I continually wonder at the clear-eyed, urgent, incisive and powerfully argued posts that Seth Freedman writes for the Guardian’s Comment is Free blog. Today, he’s published another called Occupation Breeds Terror. Seth brings the perspective of a former IDF soldier who now realizes the futility of his service and the futility of Occupation. He is a British Jew who made aliya and served out of a sense of duty to his adopted country. Gradually, it has dawned on him that new thinking will be required from both sides to achieve real peace. We need more of Seth’s humanity and decency:
When I first moved to this country, I was prepared to play my part by enlisting in the IDF and serving in the West Bank. While there, I saw for myself the effect my mere uniformed presence had on the Palestinians I encountered on a daily basis. Every interaction took place with me holding all the cards – it was me with the loaded gun in my hands; it was me barking instructions to “stop or I’ll shoot”, “lift up your shirt”, “don’t come another step closer”; it was me playing with my quarry as though they were puppets on the end of short, taut strings.
However, I still believed that we “did what we had to do”, since it was a case of us or them, and we could never ease up in our actions for fear that the next Palestinian we encountered was the one with a bomb strapped to his chest. And so it continued, bursting into buildings to round up the residents and lock them in their own basement, so that we could take over the house and grab a few hours’ sleep in the middle of a mission – and all perfectly acceptable in the context of war.
But that was when I saw the wide, silent eyes of the families’ children as we screamed at their father – their hero, their protector – and wrested from him the reins of power inside his own house. And that’s when it started to dawn on me just what kind of effect our actions were having on the next generation, who were guaranteed to end up hating us when all they saw was us herding them like cattle and imposing our will on them through the sights of our guns.
Once I left the army, my forays into the West Bank were on more equal terms, as I sought to meet the very people whose towns I’d previously patrolled, to hear their stories about life under military rule. From Jenin to Bethlehem to Ramallah and beyond, the extent of the suffering and the depth of the torment was exposed to me time and again. There was no doubt in my mind that our mere presence in their daily routines was twisting the knife every time they encountered a soldier – and breeding extremism and radicalism all the while.
The unspoken truth that every Israeli knows, uncomfortable as it may be to admit, is that occupation breeds terror. Every incursion, every raid, every curfew and collective punishment, drives the moderates into the welcoming arms of the militants, who promise to return their honour and their wounded pride by fighting the oppressors’ fire with fire of their own. And that fact alone should be enough to shake Israelis awake and realise that the occupation has to end, as much for our own security as for the sake of the Palestinians that we’re subjugating.
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