NRG Ma'ariv Online, 11 January 2005, by Chen Kost-Bar
Published in Hebrew http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART/852/255.html Translated from Hebrew by Diana Rubanenko
"We acted without thinking, like zombies"
Breaking the Silence - combat soldiers describe their service in the Occupied Territories. This time - soldiers who beat up Palestinians and fire rounds from their machine-guns at civilian's homes "just because they can."
"It takes time to understand that for three years we weren't normal people", says K., a first-sergeant who served in the Engineering Corps' Yael reconnaissance unit. "We were like zombies. We didn't make decisions independently. We did things without prior thought. If I'd been told - and I was told - to hit some old woman in the stomach with my rifle-butt, to get her to shut up, I would have done it without thinking at all. No problems".
What does "and I was told" mean?
"For example, when we entered houses I was told 'Give him a slap to shuthis mouth'. When my officer questioned someone, he used to shake him, that someone, make him lie on the ground. Push him and slap him around. To get him to talk. Even though none of us spoke Arabic. At any rate, none of us was able to ask him questions and understand his answers and
understand what he's saying and why he's crying. But we put on a show, pretended we understood, so we could feel we were doing something. Because we were an elite unit. We are an elite unit, so obviously we can do everything.
"Once, one of my team went way too far. He brought someone in, shoved him, knocked him down, kicked him, really beat him up. I couldn't watch any more, so I stopped him and went with another guy, so he could show me all the papers. It was a totally weird situation, because he was a man of sixty, and I didn't understand a word he's saying, and we didn't
even know what we were looking for, and you just pass the time away because we had to be there, we had to demonstrate our power".
First-sergeant K. is another witness who has decided to break the silence. After K.'s demobilization from the IDF, his testimony was taken by a member of the Breaking the Silence organization. Most testimonies in Breaking the Silence have been given by soldiers who were demobilized from the IDF over the past year, and are no longer in compulsory service. The fact that most of the witnesses are now civilians stems from two facts - first, that serving soldiers are forbidden to speak out without official authorization, but also because - during their army service - combat soldiers find it hard to assimilate the magnitude and complexity of events. "It took a really long time", says K. "to realize the enormity of the things we did, the houses we blew up, the way we treated people".
"We fired a hell of a lot"
First-sergeant, Armored Corps
"I was in the S. operational company. A company where there's no law and no order. Everyone did what he felt like, and me specifically, I used to do what I felt like. And doing what you felt like, in Ramallah for example, means you've got a road with vehicles parked at the sides, and you intentionally drive over the vehicles with your tank. And I'm not talking about one or two tanks that do it. I'm talking about lots, really lots. Or in Rafiah, when I was there, I used to wake up in the morning and fire a round of 2000."
"A round of 2000 means 2000 machine-gun bullets. In Rafiah, we were constantly under attack, every single day, with hand-grenades, missiles, whatever was going.
So there was an instruction in force that now and then every weapon had to fire over the defensive wall, avoiding damage to houses or anything else. But because of the lack of restrictions there ... we fired a hell of a lot. And a 2000 round means 2000 bullets in a row, that you fire towards an entire town, straight at houses, straight at doors. I'm not the only one who did it. Dozens of others did it".
What did you think about at the time?
"I don't know. I was with the machine-gun, I didn't think. In the army, I never thought. Never. And I'd come home, and tell my friends what I was doing in the army. I mean, it's not something I was ashamed of or something. No way. I did what they told me, and - as well as what they told me - did what everyone else did. Because everyone knew. I never thought, what'll happen if I shoot? First - I fired. If I thought at all, it would be later. But I never thought while I was firing, while I was actually doing it".
About Breaking the Silence
They aren't refuseniks, not politicians. They love their country. They are simply soldiers who were there, and decided that enough is enough, someone must stand up and shout "Wake up. Look what's happening to us!" Breaking the Silence - every Thursday.
Chen Kost-Bar presents evidence from the war in the territories and its impact on us all.
Translated from Hebrew by Diana Rubanenko