Testimony by ex-Israeli Defense Force soldiers reveals a devastating portrayal of ill-treatment and abuse of Palestinian youth by members of Israel's occupying army in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The testimony by more than 30 soldiers, and fashioned into a booklet by Breaking the Silence, an organisation of former IDF soldiers dedicated to speaking out against Israeli policy in the occupied territories, contains descriptions of beatings, intimidation and humiliation of Palestinian children.
"It is crucial that people in Israel are confronted about what it means for Palestinian children to live under military occupation," says Yehuda Shaul, one of the founders of Breaking the Silence.
"This is what [Israeli] society is made of, you cannot ignore it, you cannot just run away from it — this is who we are as people and I think this is something we should face."
The group plans to hand out copies of the testimonies to Israel high school students in the coming weeks as the school year begins.
"Exposing our teens to this reality is not a trivial matter," says Avner Gvaryahu, a former soldier who both contributed testimony for the report and works for the organization.
"The group hesitated to distribute the brochure among high school students," he said, "but it was eventually decided to go through with it. I'm queasy about it even though I understand that it's necessary… If you're old enough to enlist and carry a weapon, you're old enough to know what's really happening in the territories."
Video from the Sydney Morning Herald:
The Independent excerpts testimony from the booklet:
First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade
"We took over a school and had to arrest anyone in the village who was between the ages of 17 and 50. When these detainees asked to go to the bathroom, and the soldiers took them there, they beat them to a pulp and cursed them for no reason, and there was nothing that would legitimise hitting them. An Arab was taken to the bathroom to piss, and a soldier slapped him, took him down to the ground while he was shackled and blindfolded. The guy wasn't rude and did nothing to provoke any hatred or nerves. Just like that, because he is an Arab. He was about 15, hadn't done a thing.
"In general people at the school were sitting for hours in the sun. They could get water once in a while, but let's say someone asked for water five times, a soldier could come to him and slap him just like that. I saw many soldiers using their knees to hit them, just out of boredom. Because you're standing around for 10 hours doing nothing, you're bored, so you hit them. I know that at the bathroom, there was this 'demons' dance' as it was called. Anyone who brought a Palestinian there – it was catastrophic. Not bleeding beatings – they stayed dry – but still beatings."
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First Sergeant, Combat Engineering Corps
"There was this incident where a 'straw widow' was put up following a riot at Qalandiya on a Friday, in an abandoned house near the square. Soldiers got out with army clubs and beat people to a pulp. Finally the children who remained on the ground were arrested. The order was to run, make people fall to the ground. There was a 10- to 12-man team, four soldiers lighting up the area. People were made to fall to the ground, and then the soldiers with the clubs would go over to them and beat them. A slow runner was beaten – that was the rule.
"We were told not to use it on people's heads. I don't remember where we were told to hit, but as soon as a person on the ground is beaten with such a club, it's difficult to be particular."
First Sergeant, Kfir Brigade
"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.
"Every time we'd catch Arab kids.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."
Rank and unit unidentified in report
"One night, things were hopping in Idna village [a small town of 20,000 people, about 13km west of Hebron], so we were told there's this wild riot, and we should get there fast. 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.
"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.'
"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 [security service] and we'd finished our job."
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