Monday, November 12, 2007

Women of the IDF

Ha'aretz has done it again. Dalia Karpel writes about a documentary film, "Lir'ot im ani mehayekhet" ("To See If I'm Smiling"), directed by Tamar Yarom, who served in the IDF "as a mashakit tash (welfare officer) in an infantry company in the territories. She was drafted in 1989 and served at a basic-training base near Jerusalem until her unit was transferred to Gaza." Yarom's film gathers testimonies from many other Israeli women who enlisted in the IDF and chronicles their experiences in the Occupied Territories. And alot of them are quite gruesome; embarrassing the whole facade of the "most humane army" in the region. The article is a great insight into the inner workings of the IDF soldier's psyche, and as well as the gripping atmosphere of being in a war-like state. (For more into how war permeates our every day lives and attributes, see Chris Hedges' timeless book War is a Force That Gives Us Meaning.)

The documentary shines the light on how brutal the occupation can be, and how far Israel goes in trying to cover up the operations that may be a public relations disaster. Read the story of Meytal Sandler, who

"...had to handle the corpses of Palestinians...They [the authorities] then come and take the body to the clinic and tell us that before it's returned to the Palestinian Authority, we have to clean it, so there won't be any signs of blood on it, so they won't see what we've done to it. This was my task. Because he'd been struck in the head, but didn't die right away, and only bled and died slowly, he lost control of his bowels - that's what happens..."

The perversions not only get out of control, but also the lust for blood, for revenge, and for superiority. Libi Abramov was a Border Policewoman (at a checkpoint), and when her friend was a casualty during the first intifada, she punished every Palestinian, as

"[her friend] Hani in my mind. In one shift, there were as many as 70 or 80 people whom I delayed. I stood them in a line and decided that they would stay with me for the whole 12- to 14-hour shift, in the sun, in the heat. I made them stand there with me and had them do all kinds of exercises. I stood them in threes, as if they were my soldiers. I started shouting at them and asked them 'Why did you do that to Hani? What did she do to deserve it?' No one else was around except my fighters, and they accepted this; it didn't seem strange to them."

And to the point of complete humiliation; stripping down Arabs to their underwear. All of this is routine: the Palestinians are subject to the desultory IDF soldier. A bad day for a soldier could mean a disastrous one for those waiting at checkpoints, where many have called it their final breathing spot. Further in the article, after a couple of Palestinians disguised as women took a couple of lives, the women then was given the pat-down, as well as an exaggerated knife attack that got a Palestinian woman accosted and taken away (presumably for further punishment). An example of daily humiliation:

"The women are wrapped in layers and the smell is strong, and why should I be prying around their bodies? I passed a metal detector over them, including their private parts. Two or three security guards stood with their backs to me, but nearby. I tried to speak gently, but was horrified by the way I had to intrude."

Inbar Michelzon describes Gaza's checkpoints pointedly:

"It was like mouse cages. I was in shock. I'd never seen Palestinians from Gaza carrying sacks on their head, dressed in rags. The poverty stunned me. This is Israel's backyard. I had to change my skin to fit in there - everything was said there with shouting, everything's a matter of life and death."

This is a reality that Israel wants to shield from the world, and what former soldiers are finding harder and harder to come to grips with. Yarom's film shows that many do have a conscience in the actions that they undertake against the Palestinians, even though many more are rather zealous in their bigotry. The more that speak out, the more encouraging it will be for others to dare to speak out with them. Even though their crimes are well in the history books, it could provide the blueprint for more objectors to the IDF operations which violate international law and the Geneva Accords. Although still talking with a great deal of bias, which is clear from the following statement, Dana Behar's quotation does ring bells, because we can't go on pretending that nothing is wrong when there clearly is something askew with all of this, or we can't stop turning the other cheek, because

"it's important for people to know that something bad happened there. The IDF makes great efforts for it not to happen and I've never seen such big efforts made anywhere else, but still it happens. Because the reality is horrible. I want as many men and women soldiers as possible to talk about what happens there, for it to be a part of the discourse. I served there because my parents brought me up on the values of Zionism, on the idea that wherever I'm most needed is where I should go. I wanted to make a difference and I'd do it again despite everything."

Sadly for Dana and co, who are at pains to illustrate that Israelis are also victims of the occupation: a good-hearted individual who is corrupted by the violence and debasement that ensues from the trauma of battle, albiet a better off individual than the Palestinian, there are a coterie of examples that give credence to the contrary. I recall another references article from Ha'aretz, (included in another poignant piece by William Cook), that gave many testimonies of a different kind; one that suggests that the soldiers revel in the dismemberment of Palestinians.

""We Israeli Soldiers ­ were put there to punish the Palestinians, says Ilan Vilenda, an Israeli soldier who served in Rafah during the first Intifada." "The soldiers enjoyed the 'intoxication of power', and had pleasure from using violence," according to the researchers. "What is great is that you don't have to follow any law or rule. You feel that YOU ARE THE LAW; you decide. Once you go into the Occupied Territories YOU ARE GOD." "We drove through Rafah. A man of 25 walked nearby. He didn't hurl a stone at us or anything. Then without any reason "X" shot him in the stomach. We left him lying on the sidewalk." "He captured a kid and broke his elbow. Broke the kid's elbow! Damn me if I'm not telling the truth! Then the NCO treaded on the kid's stomach three times, before he moved on. We couldn't believe our eyes But the next day we went on patrol with that guy and the soldiers started to imitate him." "A woman threw a stone at me. I kicked her with my foot at her crotch. I broke her. She can't have children any longer. Next time she won't throw sandals at me and when another woman spat at me she got the butt of my gun in her face. She can't spit now." "He was real big, some 30 years old. He refused detention. We hit him but couldn't force him down. We beat him and told him to lie down. Till he finally did. We drove to the base with him. By that time he had lost consciousness. He died some days later." These are the compassionate humanitarians that oversee the International laws that govern the responsibilities of the occupying forces. These are the soldiers we support. This is the way we protect America."

This story suggests quite a different view of what sort of integrity the IDF really purports. (Also not forgotten is the military censureship that prevents anything from going into print unless it passes the litmus test of the military, who is the body responsible to determine if the article or opinion piece is allowed to see the light of day.) The visions of granduer is not lost on those who still wish that a stint to police Palestinians is something to put in your resume. But the latter excerpt is the practice that is preached within the IDF.

The biggest difference Dana would has done is step out and take part in such a film. While it claims not to have any political stance, and it pains to do so in order to accommodate a dismal attempt at non-partisan, it still has a leaning towards the Zionist view, and the hope that something is to be done to rectify what is rotting at the Zionist core, and that speaking out is the best way to save Zionist Israel. Or possibly that is too harsh an accusation. Certainly most who are involved in the film shared the values that a Jewish State is meant for the Jews alone, but seeing what Zionism can do to the elephant in the room (the Palestinians), they could be questioning if it really is worth their humanity, or if all of this oppression is the epitome of the democracy they call Israel. It's reality like this that makes the most ardent Zionist question their values. Here I note Avraham Burg, former speak of the Israeli Knesset,

"Yes, we Israelis have revived the Hebrew language, created a marvelous theater and a strong national currency. Our Jewish minds are as sharp as ever. We are traded on the Nasdaq. But is this why we created a state? The Jewish people did not survive for two millennia in order to pioneer new weaponry, computer security programs or antimissile missiles. We were supposed to be a light unto the nations. In this we have failed. It turns out that the 2,000-year struggle for Jewish survival comes down to a state of settlements, run by an amoral clique of corrupt lawbreakers who are deaf both to their citizens and to their enemies. A state lacking justice cannot survive. More and more Israelis are coming to understand this as they ask their children where they expect to live in 25 years. Children who are honest admit, to their parents' shock, that they do not know."

It is no wonder that almost two thirds of the Jewish people choose to live elsewhere. And isn't that the way it should be? There should not be a need for a Jewish state, as a last refuge for Jewish people. They are accepted everywhere and usually reach the upper echelons of society. Because of such a progression, Zionism is now left to fade into the history books, as the allure of a haven for the Jews is rather alien when real anti-Semitism is minimal in the Western world. The inflation of anti-Semitism is a self-defeating purpose which only can hurt the Jewish population rather than help.

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