A Soldier Torn?
It reached that point of the Hebron protest where a line of (largely Palestinian) demonstrators faced a line of Israeli soldiers. The IDF had just declared the area a “closed military zone”, but with no authorising papers, the demonstrators refused to back down.
As I stood with the Palestinians, our arms occasionally linked against the tussles that invariably broke-out, I heard an intriguing thing. In English, “I love Palestine” came out of the mouth of an Israeli soldier. The Palestinians jumped on this and demanded further explanation, in Hebrew, but the soldier was quickly silenced by his confreres.
Following this brief exchange of words & subsequent curtailment, he looked rather uneasy. I don’t know if this was due to his feelings about his presence here, or concern about the derision he would later receive from his fellow soldiers. In either case, his expression of these words set him apart from the bullish soldier stood to his side.
I had often questioned the zeal of the soldiers that I had encountered during my time here. National service is compulsory in Israel, but whilst I had initially used this to excuse the actions of those forced into a certain role, I had also heard that the soldiers we faced had chosen this path, over more administrative roles, or other postings.
The soldiers I had encountered that morning at Bir al ‘Idd were full of zionistic gusto, and I had witnessed soldiers at demonstrations who viewed the whole thing as a game, congratulating each other on “good shots”. Yet here was a man who looked very uncomfortable when facing-off a line of Palestinian demonstrators, and declared his love for this land, not as a Jewish State, but by its pre-Israeli name of “Palestine”.
Breaking the Silence is a group of former Israeli soldiers who decided to speak out against the attitudes of the Israeli military, and the actions they were forced to perform. I had met one of their founders at Sheikh Jarrah and he had explained his overwhelming need to publicise what goes on in the name of his country.
Will that vocal soldier from today’s demonstration later join their ranks? And more immediately, what kind of consequences would he face for his words, back in the barracks? Whilst it is easy to see the army as simply an opposing force, these soldiers are, after-all, fellow human beings, despite the disregard for human rights and human life they often show.