Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2007, pages 64-65

Waging Peace

Breaking the Silence in DC

Former IDF soldier Yehuda Shaul of Breaking the Silence (Staff photo J. Najjab).

ISRAELI YEHUDA Shaul of Breaking the Silence spoke at the Peace Café held Nov. 19 at the Washington, DC restaurant Busboys and Poets. Breaking the Silence is an organization of discharged Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers who have served in the West Bank and Gaza since the outbreak of the second intifada in September 2000. Their mission is to speak out against the horror of the occupation of Palestinian land and to expose the reality of what is being done on the ground to the Palestinian people.

In addition, Breaking the Silence interviews former Israeli soldiers, who at the time were between 21 and 26 years old, about their experiences while serving in the occupied territories. To date more than 400 people have been interviewed.

Shaul served two tours of duty with the IDF Nachal unit’s 50th battalion in Hebron, for a total of 14 months. The West Bank city is divided into two sectors, he noted: H1, under Palestinian control, with around 130,000 Palestinian inhabitants, and H2, which is under Jewish-Israeli control, with 20,000 Palestinian inhabitants, 500 Israeli settlers and between 400 to 450 Israeli soldiers to police the area.

“Israeli society doesn’t know and isn’t told [about what happens in the occupied territories],” Shaul said. “Maybe they don’t want to know about what really goes on there.”

Although soldiers appeared fine, happy and sane when they returned from their tour of duty, Shaul said, actually they were not. “We lived in a kind of mini-schizophrenia,” he explained. “When I returned I stopped thinking as a soldier and began to think as I did before, but as I looked into the mirror I could see the horns in the back of my head.”

At that point Shaul knew he had to do something to stop “the madness.” This was a difficult decision, he said, because it is taboo in Israeli society to question the armed forces. But, he told his audience, “Breaking the silence is the story of all soldiers of my generation.”

Shaul went on to describe the actions he and his fellow soldiers took while serving in Hebron—actions that now make him look back in shame. He told of his unit taking over Palestinian homes in Hebron, forcing the families to hole up in one room while the soldiers roamed the house freely. “After the sixth house, we would become bored and starting playing with the family’s computer games; we would break things,” he said. On average, Shaul said, they invaded 200 homes a day.

Shaul said he was instructed by his superiors that “anyone in the casbah after dark must die.” During Ramadan, one of the IDF soldiers shot and killed the man who walks through townbanging a drum before dawn, in order to wake people in time to eat before beginning the day of fasting. Another soldier shot and killed a baker who was working at 2 a.m. On his body was found a bag of pita bread he was taking to sell. “An occupation is very simple,” Shaul said, “it is not a war.”

While in Hebron, he carried a grenade machine gun, Shaul said, and was ordered several times to shoot into civilian neighborhoods. “They shoot, you shoot,” he explained. “Eight meters away kills, 16 meters away wounds.”

The most deadly thing is for there to be silence in America, Shaul told the crowd of mostly Jewish Americans, because Israel takes its direction from the American government. “There is a moral question,” he emphasized. “It is not a question of defending Israel. Why does Israel have to have all the security? We have to have some sort of soul. You are not pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. The question that should be asked is whether you are pro-morality.” For further information and testimonies in English, please visit <http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il>.

—Jamal Najjab