Saturday, October 06, 2007

Israeli Army Doings Exposed by Army Insider

This is a Ha'aretz article (October 6 2007), written by Dalia Karpel called 'Parallel Lives'. The article tells the story of Nufar Yishai-Karin, a clinical psychologist who was drafted into the army in 1989 as a combat soldier and who also served in Gaza.

During her army service, she became interested in "finding out why some people in these groups (i.e. the army) work to bring about a change for the better, what it is in their personality that makes them like that and what happens in that kind of situation (i.e. in army service)." Accordingly, she studied the issue of violence ingrained in the minds and actions of Israeli soldiers, in conjunction with a Professor serving in the Army's mental health unit.

Read excerpts of her findings below:

The study included interviews with 18 soldiers and three officers who served with her in two armored infantry units. She knew most of them from her military service. She interviewed each of them personally in his home for a few hours and recorded the interviews; she still has the tapes. Her prior acquaintance with the soldiers led them to trust her implicitly, and they opened up fully, readily telling her about crimes they themselves had committed: murder and killing, breaking the bones of children, inflicting humiliation, destroying property, stealing.

About half the 21 interviewees are Ashkenazim, half Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent). Most are native-born and most are from middle-class families.

Testimony: "I went out on my first patrol ... Others on the patrol were just shooting like crazies ... I also started shooting like all the others ... It was ... look, I won't tell you that it wasn't cool, because suddenly for the first time you come and hold the weapon seriously, you're not training in some drill or in some dugout in the dunes, or I don't know what, or you have some commander who is looking over your shoulder in the firing range. Suddenly you are responsible for what you are doing. You take the gun. You shoot. You do what you want."

One of the study's most shocking findings is that the soldiers enjoyed the intoxication of power no less than the kick they got from the violence. "At one point or another of their service, the majority of the interviewees enjoyed [inflicting] violence," Yishai-Karin observes in the thesis. "They enjoyed the violence because it broke the routine and they liked the destruction and the chaos. They also enjoyed the feeling of power in the violence and the sense of danger."

Testimony: "The truth? When there is chaos and like that, I like it. That's when I enjoy it. It's like a drug. If I don't go into Rafah and if there isn't some kind of riot once in some week, I go nuts."

Another soldier: "The most important thing is that it removes the burden of the law from you. You feel that you are the law. You are the law. You are the one who decides ... As though from the moment you leave the place that is called Eretz Yisrael [the Land of Israel] and go through the Erez checkpoint into the Gaza Strip, you are the law. You are God."

The callousness of some of the soldiers produced extreme indifference to the Arabs' suffering: "We were in a weapon carrier when this guy, around 25, passed by in the street, and just like that, for no reason, he didn't throw a stone, did nothing - bang, a bullet in the stomach - he shot him in the stomach and the guy is dying on the sidewalk and we keep going, apathetic. No one gave him a second look."

There were some tough soldiers who developed an ideology holding that even minor events necessitated a brutal response. "A 3-year-old kid, he can't throw, he can't hurt you no matter what he does, but a kid of 19 can. With women I have no problem. With women, one threw a clog at me and I kicked her here [pointing to the crotch], I broke everything there. She can't have children. Next time she won't throw clogs at me. When one of them [a woman] spat at me I gave her the rifle butt in the face. She doesn't have what to spit with anymore."

Some of the soldiers were singled out in the study as "prone to being led" - that is, they were swept up in the wake of their officers and buddies - and there were some who had never lifted a hand against anyone before their army service. "The moment the red line is broken, it is not just broken, it is smashed to smithereens, and from that moment everything is permitted," one soldier testified.

These soldiers believed that the intifada was a war, and that they had to be professional and maintain "purity of arms" - morality in warfare. But the reality of the situation and the fraternity of fighters prompted some of them to cover up for their friends, even if they stole from homes where they conducted searches or sexually harassed or provoked Arab women.

Most of the soldiers who were interviewed vividly recollect their first encounter with brutality. In one case, while still in basic training, they served as escorts for a group of suspects. "They took the Arabs, the commanding officers did, and put them on the bus between the back door and the last seat, put them only between the seats. On their knees. Then they told us: Within two minutes - and this is still just basic training - within two minutes everyone is on the bus. No one steps on the seats ... And everyone started to trample them [the Arabs] and step on them on the run ... It was a really bad winter. Minus 4 degrees [Centigrade] and rain and hail ... They each went out in the middle of the night ... They weren't given time to dress. Some of them had clogs, short-sleeved shirts ... Everyone opened the windows deliberately. People poured water on them from the canteens, so they would freeze from the cold. And the whole way they were bombarded with blows ... and I mean the whole way."

Another soldier describes one of the first times he entered a house to arrest an Arab, "an absolute giant, around 30, maybe. Rampaging. We shout at him to lie down, we hit him, but he doesn't lie down, he wants to escape ... These four guys show up and throw stones at him from all sides, and we are beating up on him ... Lie down! Lie Down! Lie down! Until in the end he lies down ... We get to company headquarters and it turns out he lost consciousness ... and a few days later he is dead."

An incident that fomented a crisis began when a squad commander from the hard-hearted group maltreated three bound teenagers. A soldier of conscience summoned another squad commander who was a paramedic. He told Yishai-Karin that by the time help arrived the three Palestinian boys were already "completely covered with blood, their clothes were saturated with blood and they were shaking with fear. Their hands were tied and they were afraid to move, they were on their knees."

The conscience-driven squad commander and soldier reprimanded the brutal squad commander, but were not backed up by the platoon commander. "You should know that what the two of you did is very serious," the platoon commander told them, "talking to him like that! You should know that you're in for punishment."

The two soldiers who received this tongue-lashing told another soldier what had happened, and he decided to tell the story the next day at a meeting of the brigade with the division commander. After hearing him out and asking to hear the testimonies of the two other soldiers, the division commander asked the brutal squad commander what he had to say for himself. But he refused to respond in front of the soldiers. The division commander removed him from the sector and ordered the Military Police to investigate the incident. The squad commander was sentenced to three months in prison.

Recalling this incident, which broke the conspiracy of silence in the company, Yishai-Karin notes that all the other soldiers supported the brutal squad commander, even those who thought he had gone too far and deserved punishment. In the face of the sacrosanct creed of the fraternity of fighters and unit loyalty, the soldiers of conscience were considered traitors, because "no soldier should have to go to jail because of some Arab."

The two soldiers of conscience - the eyewitness to the beating of the helpless youths and his paramedic buddy - were transferred out of the company. The former was sent to a snipers' course, the latter to an advanced course for paramedics, and afterward both of them took an officers' course. The soldier who revealed the story to the division commander was ostracized. Everyone boycotted him and hounded him, until he finally transferred out of the company and was assigned to a rear-echelon post.

...The soldiers claimed that the longer the unit spent in the field, the more violent it became and the more it was prone to impose order. They claimed that the army was aware of the drift toward violence, and encouraged it, because that way they could allocate less manpower.

Can you sum up the message of the study?

...Freud talks about the destructive aggressive instinct. In a letter to Einstein in 1932, Freud wrote, 'Musing on the atrocities recorded on history's page, we feel that the ideal motive has often served as a camouflage for the lust of destruction.' That has existed in everyone, in all languages and in all religions, across all the hundreds and thousands of years of history, and probably even before. There are some cultures that are more violent, yes, but violence appears in every culture.

2 comments:

Floyd Craig said...

Hi! I am also a Human Rights Blogger and I think the work you are doing is soooo important. I learned alot by visiting your Blog!
Floyd

Nasrawi said...

Thanks for listening