Many naive rabbis have taken the “Hebron cure” and it turned their universes upside down. Any serious Canadian Jew, who cherishes the essence of Judaism should visit this hell hole of fundamentalism gone wild. If he or she is open this will begin the necessary descent from Zionism gone berserk to serious Judaism. In the article below Nazareth journalist Jonathan Cook describes one Israeli who “was blind but now he sees.”
Former Israeli soldiers exposing the brutality of the occupation of the West Bank face fresh challenges
Ido Even-Paz switched on his body camera as his tour group decamped from the bus in Hebron. The former Israeli soldier wanted to document any trouble we might encounter in this, the largest Palestinian city in the occupied West Bank.
It was not Hebron’s Palestinian residents who concerned him. He was worried about Israelis – Jewish religious extremists and the soldiers there to guard them – who have seized control of much of the city centre.
Mr Even-Paz, 34, first served as a soldier in Hebron in the early 2000s. Today he belongs to Breaking the Silence, a group of former soldiers turned whistleblowers who leads tours into the heart of Israel’s settlement enterprise. After 14 years of operations, however, Breaking the Silence is today facing ever-more formidable challenges.
Hebron, 30km south of Jerusalem, is a microcosm of the occupation. A handful of settlers moved here uninvited five decades ago, drawn in part to the what Israelis call the Tomb of the Patriarchs and Palestinians the Ibrahimi mosque. The Herod-era building is erected over the putative burial site of Abraham, Patriarch in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Since then the settler ranks have swollen to nearly 900 – aided by the Israeli army.
Despite their relatively small number, however, their territorial footprint has been expanding relentlessly, and now covers some 2 square kilometres.
The settlers and military, says Mr Even-Paz, have worked hand in hand to hijack the freedoms of some 230,000 Palestinians and turn Hebron’s once-vibrant commercial centre into a ghost town. All of this has happened with the apparent blessing of the Israeli government.
War crimes witnessed
When Mr Even-Paz arrived in Hebron as a teen soldier at the height of the Second Intifada, he was keen to distinguish himself as a combat soldier by fighting Palestinian “terrorists”, and impress his father, a retired career officer.
His political awakening however, didn’t begin until much later, in 2008, as Israel launched a massive assault on the Gaza Strip. Later he discovered the more than 1,000 testimonies recorded by Breaking the Silence, in which Israelis acknowledged that they had participated in or witnessed war crimes during their military service.
“Those stories were exactly like mine. I thought I’d done nothing significant during my military service, that it was boring. I started to realise it was the very mundanity of the occupation – its round-the-clock oppression of Palestinians – that was the core of the problem.”
Eden-Paz leads a tour through Hebron
He believes the problem of the occupation is systemic rather than the result of misconduct by individual soldiers.
“Whatever a soldier believes when they begin their military service, there is no way to behave ethically in the occupied territories,” he says. “It’s a system in which Palestinians are always treated as inferior, always viewed as the enemy, whoever they are.
“Every day the job is to inflict collective punishment. We were told explicitly that we were waging psychological war, that we were there to intimidate them.
“In the middle of the night we raided families’ homes, chosen randomly, waking up frightened children. We violently broke up Palestinian protests. I arrested Palestinians every day to ‘dry them out’ – to teach them a lesson, to make them understand who is boss.”
Army treated as sacred
Yet in Israel, the military is regarded as an almost sacred institution. Breaking the Silence casts a long, dark shadow over claims that Israel’s is the most moral army in the world.
Hebron is ground zero for much of the group’s work, where military service is a rite of passage for Israeli combat soldiers. The group’s tour attracts some back later in life, either after they grow troubled by their earlier experiences enforcing the occupation or because they want to show family members what their service was like.
Some go on to testify to the group, says Ori Givati, Mr Even-Paz’s colleague on the tour. “When they come with us to places like Hebron, the memories flood back. They recall things they did that they can now see in a different light.”
With the spread of phone cameras in recent years, the dark underbelly of the occupation in Hebron has been ever harder to conceal, confirming the soldiers’ testimonies.
Palestinians have captured on video everything from terrified small children being dragged off the street by soldiers into military Jeeps to an army medic, Elor Azaria, using his rifle to execute a prone Palestinian man by shooting him in the head from close range.