The Trauma of the Occupier

Yossi Klein
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A boy looks at Israeli soldiers during a protest in Beita in the West Bank, in October.
Yossi Klein

A 20-year-old enters a strange home in the wee hours of the night. He startles parents and frightens children. He himself is scared. He kicks the furniture and overturns beds. The family crowds into a corner. The children cry. The wife is shocked, the father of the family is handcuffed and dragged outside. This is the first time for the 20-year-old. He knows that something here is wrong, but an order is an order, and if his fellow soldiers obey, why shouldn’t he.

Over time he becomes more efficient. His kicks are more accurate and his curses are louder. For him breaking into homes is just another task. But the transition is not smooth. It takes time before a normal young man turns over furniture in strange homes. The horrors that he perpetrates endanger his normalcy.

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But he comes prepared. He has no need for alcohol and drugs to do terrible things. School, home and television have prepared him. They taught him that the world is divided into human beings and wild men, and he’s on the human side of the equation. They have convinced him that he is sacrificing his humanity for the sake of our humanity.

It’s not easy to lose one’s humanity, not even under orders. But they told him that there’s no room here for compassion. They told him that if he takes pity on an infant now, eventually he’ll be stabbed in the back by the infant he spared. They told him that they’re animals, inferior, that he is far superior to them, that they have to be put in their place, their beds overturned, their home blown up.

And then he returns home on Friday, and his parents are surprised: Is this our son? Yes, it’s him. Or a classmate, or the neighbors’ son. They think they know him, but they’re wrong. They know the son from the time before he invaded homes, not the son afterwards. There’s a chance that his father experienced the same thing.

A period of 54 years of breaking into strange homes is long enough to train generations of invaders. Fathers, sons and grandsons. They’re all skilled home-invaders. Multiply such a Kristallnacht by 54 years of occupation and you’ll get battalions of raiders who make up Israeli society. It’s not so terrible, says a father who once broke into homes and whose son is now doing so. Look at me, I started a family, I found work, I’ve forgotten everything.

He hasn’t really forgotten. The sights and sounds have not been forgotten, but he won’t admit it. He’s traumatized, but he won’t admit it. Nor will the Israel Defense Forces. Imagine if he were to admit that service in the territories is likely to cause psychological damage. As far as he’s concerned, raiding homes and scaring their residents is a normal activity that a reasonable soldier performs.

The trauma of the reasonable soldier doesn’t go anywhere, it stays with him after his military service. He and other traumatized people who are unaware of their trauma start families, run companies and are elected to public office. And all that time they are carrying the unbearable burden of battered men and crying children.

They take the trauma on the roads and on Facebook, they pad it with hatred and disdain, without which a reasonable person cannot frighten women and children. The army changes him. His attitude towards the right to privacy changes, he no longer recognizes it, not at home, not at work and not on the highway. The person who checked other people’s bedsheets during his military service now tailgates you on the Ayalon Highway, breathes down your neck on the bus, curses you in the Knesset, tramples you on Facebook.

He has learned to sanctify power, to appreciate the shortcut created by violence, he is aware of the power in shouting, the feeling of release in cursing, he understands that shocking acts can be committed behind the anonymity of his helmet in the army and his keyboard at home. He has brought Judea and Samaria here. The rules of the jungle have taken over the villa in the jungle, and have brought the Wild West here, with its disdain for a person’s life, property and dignity. During the course of 54 years a power-hungry society has been built here, one that respects the strong and mocks the weak, a society that goes all the way: A political rival is not simply mistaken, he’s an antisemite and a Nazi.

Things could have been different, but nobody came to a young man who overturned beds and said, Listen, you did terrible things. Forget the bullshit about “Jewish and democratic,” because at the end of the road an egalitarian country with permanent borders and just laws awaits you. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But anyone who raided homes in the middle of the night won’t buy it. He’ll say, “If that’s what you’re offering me, no thanks.” As far as he’s concerned, it’s better for the situation to remain as is.

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