Time for the Soldiers to Speak Out

Victims of the process of the Palestinians' dehumanization, tainted with feelings of the intoxication of power and rule - alongside the fear, the soldiers for the most part probably see nothing wrong about their actions in the territories.

When will the soldiers at long last start talking? When will their consciences get the better of them? When will they sit at home and tell the truth about what they did in their army service in the territories? Recently there have been a few signs that this inevitable process, already very late in appearing, may be about to occur. If so, it could signal an important shift. The refuseniks made their contribution but apparently have exhausted their strength and their influence. Now, the talking soldiers' turn has come. Those who do not refuse to serve - indeed, they are ready to go on bearing the burden - but who at least will tell the unvarnished truth at home.

It is not only the pursuers of peace and the advocates of human rights who should welcome this - so, too, should the Israel Defense Forces. In the meantime, though, fear is paralyzing the few who have arrived at the awareness that they have to tell their story. The organizing activity that has taken place in the past few weeks, encompassing a few dozen soldiers and recently discharged soldiers, has taken place in deep secrecy, for fear of getting into trouble. In any case, they are a minuscule minority. The majority of the soldiers apparently don't bother to ask themselves why they are there; who decided that they have to decide the fate of the Palestinians day in and day out; why they have to risk their lives in order to protect groups of delusional settlers; what their systematic abuse of the Palestinians has to do with security; and how many innocent people they have killed and are killing.

Victims of the process of the Palestinians' dehumanization, tainted with feelings of the intoxication of power and rule - alongside the fear, the soldiers for the most part probably see nothing wrong about their actions in the territories. It's a lot easier to carry out their orders without asking too many questions. Still, it's hard to believe that among the tens of thousands of soldiers who have served in the territories, there are none whose conscience bothers them, if not during the service, at least afterward, when they have matured and are at some distance from the horrors. It's difficult to imagine that with the exception of 600 or so refuseniks, all the rest of the IDF troops are totally in harmony with what they are doing.

The soldier who last Thursday shot to death a youngster who was throwing stones at Yakir junction knows the truth. He knows that the explanation offered by the IDF spokesperson, to the effect that the soldier fired at the young person's legs, but because he bent down the bullet struck him in the head and killed him, is a very dubious one. Maybe he also understands that not all the stone throwers have to be marked for death. The time has come for that soldier and his buddies to tell us the truth. Similarly, the soldier who in mid-March shot to death a 23-year-old woman, Delal Abu al-Hassan, as she was hanging out laundry on the roof of her house, knows the truth about the circumstances of her killing. Maybe one day his conscience will torment him for taking the life of a mother of three children, one of them a newborn infant. And the soldier who prevents a woman in labor from crossing the checkpoint, and the soldiers who provoke the children at Qalandiyah and kill them, time and again, and the soldiers who open fire with live ammunition at people who are demonstrating against the separation fence - we need their accounts.

The Six Day War with its heady victories - a war that was immeasurably more moral than the current intifada - generated the courageous "soldiers speak" phenomenon (manifested in the book Siah Lohamim, translated into English as "The Seventh Day"), in which participants in the war described looting and killing along with moral qualms after their return home. The first intifada, in which the IDF was a little more moral in its behavior - as can be gleaned, for example, from the trials that were conducted against soldiers - engendered a film that contained harrowing testimonies by soldiers about what they had done. Yet now, when soldiers are daily perpetrating acts which in the enlightened world are defined as war crimes in every respect, from mass destruction to wholesale killing, from imprisoning a people to preventing the sick and the wounded from receiving medical treatment, total silence prevails. No one is wrestling with his conscience, no one is talking.

The Israelis have been in a blackout for the past three and a half years. They have no information about or interest in what is going on in the occupied territories. Only the soldiers can now lift this screen, which is the fruit of a very dangerous collaboration between the security authorities and the media. The Palestinians aren't believed, the Israeli press is keeping its distance from the territories and the international press is perceived as hostile. Only the soldiers themselves can break the vicious circle in which the absence of information brings about distorted and ultimately disastrous conceptions. One soldier who did that, Liran Ron Forer, was vilified for his efforts, but his book, "The Checkpoint Syndrome," has had an impact in Israel and internationally. Another soldier, Y., brought to Haaretz the keys he found in an IDF base - keys that belong to vehicles of Palestinians that were arbitrarily confiscated in the territories, though the IDF Spokesperson consistently denies that this is done. His conscience troubled him. What Y. did is important, and not least for the IDF itself. Now it's time for others to stand up and speak out. For them to relate how they killed and jailed and humiliated for no good reason. No one will be able to deny their accounts. They were there, and they are soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces, not alienated detractors of the country. Israel is still a very long way from establishing truth and reconciliation commissions. Their time, too, will come, but in the meantime story hour has already arrived.