foreign Ministry director general Reuven Merhav, Prof. Yaacov Bar-Siman-Tov, JIIS Director-General Ora Ahimeir and Dr. Israel Kimhi, drafted various scenarios for dividing Jerusalem that were submitted to the political leadership. JIIS documents served as the foundations of plans presented by then-prime minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 as well as those currently being discussed by the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams.

In the latest report, former Foreign Ministry legal adviser Dr. Robbie Sabel and Gilad Noam, a J.D. candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, note that residents of East Jerusalem will have the option of moving to Israel proper before the separation. (Many have already declared their lack of desire to become part of the Palestinian Authority – N.S.)


The authors of the report suggest that the State of Israel’s financial-moral obligations to East Jerusalem Arabs will not end if the neighborhoods are no longer within its jurisdiction. These include National Insurance Institute allowances, such as unemployment and old-age stipends, as well as health services and welfare payments.

Most of the constitutional rights in Israel are also extended to permanent residents (the status that applies to East Jerusalem Arabs),” the authors note. These include freedom of occupation. “The sweeping cancelation of social services, allowances, the right to receive health services and other rights associated with the withdrawal of permanent residency status will provide strong grounds for a claim of violation of the right to an honorable livelihood.”

The authors suggest that compensation payments, along the lines of those given as part of the Gaza Strip disengagement, may be in order for East Jerusalemites whose permanent residency status is injured. The report cites a Supreme Court ruling on the Gaza evacuees, according to which “depriving a person of the possibility of practicing the vocation that he practiced in a particular territory as a result of a change in territorial status represents a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of occupation.”

According to the researchers, a unilateral separation from the Arab neighborhoods could raise questions about Israel’s obligations to their residents from the perspective of the international community. In terms of international law, a unilateral separation could be interpreted not as a restoration of the pre-1967 situation but rather as a blatant violation of the principle of equality, in the distinction that it makes between Arab and Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. “This argument is particularly serious in light of the violation of minority rights,” the authors write.

According to Ahimeir, “Jerusalem functions as a united city for 40 years, twice as long as the period when it was divided between Israel and Jordan. Separating from the Arab neighborhoods, even with an agreement, will not be easy. It involves complex issues of international and Israeli law, questions of rights and practical problems with regard to both the separated areas and the city from which they will separate. Our role vis-a-vis the decision makers is to illuminate the difficulties and to put all the information on the table so that all the implications are clear,” Ahimeir explained.

Ref: Haaretz

Israel shaken by troops’ tales of brutality + Israeli Soldiers Speak Out

A study by an Israeli psychologist into the violent behaviour of the country’s soldiers is provoking bitter controversy and has awakened urgent questions about the way the army conducts itself in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.Nufar Yishai-Karin, a clinical psychologist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, interviewed 21 Israeli soldiers and heard confessions of frequent brutal assaults against Palestinians, aggravated by poor training and discipline. In her recently published report, co-authored by Professor Yoel Elizur, Yishai-Karin details a series of violent incidents, including the beating of a four-year-old boy by an officer.The report, although dealing with the experience of soldiers in the 1990s, has triggered an impassioned debate in Israel, where it was published in an abbreviated form in the newspaper Ha’aretz last month. According to Yishai Karin: “At one point or another of their service, the majority of the interviewees enjoyed violence. They enjoyed the violence because it broke the routine and they liked the destruction and the chaos. They also enjoyed the feeling of power in the violence and the sense of danger.”In the words of one soldier: “The truth? When there is chaos, I like it. That’s when I enjoy it. It’s like a drug. If I don’t go into Rafah, and if there isn’t some kind of riot once in some weeks, I go nuts.”Another explained: “The most important thing is that it removes the burden of the law from you. You feel that you are the law. You are the law. You are the one who decides… As though from the moment you leave the place that is called Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and go through the Erez checkpoint into the Gaza Strip, you are the law. You are God.”The soldiers described dozens of incidents of extreme violence. One recalled an incident when a Palestinian was shot for no reason and left on the street. “We were in a weapons carrier when this guy, around 25, passed by in the street and, just like that, for no reason — he didn’t throw a stone, did nothing — bang, a bullet in the stomach, he shot him in the stomach and the guy is dying on the pavement and we keep going, apathetic. No one gave him a second look,” he said.

