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Hebrew University
[General and Comparative Literature] Ilana Hammerman and her group curse soldiers at check points

Ilana Hammerman’s letter to a soldier who responded to a report that she wrote after a tour in Hebron

Hebrew original of Ilana’s letter to the soldier: http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=26849

Ilana Hammerman original report (Hebrew): http://www.kibush.co.il/show_file.asp?num=26608

A letter from the soldier Yair Tzur

Date: 28 April 2008

To: machsomwatch@gmail.com

Subject: Response to report that you wrote in Hebron, Monday 21 April 2008 in the afternoon

Reply to Ilana Hammerman regarding and incident written up in report from Hebron on 21 April 08 (Roni H, Vivi Z., Hagit S and Ilana H.)

Regarding the incident with the 14-year-old boy:

“… their weapons were slung.” – Soldiers’ weapons have straps and they are always slung. There is no other way to carry them. These are not small weapons like pistols that can be tucked away. I think it is better that the guns are hanging that way than if the soldiers were always holding them in their hands.

“… some of the soldiers went off to stand with pointed weapons in front of a woman who apparently wanted to free the boy they were holding …” – the guns of the soldiers were not pointed. It is a blatant error to write such a thing in order to create a harsh image. You are shamelessly trying to draw a picture that is completely different from what is happening on the ground. The guns of the soldiers were hanging from straps on their shoulders because if it were not that way their lives and yours would be in danger. Moreover, the woman does not have the right to liberate the boy who had committed a serious crime, and for which he had been arrested.

“Meanwhile, jeeps had already had been summoned to the scene of the security incident also Jeeps on one of the many communications devices that were dangling in various ways from their uniforms.” – The Jeeps that were at the scene of the incident had not been summoned and nothing occurred as it was described. You arrived at the pharmacy checkpoint when there were many soldiers on the scene, without any connection to the incident. The Jeeps and the soldiers you described had nothing to do with the boy.

“Not only because of their age but mainly because of the many gadgets that swelled them up and bulked up their bodies, bodies that, when their owners (of the bodies) are in their other world, the private one, the intimate one, are maybe even skinny” – you write in a way that is intended to humiliate the soldiers. I am sure that you would not want similar things to be written about you on the Internet to be seen by everybody. In my opinion such writing is scornful and humiliating, and it is inappropriate.

Moreover, curses and replies like those you gave to the soldiers who were present at the scene shame your position. You are showing weakness and abase yourselves when you curse soldiers. There is no place for a group of people like you for the purpose of observation.

The boy was taken to the police precisely as should have been done, when a boy throws stones (or more accuratly, rocks) at an infantry patrol. This is not an armoured vehicle but people, flesh and blood, at whom rocks were thrown, contrary to what you wrote in the report.

I have nothing to add, except that you know very well how to see one side and to write everything from your point of view, without at all seeing the other sides, and you describe; then you draw the pictures in a distorted way, much worse than what actually happened. I will be happy if you reply,

Yair.

Hello Yair:

I am the one who wrote the report of Machsom Watch that you replied to and I want, and it is important to me, to reply to you. I was glad that you took the trouble to write to us, and not with curses, but rather on the substance of the matter. It is clear from your letter that you are a person who cares. The most important thing to me is to reply to concerns – this concern surely indeed impels you sometimes to look around you, and not only from the point of view of a soldier but rather from the point of view of a human being. From that point of view it is impossible not to see the situation in Hebron in a comprehensive way: the centre of the city that has become a ghetto for thousands of its thousands of Palestinian residents (after over twenty thousand of them were forced to leave their homes), and has become the exclusive domain of the Jewish residents. The checkpoints that you guard are a part of that whole system, and there is nothing worse in all the Occupied Territories. There the army has become, nearly like the Palestinians, subject to the whims of a few hundred Jewish residents, of whom the vast majority are zealots, nationalists and racists. I heard their words more than once and I have read the words that they write. More than that: many of them, including small children, are also violent – sometimes very violent.

These are facts – and not utterances that stem from my personal outlook. There is abundant evidence for these facts, and it is unlikely that you have not seen with your own eyes when you serve there and not read them in the newspapers and in other sources of information. Just recently (in the newspaper Haaretz, the weekly supplement 18 April 2008) the senior journalist Zvi Barel described in depth and in detail the sequence of events since the creation of the Jewish settlement, that very rapidly led to a situation in which the Israeli soldiers stationed in Hebron became servants at the beck and call of the settlers, which has led more than once to extensive humiliation and even abuse of soldiers. Barel’s article is based also on the writer’s personal experience: he was the deputy military governor of Hebron, no less! And he writes: “teeming Hebron became a ghost town under the protection of the army”. And he gives a very long series of precise examples of the way in which, since then to this very day, soldiers have been subject to the will of the settlers, and if they do not submit to them, then they are punished at their hands in various ways, and in the end they obey them: “the IDF” he writes, “cannot take pride in the legacy of its battle with the settlers”. Those words were also told to me by many soldiers in Hebron – soldiers who only waited for a moment in which they could finally get away from that place that they see as accursed. And those facts have also been documented in writing in various places, in testimony of soldiers of various political views, not just people of the Left, not at all.

