Israeli society needs to believe in its righteous path to continue sending us to occupy a people in its name. That’s why it will indict a commander who stole a few apples in Hebron, but won’t do the same for a soldier who shoots a 15 year old in the head.
By Avner Gvaryahu
Here is a multiple-choice question that will test your understanding of the reality in Israel. Before you are four recent incidents that took place in the occupied territories. In which of these cases were soldiers put on trial?
A. The arrest of a 16-year-old in Hebron by dozens of Israeli soldiers. He had been throwing stones. The photo of the arrest shows his face is clearly bruised.
B. Soldiers and police officers stand alongside settlers in the Jordan Valley, while forcibly dispersing the Palestinian shepherds’ flocks.
C. A 15-year-old from the village of Nabi Saleh is severely wounded by a rubber bullet to the head.
D. An IDF commander steals a few apples from the market in Hebron.
The first three incidents are routine procedures used by the army in order to control millions of Palestinians: often-violent arrests; looking the other way as settlers, the lords of the land, do as they wish with their subjects as part of their continual takeover of Palestinian land; firing on protesters who demonstrate against military rule, with the goal of maintaining “order” and “quiet.” The routine of occupation is comprised of the daily use of these means for the sake of control, through various forms of violence. In fact, carrying out these tasks is at the core of our military service in the occupied territories. The gears of occupation must continue to grind, thus it is rare that these routine acts of violence lead to an investigation.
The main story remains the occupation
It is enough to recognize that the vast majority of complaints by Palestinians about violence by soldiers or settlers do not end in indictments in order to understand the majority of investigations are not a response to said violence — they are an attempt to whitewash it. When Breaking the Silence Spokesperson Dean Issacharoff openly spoke about using force against a Palestinian who resisted arrest, he was breaking his silence. When he spoke about the the violence used in the interrogation room, he was breaking the whitewashing mechanism. His deeds as a soldier were an integral part of everyday life in the occupied territories, just as the first three aforementioned incidents are. The only difference is his public activism following his service in the IDF. This is what transformed the mundane into unique.
In order for Israeli society to continue sending us to occupy in its name, we need different tools: the belief in the righteous purity of our path, or at least our attempts to be as pure as possible.
Plunder on any scale does not align with the fantasy of an “enlightened occupation.” In fact, it threatens it. That is the reason that D. is the correct answer to the above question. After the commander stole two apples from the Hebron fruit vendor, the IDF Spokesperson quickly published a message, according to which the officer’s conduct was “inconsistent with what is expected of an IDF soldier and commander.” The soldier was suspended from his position and will face disciplinary action, said the spokesperson. After all, in order to maintain occupation, there is no need to steal apples, only to condemn the rotten ones.
Because of this, our goal in Breaking the Silence is not to put soldiers who “misbehaved” on trial, despite our belief that theft is a nefarious act. For this reason, our work is directed at exposing the reality of occupation, and the struggle to end it. After all, what good will jailing the apple thief for 20 days do? What kind of message does this send if we ignore the everyday routine of occupation?
When these images and stories appear momentarily in the media, we must remember that the main story was and continues to be the occupation — its goal, its implementation, and its end. Far more important than dealing with “rotten apples” is our society’s need to recognize this reality.
Avner Gvaryahu is the executive director of Breaking the Silence. This post was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.