Breaking the Silence: In the reality of occupation, there are no Palestinian civilians – only potential terrorists

An IDF soldier who served in a Sahlav unit at Hebron in 2001-2003 speaks out

For about a year-and-a-half I lived the reality of Occupation. Like other male and female soldiers serving in the Occupied Territories, I learned soon enough the kind of conduct acceptable and expected of me as a combatant in this reality. I learned to do the job assigned to me – controlling Palestinians. I learned to speak the language of occupation, a language of imperatives and demands. It became my mother-tongue.

In the reality of occupation there are no Palestinian civilians, there are only potential terrorists. Any Palestinian man might attack any moment, any Palestinian woman is – dangerous. They have no face and no rights. Our job is to rule. To do that, we must make the Palestinians obey us, and they will only obey if they are afraid of us.

I would stand at my post in the heart of Hebron, in the middle of an 8-hour shift. I would meet the same people nearly every time I was on duty. I already knew where they live, I knew who is pregnant and who had just given birth. I knew who was whose relative, I could see when new clothes had been bought for the children.

This girl I know, too, and she knows me. She passes my post almost daily. She is 16-years-old, I know her name. This morning, too, she passes by. “Stop!” She stops and turns to me. We both know exactly what will happen next. “Give me your ID!” I order her. “Where are you going?” I ask, although I know she’s on her way to school. “To school” she answers. “Wait a minute”. I turn back to the post to check with HQ that she is not on the wanted list, although I know she isn’t.

“Why?” She tries to find out why I’m stopping her today. “What why Because!” I answer crossly. How can she even dare ask. A Border Police patrol jeep arrives. “What’s up?” I ask the guys. “Great. Who’s this?” the BPman asks, pointing at the girl standing next to me. “Just some Arab who wouldn’t listen to me, rude as hell”. “Do you need help with her?” he asks, and we both know that that help would mean. “No, thanks. I think that standing at the post along with me will be enough this time” I answer smilingly, and the patrol gets on its way. She will stand with me at the checkpoint for two or three hours. If she goes on being rude I might even pass her on to the next shift who will also keep hold of her until she learns her lesson. I’m not even sure what she’s done to deserve it, but I know she must learn that I’m the ruler and that she must obey me and be afraid.

At any moment during my service in the Occupied Territories I felt I was protecting my country. In 99 per cent of the times we detained or arrested Palestinians it was because we wanted to show them we’re in charge, and not because of any concrete information. I too felt I came there to defend the State of Israel and was determined to do so in the best way possible. I knew that only if they are afraid of me at all times will they obey and not dare to attack me or my country.

At an Israeli army post in the heart of a Palestinian city I truly believed what I had been taught – the fact that women, children, men and the elderly are afraid of me helps provide my country with security. Back then, in the reality of occupation, this made sense.

It made such sense at the time, that at Friday night dinners at home, when I naturally told my family what I had done during the past week, and about the Palestinian girl I detained at the post for not listening to me, I saw my family move restlessly in their seats. I explained to them that this is how we make the Palestinians fearful, and that because of that fear they think twice before they decide to suicide-bomb us. It sounded simple and logical to me. That was the explanation my commanders had given for our activity, and I accepted it. After a few silent seconds, my mother asked me not to tell her any more what I do “there”. And she added, “Just get back home safely”.

I was quietly annoyed, I didn’t understand. But why won’t you listen?? This is after all the way I protect you! That is what my commanders have taught me to do. So why keep silent? I was annoyed but I kept my mouth shut. That very weekend at home, I started thinking, about that silence and the inconceivable distance between the reality of occupation and that silence. But these thoughts resonated for only a very short time. Sunday morning brought me right back into the reality of guard shifts and stand-bys. The reality of occupation does not enable thought – only survival. So I believed that my way to survive was the use of force and violence. In the reality of occupation, if you’re a “thinking” woman it means you are weak. If you are sensitive to the situation, you’ll never be “one of the guys”.

Only years out of uniform could I first begin to feel the pain of that Palestinian girl at the checkpoint. It is a sobering-up process. Now, a whole decade later, I break the silence.

These were ten years of suppressing my own deeds and internalizing the need to keep silent. I was silent because I was too afraid to confront my mates and commanders, afraid to be cursed and bad-mouthed. I break the silence now because I’ve realized silence is a part of that which enables this to happen. It is motivated by fear and based on blind faith in the way. Most of all I realized that it enables whoever sent me there, my family and my friends, all of Israeli society, to turn their gaze away from the reality of occupation.

Gil Hilel is active in the Breaking the Silence organisation

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game