As an ex-soldier in the Israeli Defense Forces, I've seen how shockingly we treat Palestinians

There are moral red lines. Why do we keep crossing them?

Share

I only knew Gaza from the stories.  It was the military zone for which the Givate Brigade was responsible, but we all knew the stories about how they managed to kill several militants in one ambush. Honestly, we were a bit jealous. I was drafted into the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) at the end of the Second Intifada into a special operations unit of the paratrooper brigade. From the start of my service I knew that Nablus and Jenin would be the areas for which we were responsible. Child’s play, seemingly, compared to the stories that came out of Gaza – but my child’s play. I’ll never forget the first time that I was shot at, the first Palestinian corpse I ever saw, and the fear and adrenaline during my first military operation.

My first mission involved the seizure of a Palestinian home. I had never before had the opportunity to be inside a Palestinian home, and my squad was surprised for a moment by the fact that within the home lived an entire family – spanning three generations. We woke everyone up, and took over the house. We put everyone in one room - women, men, children, and the elderly. One of the guys was stationed at the door to ensure that they didn’t get out. In the meantime, we took care of our business. I remember asking myself: what do they think about all of this? What would I do if soldiers broke into my home? But I immediately repressed these questions and carried on with the mission. As time passed, fear turned into boredom, adrenaline stabilized, and my doubts about the extent of the operational logic and its justification would return to gnaw at me. But the next day there were already new operations. This was our daily routine, and as a result, the next time I didn’t really think about how the family whose home we entered felt. My personal red moral line blurred very quickly. Every time I would tell myself – this is still okay. But it’s in the nature of red lines to move along an imaginary scale. I wasn’t bothered when we destroyed entire homes during search operations, and when my squad accidentally shot an innocent woman, and we quickly buried the incident and moved on. Today I know that my ability to distinguish whether a particular action crosses the line, didn’t really exist back then.

What happened to me is happening to the IDF and to Israeli society at large. During Operation Cast Lead I had been a civilian active with Breaking the Silence for over a year, but I was still shocked by the incidents I heard had occurred there. I remember a friend who had taken part in Cast Lead. He returned shaken by the fact that homes of “Hamas members” were deemed legitimate targets for bombing without any relation to the risk they posed to our soldiers in the field. That was the first time he had encountered such orders during his military service. This is what he testified:

"In the morning we identified four men, aged 25 - 40, with keffiyehs, standing outside the house talking. It was suspect. We reported it to intelligence, specifying the house they were about to enter. Intelligence passed this on to the Shabak (Israeli Security Agency) who reported that this was known as a Hamas activist’s house. This is automatically acted upon. I don’t remember what we used - whether it was a helicopter or something else, but the house was bombed while these guys were inside. A woman ran out of the house holding a child, and escaped southward. That is to say, there had been innocent people inside."

Read more: Medics struggle to treat Gaza's casualties
UN calls for ceasefire as Israel musters for ground attack
Win exclusive home screening of 'Price of Kings: President Peres'

The same red line that was crossed during Operation Cast Lead has become the starting line for Operation Protective Edge. Homes of “Hamas members” were added to the IDF’s long list of potential targets in the Gaza Strip.

The politicians that send us to perform these tasks don’t even pretend to promise hope for a better future. Just further use of force and violence. Our doubts about logic and justice don’t even interest us anymore, as our red moral lines are constantly moving in the face of our reality - much like mine during my military service. 150 killed in Gaza in the first six days of the operation, the vast majority of whom were civilians, and a quarter of whom were children. Millions of Israeli and Palestinian people live in existential fear that a rocket or a missile will fall on their heads. The end of one bout of violence merely sets an alarm for the next.

The red line at which we stopped during Operation Cast Lead (2009), is the same line from which we commenced Operation Pillar of Defense (2011). The point at which we stopped during Pillar of Defense is the same place from which we’ve started Protective Edge. What will our next red line be? And when will we cross that one too? Only we can answer that question. It depends on us, and what we allow others to do in our name.

Avner Gvaryahu served in the IDF as a sergeant in special forces from November 2004-November, 2007

Read more: Why I'm on the brink of burning my Israeli passport
Israel’s reaction has been vicious and misdirected
War is war: Why I stand with Israel

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Intervention Teacher Required To Start ASAP.

£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...

Recruitment Genius: PHP / Drupal / SaaS Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...

Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Benedict Cumberbatch attends a special screening of his latest film The Imitation Game  

Benedict Cumberbatch race row: What's the actual difference between 'coloured' and 'person of colour'?

Matthew Norman
Pressure is growing on Chris Grayling to abandon the Government bid to advise Saudi Arabia on running its prisons (Getty)  

What in sanity’s name is Chris Grayling doing in the job of Justice Secretary?

Matthew Norman
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy