Israel's women soldiers share stories of hate and despair
February 16, 2010/the AGE
An Israeli soldier and Palestinian students at a checkpoint in Hebron. A new booklet of female soldiers' stories highlights the damaging effects of the ongoing conflict on both sides. REUTERS/Nayef Hashlamoun Photo: NAYEF HASHLAMOUN
On the way out of a popular Jerusalem steakhouse last Wednesday, I was introduced to an American-Israeli named Eliza.
A member of the Israel Defence Forces public relations unit, Eliza quickly explained that she was busy hosting a dinner for some foreign journalists. "Whom of course, internally, I despise," she added apologetically, not knowing who I was.
Among the "despised" journalists at her table were Charles Levinson of The Wall Street Journal, and Sheera Frenkel, who writes for The Times of London. Neither they, nor their Murdoch-owned mastheads, are what you would call typically rabid haters of Israel.
Whether or not the IDF flack actually loathed these two reporters hardly matters. What her comments do reveal is the deep resentment felt by Israel's political elite towards what is perceived to be a biased foreign press corps.
After last year's war in Gaza, and the later report for the United Nations Human Rights Council by Justice Richard Goldstone that accused Israel of war crimes, sensitivity to how Israel is perceived abroad has been more heightened than ever. Yet the most piercing insights into the Israeli-Arab conflict today have nothing to do with the foreign media. They come from within Israeli society itself.
In the past two years, internationally acclaimed films such as Waltz With Bashir, Ajami, and Lebanon, have added exceptional context to the deep divisions within Israeli society and the long-term effects of the conflict on its people. More disturbing still are the verbatim accounts of some of the soldiers who have served in the occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The damaging effects of the occupation, not just on Palestinians but on the soldiers themselves, are laid bare in a booklet published last week by the group Breaking the Silence, an organization of Israeli army veterans who have taken it upon themselves to expose life in the occupied territories to the Israeli public. Titled Women Soldiers' Testimonies, the booklet details the experiences of more than 40 female soldiers who have served in various roles in the territories since 2000.
Testimony 24 was provided by a sergeant on a night-time search for weapons near Hebron, a Palestinian city that is also sacred to Jews and whose centre has been taken over by Israeli settlers. It was about 2am when the raiding party climbed the steps to a large Palestinian house.
"So we entered these people's home, the father opens the door for us, in his robe, and the mother and grandmother and two little kids woke up too. Now they look at you with this look, like 'you're entering our home at two o'clock in the morning'.
"Everything was just so messed up . . . and the father tries to ask, the owner tries to ask questions and talk and none of us even bother to speak to him at all. The soldiers go on, opening and trashing and trashing just about everything in that house, turning the whole place inside out . . . all the drawers, the closets, everything. And we didn't find a thing. Nothing."
After an hour, the soldiers went on to a second house... <cont>