And please, don’t tell me that you are defending my life. Soldiers like you who serve there did not defend me when I stood near the “House of Contention” in Hebron, with one other woman from Machsom Watch, the two of us alone, mature women: we stood and watched, we did not say a word and we did not do a thing and we made no provocation. And suddenly eggs were thrown at us from the roof and the children that were there surrounded me and began – with the vocal encouragement of their parents – to kick me and to hurl a large ball at me. Four soldiers were standing there, two beside a checkpoint that was beside the house and two by the entrance to the house. I asked them to get my attackers away from me and to catch the egg-throwers that were standing on the roof. The soldiers sniggered, they didn’t move from where they were standing and they didn’t lift a finger. And regarding the eggs, they said: how do we know that it was not Palestinians who threw the eggs at you? Not long ago there was a much more serious scene with members of the German parliament, official guests of the government of Israel, whom the settlers abused and the army did not defend, and they were forced to flee from there. But those matters are so well known and documented, that it is unlikely that you do not know. And as one who serves there – maybe you were even one of those soldiers who did not defend those who were attacked? I ask you this question in all seriousness; not to provoke you.

More than once the army claimed on such occasions that it does not have enough manpower to deal with the settlers: I have also heard that pretext with my own ears, because I have been to Hebron on many occasions. However, this army that is too frail to deal with kicking toddlers and their parents who incite them, this army saw fit to surround with about fifteen soldiers, a skinny boy of about fifteen [in June he will turn fifteen]. That is the incident that I documented, among others, and to which you replied [and why do you not respond about the blockaded house I described in my report?]. Maybe that boy threw stones at you or even rocks (afterwards the soldiers showed me some stones that they claimed had been thrown at them on the street: I did not see there a single rock, just small stones) – were so many armed soldiers necessary against a youth, a boy, whose hands were already cuffed and who was blindfolded? And don’t say that it was not fifteen soldiers who surrounded him: true, you were not summoned to the scene, you gathered from nearby streets. And you surrounded him. I saw that scene, and I also photographed it, and what I recorded in the report was correct in every detail. A few moments before that only three or four soldiers were standing at the checkpoint, and when the handcuffed boy was brought there many surrounded him. After a few moments they dispersed and the boy was taken away. Regarding the jeeps: there was only one jeep on the scene, and afterwards one more came along, and that’s the one that took the boy. Is it really all that important whether it was specially summoned or not? Two jeeps, many soldiers and one boy and one woman – that was the picture. You moved us aside and demanded that we stand on the other side of the barrier. True, we were angry at what we saw [we yelled; we did not curse], and I also wrote that, frankly and honestly. Believe me, that scene would be infuriating to anyone whose senses have not yet been dulled.

Yes, I described you with precision: why don’t you try to describe yourself under those circumstances, you who did not respond to me when settler families attacked me, how you looked when you stood around a single boy and separated him from his aunt, who at any rate could not have rescued him from you. And maybe you can explain to me why you blindfolded that boy? Did you ask yourself why that humiliation was necessary? Were there military secrets to be seen there? Does that boy not see, every day, the checkpoint and you and the whole terrible environment to which his home has been converted for the sake of the few hundred Jews who settled there in the first place in complete violation of every law and afterwards compelled the governments of Israel to authorize their residence there and to send massive military forces to defend them? Military forces that have become more and more harsh the more depressing the conditions there have become. They are humiliating to the soldiers themselves, to put it mildly.

And maybe it would even be worthwhile for you to put yourself just once in the place of that boy? And not only in Hebron, although that place, as has been said, is the worst of all. Put yourself in his place and in the place of his aunt and his father and many others to whom you serve in close proximity as a policeman according to laws that were not intended for policemen in a normal state. Have you asked yourself once how millions of civilians in the Territories have been living for decades now, behind enclosures and encirclement and roadblocks? And it is not a matter of one’s political perspective on the conflict: there is no other place in a democratic country in the world in which civilians have been living like that for such a long time, decades under occupation. There is no army in the world that has the right to fight that way against civilians for such a long time, which has become a permanent arrangement, not a temporary situation.

