Opinion |

Israeli Soldiers, Don't Agree to Destroy Lives, Including Your Own

Ilana Hammerman
Ilana Hammerman
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Soldiers arresting Palestinian children for picking flowers near a West Bank settlement in March.
Soldiers arresting Palestinian children for picking flowers near a West Bank settlement in March.Credit: Nasser Nawaj'ah / B'Tselem
Ilana Hammerman
Ilana Hammerman

Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces, you are fighting civilians. The cameras are rolling, and many see you destroying the lives of thousands of unarmed people. You are patrolling their villages and towns on foot and in armored vehicles with bars on the windows – armed from head to toe, fingers on the triggers, ready to shoot. You are sowing fear and animosity and repeatedly leaving a trail of dead and wounded and maimed behind.

At night, you storm into homes, frightening men, women and children in their sleep; interrogating, conducting searches and arrests and evoking rage, humiliation and heartbreak. During the day, you demolish homes in towns and villages, and tin shacks in more remote communities. You crush and uproot tents inhabited by people and sheds for livestock. You confiscate water tanks and drive out dozens of wretched human beings, young and old, whom you leave under the burning desert sun, along with their livestock and belongings, which are scattered on the ground.

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There’s the young man who with his bare hands was protecting his neighbors’ generator – which you came to confiscate. He is your enemy. You shoot him in the neck and leave him lying on the ground, paralyzed for life. Children in the alleyways of the Old City of Hebron - whose residents have already been uprooted from their homes for fear of you and the settlers under your auspices – are your enemy. They curse at you and throw stones at you, who are armed and protected from head to toe. And you chase after them, capture them, pry them away from imploring mothers and fathers – and put them into detention.

You need to see those video clips and get a look at yourselves, you 19- and 20-year-olds, getting the better of children and their parents, while you are equipped with lethal ammunition and sophisticated means of tracking and communications.

Surely, you are no longer children. You already have the sense to ask 'why' – why you continue to fight, as your parents and your parents’ parents fought this war, which has long become an open battle over the theft of the land and resources and freedom of another people who have been living here for generations. It’s a hopeless war, one without victories, because there are millions of them, and they won’t be uprooted from here.

The cameras have been rolling and large numbers of people see the footage. We’ve seen you kill an autistic young man who was running away from you in Jerusalem’s Old City. We’ve seen you kill an emotionally disturbed elderly woman who was slowly approaching you with a knife in hand. The list is long and getting longer. At the moment, we’re looking at the pictures of your latest young victims – 17-year-old Mohammed Tamimi from the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh and 12-year-old Mohammed al-Alami from the town of Beit Ummar, and their parents, whose world has been destroyed.

The father of Mohammed al-Alami next to a photo of his son.Credit: Emil Salman

The principal of Tel Aviv’s Tichonet High School, Ram Cohen, dedicated a Facebook post to the memory of Mohammed al-Alami. “It’s not a tragic mistake. They didn’t feel in danger. It wasn’t a ramming attack,” he wrote. “A father and two children set out to buy necessities in Beit Ummar. And the soldiers who were there open fire on them... A student who finished 12th grade and is drafted into the army … and who’s full of fear and a sense of danger, receives a weapon, arrives in the territories and in a moment of a show of superiority and power, executes an 11-year-old boy, a 5th grader.”

In the post, Cohen also quotes from remarks that an 18-year-old, Eran Aviv, wrote from jail after refusing to be drafted: “My refusal is first and foremost conscientious objection. My conscience doesn’t permit me to commit injustices and crimes as part of my military service.” Cohen, a high-ranking and long-time educator, concludes his post as follows: “One kills and the other refuses. Choose a side.”

Yes, choose a side, you soldiers – those among you who know that it is not Israel’s existence that you are defending when you are in combat against the civilian population of the West Bank; those among you who understand that they have turned you into foot soldiers in service of the settlements and the ideological camp that stands behind them, which is endangering not only the country’s moral existence, but also its physical existence. Because in this era, in which combat is not with swords but with weapons of mass destruction, we can’t live by the sword here forever, and it’s not only Israel that is armed with such weaponry. Residents of Tel Aviv and the north of the country, who have fled the threat of missiles, understood that.

Choose a side: you, thousands of parents and teachers who have known this for many years but still withdraw into yourselves and become inured to the situation. Don’t agree to send your children and students on field trips in the occupied territories. Speak your mind regarding the nationalist, religious and racist education that the education system is cultivating at its institutions. Provide backing for the teachers and principals who are trying to step into the breach.

Give your adolescent daughters and sons the courage to say 'no,' the courage to oppose the arrest, assault and killing of children and adolescents in Palestinian villages in order to protect the settlements that are hemming them in, pushing their residents off their land and imprisoning them in enclaves.

Give your children the courage to refuse to destroy the lives of communities in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills so that the violent outposts there can expand and carry out a policy of ethnic cleansing in large swaths of territory. Yes, take a side, you soldiers. Don’t agree to destroy lives – neither theirs, nor your own or the future of us all.

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