The soldiers developed a mentality in which they would use physical violence to deter Palestinians from abusing them. One described beating women. “With women I have no problem. With women, one threw a clog at me and I kicked her here [pointing to the crotch], I broke everything there. She can’t have children. Next time she won’t throw clogs at me. When one of them [a woman] spat at me, I gave her the rifle butt in the face. She doesn’t have what to spit with any more.”

Yishai-Karin found that the soldiers were exposed to violence against Palestinians from as early as their first weeks of basic training. On one occasion, the soldiers were escorting some arrested Palestinians. The arrested men were made to sit on the floor of the bus. They had been taken from their beds and were barely clothed, even though the temperature was below zero. The new recruits trampled on the Palestinians and then proceeded to beat them for the whole of the journey. They opened the bus windows and poured water on the arrested men.

The disclosure of the report in the Israeli media has occasioned a remarkable response. In letters responding to the recollections, writers have focused on both the present and past experience of Israeli soldiers to ask troubling questions that have probed the legitimacy of the actions of the Israeli Defence Forces.

The study and the reactions to it have marked a sharp change in the way Israelis regard their period of military service — particularly in the occupied territories — which has been reflected in the increasing levels of conscientious objection and draft-dodging.

The debate has contrasted sharply with an Israeli army where new recruits are taught that they are joining “the most ethical army in the world” — a refrain that is echoed throughout Israeli society. In its doctrine, published on its website, the Israeli army emphasises human dignity. “The Israeli army and its soldiers are obligated to protect human dignity. Every human being is of value regardless of his or her origin, religion, nationality, gender, status or position.”

However, the Israeli army, like other armies, has found it difficult to maintain these values beyond the classroom. The first intifada, which began in 1987, before the wave of suicide bombings, was markedly different to the violence of the second intifada, and its main events were popular demonstrations with stone-throwing.

Yishai-Karin, in an interview with Ha’aretz, described how her research came out of her own experience as a soldier at an army base in Rafah in the Gaza Strip. She interviewed 18 ordinary soldiers and three officers whom she had served with in Gaza. The soldiers described how the violence was encouraged by some commanders. One soldier recalled: “After two months in Rafah, a [new] commanding officer arrived … So we do a first patrol with him. It’s 6am, Rafah is under curfew, there isn’t so much as a dog in the streets. Only a little boy of four playing in the sand. He is building a castle in his yard. He [the officer] suddenly starts running and we all run with him. He was from the combat engineers.

“He grabbed the boy. I am a degenerate if I am not telling you the truth. He broke his hand here at the wrist, broke his leg here. And started to stomp on his stomach, three times, and left. We are all there, jaws dropping, looking at him in shock…

“The next day I go out with him on another patrol, and the soldiers are already starting to do the same thing.”

Yishai-Karin concluded that the main reason for the soldiers’ violence was a lack of training. She found that the soldiers did not know what was expected of them and therefore were free to develop their own way of behaviour. The longer a unit was left in the field, the more violent it became. The Israeli soldiers, she concluded, had a level of violence which is universal across all nations and cultures. If they are allowed to operate in difficult circumstances, such as in Gaza and the West Bank, without training and proper supervision, the violence is bound to come out.

A spokesperson for the Israeli army said that, if a soldier deviates from the army’s norms, they could be investigated by the military police or face criminal investigation.

She said: “It should be noted that since the events described in Nufar Yishai-Karin’s research the number of ethical violations by IDF soldiers involving the Palestinian population has consistently dropped. This trend has continued in the last few years.” –

Ref: Mail & Guardian

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