It is not just and not wise, especially not wise: by no means will we be able to live like this in peace and security in the long run. Not only are you not defending my life, you are even endangering it with the actions that you are ordered to carry out against civilians, men, women and children – under the cover of “war on terror”, as if all of them were terrorists. You are endangering me and us with the hatred that you and your comrades are sowing in the neighbourhoods and houses every day and every night. Indeed with my own eyes I see again and again the actions that you carry out, and I am not exaggerating: the destruction that soldiers leave behind them in houses [I saw!], the humiliations at the checkpoints and on the streets and the highways [I saw and heard and read them!]. Have you once put yourself in the place of those people that you are supposedly defending me against? I have put myself in their place in my thoughts and I travel every week to see their situation in the villages and in the cities and I am well-received by them [as a Jew and an Israeli, not as someone who identifies with terror], and I do not need you to defend me at all when I’m there. In their houses they even take extraordinary care of me, according to the code of hospitality that is sacred to them. I fear you more than I fear them. Because the moment you or your comrades appear in some civilian area, for example at the gates of a school, and the trouble begins, then I am liable to be in danger. Believe me: these things I have seen with my own eyes, I am not spouting slogans to you. And if behind all this I have my own outlook, it is not a “leftist” outlook, but the outlook that was bequeathed to me by my parents, who were persecuted in Europe, and it was they who taught me not to be silent when human rights are violated so; and I am not silent and I will not be silent.

Against that background, of what importance is it why your rifles were slung over your shoulders and if all the rifles were pointed and if it is possible to hold rifles in a way different to the way you were holding them in front of the boy and his aunt? You simply have nothing to seek from them there in the middle of the city, at that asinine checkpoint, with all your weapons and communications devices. You have become heroes facing down women and old people and children – if once you look a little bit beyond the end of the barrel of your rifle, it is impossible that you will not see and feel that. Many soldiers have already gone off the rails because of that, and we, we care about you too and about what happens to you, our sons and the sons of our friends. And we, all of us, feel that Israeli society too, not only in the Territories – has become more and more violent and corrupt. Many studies have been conducted on this matter. I can’t believe that you never think about these things! They’re humiliating you more than the Palestinians when they send you to do that kind of service.

But for all that, as long as I can, I and my friends will come to these places where you are serving and we’ll watch you and document you, and we will publish what we see as much as we can: and we can. It is not from weakness that we are doing this, but from the strong depth of our humanity and also of our Jewishness – yes!

In your reply you wrote: “I have nothing to add, except that you know very well how to see one side and to write everything from your point of view, without at all seeing the other sides, and you draw an image that is much worse and more distorted than what is happening in reality.”

Then maybe this letter of mine to you, which was written out of concern and pain, as you can recognize, will convince you that it is nearly certain that it is none other than you who does not see the other sides, not those of the Palestinians and not those of Israelis like me, who are worthy citizens of this state at least as much as you are – and we have an absolute right and even a duty to struggle for its humanity and sanity and also for the security of the society that we live in.

And another thing I wanted to write to you in reply to your letter: I did not mean to humiliate you when I wrote how you might look without your uniforms and without all your military gear. Exactly the contrary: I intended to say that without them maybe you are nice good-looking youths and not the thuggish louts that you look like at the checkpoints and when you are patrolling there in the streets of Hebron in front of the closed shops and the fences and the people who are confined behind them and when you are peering into the miserable shops that remain there and arbitrarily detain people for no reason as they are walking to their homes or to their work or to other places they have to go to.

I will be gratified if you read everything I have written, and before you get angry, take a little time to think.

And in conclusion, here is the testimony of a soldier who served recently in Hebron and who evidently looked around him:

“If I stand at a checkpoint that prevents people from going to places that they clearly have to go to, that is to say, sometimes they cannot go between the grocery store and their home because I am standing there, it makes no difference how polite I am. I do not need to be cruel to them for it to be wrong. I can be the politest person and it will still not be OK, because from their point of view it is not that I am being nice to them – I am still not letting them go to their home – what’s the difference if I try to be polite? What’s the difference, if I am humiliating them at the same time? The checkpoint itself is a humiliation. As long as I fulfil my role according to the regulations, according to all the laws, doing something completely legal, I am still doing something that harms people, and harms them in a gratuitous way. I am guarding, or ensuring the existence, of 500 settlers at the expense of 15,000 people in a direct occupation in Area H2 and another 140,000-160,000 in Hebron around it. And it makes no difference how decent I try to be, it makes no difference how decent my commander tries to be, it just … it will not be OK. I will still be their enemy. There will still be a conflict between us, and sometimes when I’m nice to them that makes problems for me because then they have somebody to argue with and somebody to appeal to. But I have nothing to answer to them – they can’t pass because they can’t pass and that’s that! Because it is an order, and due to security considerations, as long as you want to guard those 500 people, that’s what you have to do. As long as we want to keep those guys in Hebron alive, and want to ensure that they can have normal lives, it will be necessary to destroy the routine of all the others. There is no other alternative. For the most part they are genuine security considerations. They are not contrived considerations – in order that they cannot shoot at them from above, we have to hold the hills above them. People live on those hills. We have to occupy people, we have to hold people, we have to harm those people sometimes, but as long as the government sticks to its decision that the settlement in Hebron must remain, even without gratuitous cruelty, all the cruelty will be there and it will make no difference if people are nice or not.”

Regards,

Ilana Hammerman

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