“I want bodies. That’s what I want.”
October 14, 2013
Oct 14, 2013
16 Min read time
Harvard Book Store will be welcoming Avner Gvaryahu and Oded Na'aman of Breaking the Silence on Wednesday, October 16, at 7 p.m. for a discussion of Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010, co-sponsored by Boston Review and by Friends of Breaking the Silence. More information about the event can be found here.
Breaking the Silence was established in Jerusalmen in 2004 by Israel Defense Forces veterans to document the testimonies of Israeli soliders who have served in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Below are excerpts chosen by Na'aman, representing a small fraction of the testimony in the book. The book is split into four parts: "Prevention," "Separation," "The Fabric of Life," and "Law Enforcement." "Prevention" illustrates that "almost every use of military force in the Territories is considered preventative"; "Separation" examines the division between Israelis and Palestinians, divisions between Palestinian groups, and the separation of the Palestinians from their own land; "The Fabric of Life" demonstrates the total control that the Israelis have over daily life through security measures; "Law Enforcement" looks at the relationship between law and practice in military rule.
We hope you can join us for the discussion on Wednesday.
28. The commander said, “I want bodies full of bullets”
We had a commander in the unit who would just say in these words, and it’s awful, he used to tell us, “I want bodies. That’s what I want.”
[…] From his first speech to us, and in these words, he said, “I want bodies full of bullet holes.” It was just awful. Later I met him out of the army, at the home of a friend who’d been wounded. He said, “Yes, we killed twenty-eight people. They’re not people at all, they’re terrorists, it’s okay.” Forget that there have been mistakes, too, let’s put that aside, we’ll talk about mistakes later, though not so much in that area, but let’s put that aside. That’s what he wanted. That’s what he said we had to do. Before we went out on an important mission he’d say, “I want bodies full of bullets.” And if we came back with someone we’d killed, he was happy. That’s how it was.
How did he express it?
By saying “good job,” when we came back from an operation and we’d killed someone.
29. The division commander said, “You’re ranked by the number of people you kill”
Okay. What kind of missions did you do during that period?
During that period, it would change. I think it’s important to say, I remember when I was enlisted in a patrol unit, then the thinking was—I always heard friends say this—that what the patrol unit does, the difference between a patrol unit and a battalion is that the patrol unit makes arrests. It goes to arrest people and what ever, and I said, sure, sounds interesting, let’s go for it, I don’t want to stand at a checkpoint, we’ll make arrests. At some point during my service there was suddenly an unconscious change and the units got more extreme. Whatdo I mean, that the unit wasn’t ranked anymore by the number of its arrests? We had a talk with a division commander when we got to the Shomron Central Brigade. He said, “You’re not ranked by arrests—you’re ranked by the number of people you kill.”
83. I didn’t understand the point of these mappings
[…] You’re a platoon commander now?
Yes, I’m a platoon commander. Why cross the line? I get that there’s some operational need for mapping, and it helps our operations somehow with intelligence, and maybe helps us deal with terrorists later on. But it was very hard for me to come in the middle of the night, with eight or ten other soldiers wearing flak jackets, helmets, weapons, magazines loaded, going into someone’s house, waking them up, start searching their house, start asking them embarrassing questions.
“Who are you, and what are you, and what’s she doing here, and how many people live here?” I don’t know, the questions depended on the situation.
There wasn’t some kind of form?
There was, but it doesn’t always work like it says on the form. Sometimes it also . . . Basically, what bothered me really was going into people’s homes in the middle of the night in this threatening way. I remember being really angry seeing how it affected the little kids. It really upset me. You see a small child, three, four, five years old, a young girl, you go into their house in the middle of the night, you come in, you take . . . she sees her father shaking— her father, the man, the authority figure, is shaking— they come, take him aside, interrogate him, ask him questions. Sometimes soldiers who do the questioning more aggressively, maybe it’s their voice, maybe they add a shove here and there if they think someone’s not cooperating. And this was really hard for me. The mappings were really hard for me. Because the mapping is for some kind of intelligence purpose, it’s not like I’m there to arrest a suspect who we know shot at a passing car last week and killed some innocent civilians. So it was really tough for me. And listen, I wasn’t, I didn’t have the kind of influence where I could say, “Okay, we’re not going out to do mapping.” There’s no such thing as not going out to do mapping. So when I’d do the mapping, I’d try to do it in the best possible way from a humanitarian perspective. I wouldn’t bother the families too much, I wouldn’t throw stones at the door in the middle of the night to wake them up with a start, because that’s what they do, it’s one of the steps in the procedure.
84. The mission: to disrupt and harass
When we made the rounds in Hebron it was shitty, but I can’t say it was anything unusual. It was during Ramadan, and we kept chasing kids who threw firecrackers.
Arabs, yes, it was during Ramadan. The point is, I had been in Arab villages in Israel the previous Ramadan, just traveling around, and it was just the same there. It had nothing to do with Hebron in particular, nothing to do with the fact that they hate you there, everyone just throws firecrackers at everyone else. It’s more fun to throw them at soldiers. But our platoon commander didn’t think so, he thought they were all potential terrorists, so we chased them. Two whole weeks. Not a single kid caught. It was really pathetic.
