In its report, the horrific military abuses are chronicled in a new video project that aims to highlight how US funding aids violence against Palestinians.
Here is the original report from the Guardian:
‘I became more and more violent’: shocking testimonies of abuse from IDF veterans
Sgt Gil Hillel flinches, awareness written across her face, as she looks to the camera and describes how the power of life and death over another human being changed her.
“Over time I became more and more violent. I went through a crazy transformation in that job. From a very calm and relaxed person to a very violent and aggressive person who takes their frustrations out on the object they can take it out on, which was the Palestinians and the detainees,” said the former Israeli military police officer.
“I hit more, I was more abusive. I didn’t really see them at all. They’re invisible people you don’t see.”
As Hillel speaks, the voices of other Israel Defence Forces (IDF) veterans bubble away in the background on screens scattered around a New York city exhibition space. Each monitor speaks to a theme of the brutal reality of how Israel maintains its 55-year occupation and domination of the Palestinians.
The destruction of Arab homes as collective punishments. The physical abuse of arrested Palestinians. The humiliation of families at roadblocks because a soldier is having a bad day. Some of the hardest testimony comes about the abuse of children and the torture of detainees.
The faces of these soldiers – some grimacing at the thought of who they used to be, others blank and matter-of-fact – are among hundreds who have given testimony to Breaking the Silence, a group founded by Israeli combat veterans to document military abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories.
Breaking the Silence is well-known, and much vilified, in Israel. Ori Givati, a former Israeli tank commander and the group’s advocacy director, said it has brought the video testimonies to New York and Washington because Americans should know what $3.8bn in annual US military aid to Israel is paying for.
“The responsibility for the occupation is definitely on us Israelis but 100% as well on the US which is funding Israel with billions of dollars a year. The funding is making the US complicit in the occupation, and the people here must understand that this is what the funding is supporting,” he said.
The Israeli government describes the IDF as “the most moral army in the world”, claiming that it does more than any other military to avoid loss of civilian lives. But the accounts collected by Breaking the Silence show how morality was all too often subordinated to orders justified by claims that abuses were necessary for the survival of Israel.
Individually the testimonies are disturbing as soldiers describe a culture of dehumanisation and violence against Palestinians. Together they lay bare the relentless and often gratuitous cruelty of 55 years of occupation and the damage it does both to the occupied and the occupier.
The testimony is all the more powerful because it comes from Israelis who have put their lives on the line for their country. Soldiers recount orders to shoot unarmed protestors, the ease with which a mission to tear down a Palestinian flag results in the killing of a man who threw a stone, the taking over and destruction of Arab homes.
The Geneva conventions, which the UN and international criminal court say apply to the occupied territories, bar collective punishments. But they are routine.
First sergeant Erez Katsav recalled serving in the West Bank city of Nablus under orders to blow up any building that sheltered a suspected terrorist. Katsav tells how his unit found wanted Palestinians hiding in the elevator shaft of a 10-storey residential block. Its tenants were given an hour to collect their belongings and clear out.
“What bothered me was the excessive collectiveness of the punishment. It was a collective punishment in every sense of the word. I don’t think the tenants on the top floor had anything to do with terrorists hiding in the elevator shaft. What’s the point in razing a building with hundreds of people?” he asked.
Still, it is the testimony about violence against individuals that stands out.
First sergeant Idan Barir served with the artillery corps around Qalqilya where there were routine Palestinian protests against the occupation. The battalion commander told the soldiers he wanted them to “bring me Arabs’ knees”.
“None of us thought we’d heard correctly. He said, ‘I know what I said. There are protesters and people throwing stones there, people causing problems, and we’re going to take them down. You’re going to bring me Arabs’ knees on this deployment.’ He used to stage ambushes with marksmen against stone throwers. He literally took out stone throwers’ knees,” said Barir.
On another screen, first sergeant Amit Lavie, recounted serving in the West Bank city of Hebron, a particularly tense fault line because of the forced removal of Palestinians to make way for religious Jewish settlers. He was part of a unit that detained a group of Palestinians who were handed over to the Israeli border police.
“Before we realised what was going on they started beating them. Kicking, punching. One of the border police took off his helmet and started hitting the Palestinian. He takes his helmet off, grabs it with both hands … boom!” he recalled.
Lavie said that another police officer kicked a prisoner in the testicles.
“He stands him up against a wall and kicks him in the balls again,” he said. “They’re blindfolded and handcuffed, and they’re screaming. Terrible screams. That still haunts me.”
Physical abuse was not limited to adults. A parade of soldiers in one of the videos give accounts of violence against children. One soldier describes his commander pushing the barrel of his M-16 into the mouth of an eight year-old boy who had been throwing stones at their patrol.
Some of the most disturbing testimony comes from Lt David Zonsheine, who served in a reconnaissance unit operating in the West Bank. He described the arrest of a 14 year-old boy suspected of hiding a weapon or of knowing where it was.
“What took place there was shocking torture including things like finding a thick wooden board in a field, sitting him on it and smashing his balls for several minutes. And then telling him, ‘Look, we like you,’ and kicking his balls. And then telling him, ‘Come on, just tell us, get it over with, tell us where it is and we’ll finish this,’” he said.
Zonsheine said one of the soldiers smashed a rock onto the boy’s hand. Another kept knocking his head to one side. “And at some point they started with the punching. Fists and all that. He started convulsing,” he said.
Zonsheine described the boy’s interrogators as “quite fine with the whole thing”. The soldier went looking for the boy the next day. He found him in hospital. “We saw him. He was in a plaster cast, a body cast. I don’t really know what happened to him. I don’t think he survived,” said Zonsheine.
Breaking the Silence showed the videos to politicians in Washington, alongside a public exhibition there.
“We believe that part of the solution to the occupation is making everyone aware of what is happening through the point of view of the soldiers who served,” said Givati. “One of the things we’re telling US policymakers is that, differently than what Israel is trying to tell them, doing nothing about the occupation is not good for Israel.”