Dear Friends, Last week we published a new report addressing the relations between settler and the IDF: “The High Command – Settler influence on IDF conduct in the West Bank.”
The report was written following a comprehensive research and in the context of the contentious public debate surrounding the shooting incident in Hebron in March 2016, when IDF soldier Elor Azaria shot and killed a neutralized terrorist. Footage from the incident exposed the public, among other things, to the influence settlers had on the conduct of IDF soldiers and commanders in the scene. However, we, at Breaking the Silence, are already familiar with this aspect of the occupation's mechanisms. From hundreds of soldiers’ testimonies we have collected since the organization was founded until this day, it is clear to us that when it comes to settler involvement in IDF conduct, what was demonstrated in the footage of the shooting incident in Hebron is not at all exceptional.
After the footage of the Hebron shooting incident went public, we appealed to the IDF Chief of Staff. By suggesting a detailed analysis of the relationship between settlers and the IDF, supplemented by a collection of testimonies that touch on the subject, we wished to bring to his attention the extant and severity of this phenomenon and its consequences.
The IDF Chief of Staff's response was thoughtful and detailed, yet revealed disturbing gaps between the official commands and procedures (as presented in the response) and the reality on the ground.
Our correspondence with the IDF Chief of Staff’s bureau made it clear to us that there is a need for a thorough and up-to-date research on the matter, and that its conclusions must be shared with the public. The current report is the result of this research.
The report focuses on a number of aspects that illustrate the characteristics and ramifications of the relationship between settlers and the IDF in the West Bank:
1. Settlers are frequently involved in operational activities, at times even as acting commanders, for all intents and purposes. Settlers often exploit this operational involvement and cooperation in order to distinctly advance settlers' interests - settlement expansion, and expulsion of Palestinians from areas adjacent to them.
“And then my commander said to me, “It wasn’t my decision, it was the Civilian Security Coordinator’s.” And then the Civilian Security Coordinator said, “I am the commander on the field, I give the orders, when the army arrives I direct it.” The message, at the end of the day, is that during an incident it’s the Civilian Security Coordinator who directs the army, not the army that directs the Civilian Security Coordinator.” [Sergeant Major, Hebron area, 2013]
2. Orders given to soldiers in regard to the manners in which they are to respond in cases of settler violence directed at Palestinians and their property are often obscure and unclear. In some cases, soldiers have been explicitly instructed not to interfere in the incident, and get the police instead. This is also the case when settlers' violence is pointed against the soldiers themselves.
“A curious soldier at the table suddenly jumped and said to the company commander, “If I see two Arabs lynching a settler, what am I supposed to do?” The company commander’s sharp answer was, “shoot to kill.” “And if I saw these settlers hitting an elderly man, what should I do?” The company commander nodded with his mustache and was a little flustered and mumbled an answer: “Of course you need to respond somehow. I don’t know how, but you need to respond.” After another minute of awkward silence, the company commander said, “That’s a good question, I need to think about it.” [Nahal, Hebron area, 2012].
3. IDF soldiers routinely guard and escort settlers' private or communal events and activities, some of which are held inside Palestinian villages and cities. Such events obstruct Palestinians’ daily routine and in many cases also endanger the soldiers themselves.
“The army has to guard a father-son trip from Tapuach to Yitzhar through two Arab villages. You need to walk with them, escort them, position observation posts in absurd locations. There was an observation post force of five soldiers, there was the front command squad, and a patrol that was on call, plus an escort force right alongside them.”
[Captain, Nablus area]
4. Close personal ties between settlers and soldiers are often exploited by the settlers to create a sense of emotional bias and to assimilate their messianic ideology on the soldiers in a way that would serves their political interests.
“The Chabad guys (ultra-orthodox faction in Judaism, identifies with the settler movement) would come into our post. Every time a platoon went out, the Hebron Chabad guys would throw them a barbeque, which sounds really nice and fun, and it really did raise morale among the soldiers. The problem is that it (the interaction with the settlers) confuses the soldiers completely about what their mission there is supposed to be, which is to maintain order, and it totally makes them biased – meaning now they can no longer enforce some kind of order on the settlers. If they get gifts from them all day, you can really call it benefits. Before arrest operations, all kinds of guys would find us in bizarre places, and bring us pizzas and say to us: “Thank you, go get them.” They really rile you up to execute violence and “get them hard” and that kind of talk.” [First Lieutenant, Nahal 932, Hebron area, 2014].
5. Integration of The settler movement political ideology is integrated into IDF educational activities, and at times even imparted to soldiers by settlers themselves.
“The guide [on a tour for infantry corps school trainees], told us the history, about the Maccabees’ battles that took place right there, and about the Jewish settlement. On the way there she took the microphone and said “By the way, all the settlements we’re passing through are in Area C, Israeli territory in the full sense of the word.” She said: “Area C is ours, Area B is both, and Area A is Arabs.”
[First Sergeant, Caracal, Ramallah and Eli-Bireh area, 2014]
The reality described in the testimonies is an inevitable result of the Israeli military rule mechanism that has been rooted and forms throughout nearly fifty years - the occupation's mechanism. As long as this reality keeps on existing, Palestinians will continue being the ones paying the price, and IDF soldiers will continue to serve the settlers in their attempt to promote and advance their political agenda.
It is our civic duty to make sure the public is aware of the reality on the ground, as reflected by the testimonies of hundreds of soldiers who broke their silence. It is the public’s duty to be aware of this reality and to demand the military and political ranks take steps to end it.
So how can you take part?
If you are living in Israel or staying here for the time being, invite us to a lecture or parlor meeting in your own home, for an open dialogue with your family and friends, in order to learn more about us and the mission we were sent to carry out>> firstname.lastname@example.org