For two whole weeks you were chasing children in Hebron? […]
Well, like I said, we never caught any children. We’d chase them. It reminds me of the stories about Romans going into caves with all their gear on and getting stuck inside. You’re there with your heavy ceramic bulletproof vest and all that bullshit, and they hold the firecracker and run. The fact is, we never caught them. I don’t remember catching anyone. Maybe we did, maybe just one time. Truth is, I once heard that our platoon commander caught a child who had nothing to do with anything. He caught him, yelled at him, and let him go. What else could he do? That was our mission in action. I remember being told quite clearly, “Our mission is to disrupt”— these were the exact words—“to disrupt and harass people’s lives.” That was our job description, because the terrorists are local residents, and we want to disrupt terrorist activity, and the operational way to do that is to disrupt people’s lives. I’m sure of this, and I think it’s written that way to this day, if the order hasn’t been changed. Disrupt their lives, disrupt the lives of the people who live there, because this disrupts terrorist activity. That’s the whole point.
How does it work?
You mean, what do we actually do? You wander around the city . . . Guys there say they have nothing to do? It’s like this, You go around the city, go into abandoned houses— abandoned at least by the time we get there— sometimes we’d go into houses that weren’t abandoned, and we’d carry out totally random searches. Sometimes, say we saw a kid throw a firecracker, then we’d run over there. But maybe it’s a lie, we’d also just pick out any house. It’s not like we had any intelligence in advance. We’d carry out random searches in houses, and the people there were totally used to it. They weren’t surprised, not even stressed. They’d get irritated, depressed, they have no tolerance for this bullshit, but they’re used to it because it’s been going on for so many years now. Soldiers come in, turn the house inside out, make a huge mess, and leave. That’s what we do. Sometimes we do all kinds of lookout shifts. There’s a cemetery there, so we’d sit in the cemetery and watch all kinds of couples there, or I don’t know, anyone else walking by. That’s what we did for quite a while. Sometimes we’d put up checkposts for vehicles— stand at some junction, and check cars in the neighborhood, that’s what we’d do. […]
Didn’t you feel completely stupid doing this?
Totally stupid. That’s what I’m saying. It’s one of the reasons I didn’t want to be squad commander. I could feel how much these commanders have no say, they’re just little cogs in the system, almost like privates. And so I thought, why should I bring that on myself?
You carry out these searches, and the population suffers.
Exactly, they’re totally fucked. That’s exactly the point. That’s what’s so shitty about it. As long as we were up north, no one suffered because of our actions, it’s just trees up there. But in the Territories, it’s the population that suffers.
102. Training in the middle of the village, in the middle of the night
[…] No one said anything?
Listen, everyone was there, I don’t know of anyone who didn’t take part in the exercise. I didn’t hear of anyone getting up during the briefing and say, Listen, this isn’t right, this isn’t appropriate, this isn’t . . . no. Nothing.
104. Inefficiency and indifference
The checkpoint was built with lanes— a Jewish lane, a Palestinian lane, and a lane for trucks. The Jews had to put a sticker on their car, and there was a fight about it, “Why should I have to put a sticker on my car? Why should I have to be checked whenever I leave my house?” It was tense with the settlers, with the Palestinians, with everyone.
Palestinians needed a permit as well at this checkpoint?
Yes . . . The orders were contradictory, and they changed them every second. They’d play with you— yes, and then no.
Which orders would change?
The amount of meat they could have, for example. Anything you can’t inspect, you don’t allow it through. Someone trying to cross with a sofa— you can’t inspect it, so you call and then he can cross.
Did you check meat according to weight?
By sight. You look at the approximate number of bags. If someone tried to hide some meat, I’d send him back, even just a kilogram. The checkpoint was plagued by inefficiency and indifference.
125. The cute boy took a brick and smashed the girl’s head
My main problem in Hebron was with the settlers, the Jewish community. I got the feeling we were protecting the Arabs from the Jews. And neither side liked us, but it felt like the Jews did what ever they wanted and no one cared. We were stuck in the middle. Here’s an example of something that happened right near me: I was on guard duty, and one of the soldiers at another post called a medic over the radio. Someone replaced me at the post and I ran down to see what had happened, and I see a six- year- old Palestinian girl, her whole head a gaping wound.
At post 44?
Yeah. This very cute kid who’d regularly visit our post decided that he didn’t like Palestinians walking beneath his house, so he took a brick and threw it at this girl’s head. Kids there do what ever they want. No one does anything about it. No one cares. Afterward, his parents just praised him. The parents there encourage their children to behave like that. There were many cases like that. Eleven-, twelve-year-old Jewish kids beat up Palestinians and their parents come along to help them, set their dogs on them—there’s a thousand and one stories.
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October 14, 2013
16 Min read time