These two pieces really speak for themselves. The moral corruption of the Israeli occupation in all its gruesome detail.
First up, Aluf Benn in Haaretz:
The photographs of the female soldier Eden Abergil on Facebook with the young, bound Palestinians did not “shock” me, as did the automatic responses of people on the left who complained, as usual, about the corrupting occupation and our moral deterioration. Instead, the photos brought back memories from my military service. Once, I was also Eden Abergil: I served in a Military Police unit in Lebanon whose mission was to take prisoners from the Shin Bet’s interrogation rooms to the large holding camp of Ansar. I covered many eyes with pieces of cloth, I bound many wrists with plastic cuffs.
I never knew who the prisoners were and what they had done wrong, and I was not trained to know how to treat them. Everything was improvised. They showed me how to cuff them, apply the piece of cloth and load them onto army vehicles. And off we went. Very quickly I learned four words in Arabic that soldiers used when handling the prisoners: aud (sit ), um (stand ), yidak (put your hands out ) and uskut (quiet ). In the basement for Shin Bet interrogations at Nabatieh, in an old tobacco factory that had been transformed into the regional division headquarters, I saw prisoners eating like dogs, bent over with their hands tied behind their backs. And I smelled their sweat and urine.
I never saw “irregularities.” No beatings, no slappings, no maimings. But if the cuffs were put on a bit too tight, half a centimeter that couldn’t be reversed, the prisoner suffered great pain. The palms swelled because blood flow was restricted, and the trip became a nightmare when the prisoners begin to beg: “Captain, captain, idi, idi [my hands].” There were soldiers who tied the cuffs on too tight – a small torture that’s not in the reports by Amnesty International or the Goldstone Commission. It’s a torture that depends on a single soldier, without instructions from above or the military advocate general. An outlet for the hatred of Arabs during a routine mission.
And there were the humiliations. We did not force the prisoners to sing “Ana bahebak Mishmar Hagvul” (“I love you Border Police” ), as in the territories. The big hit back then was “Yaish Begin, mat Arafat” (“Long live Begin, Arafat is dead” ). In retrospect, it’s not certain that our Lebanese prisoners were opposed to Arafat’s removal; they may have even identified with that part of the song.
I once performed a leftist act of courage. I was guarding a truck full of prisoners who were waiting in the sun to be processed at Ansar. Suddenly a reservist thug showed up, with sneakers and no shirt on, and wanted to get on the truck and beat the prisoners. I refused to let him on. He made a threatening move. I had no chance against him one on one. I cocked my weapon, he took a step back and, enraged, said: “It’s because of people like you that the country is in the state it is.”
There was nothing special in my experience or in the photographs of Eden Abergil. Tens of thousands of soldiers who served in the territories and Lebanon, like Eden and me, were exposed to similar experiences. This is the routine of occupation: pieces of cloth, cuffs, sweat in the sun, aud, um, yidak, uskut. That’s the way it has been for 43 years. When 18-year-old soldiers with weapons guard civilians with their hands and eyes bound, and see the prisoners lying in pools of urine in the interrogation basements, the situation is violent and humiliating without diverging from orders or regulations.
The occupation did not “corrupt” me or any of my colleagues in the unit. We didn’t return home and run wild in the streets and abuse helpless people. Coming-of-age problems preoccupied us a lot more than our prisoners’ discomfort. Our political views were also not affected. Anyone who hated Arabs at home hated them when he was defeated and weak in the army, and those who read Uri Avnery before being drafted believed that it was necessary to leave Lebanon and the territories even when they actively took part in the occupation.
But we learned one lesson: Regardless of politics, it’s better to be the guard than the prisoner. Even those who dream of a permanent settlement and a Palestinian state and want to see the settlements gone prefer to tie on the cuffs than be cuffed. It’s better to guard the prisoner and eat at the mess hall than to eat on your knees with your hands tied behind your back in a smelly room. The occupation did not transform us into law-breaking criminals, it only taught us that it’s best to be on the stronger side.
Pfc. Aluf Benn spent his years in the army in the Military Police in Lebanon. Yesterday, with commendable courage, he revealed his military routines in these pages (“When I was Eden Abergil” ). He handcuffed and blindfolded people countless times and led many detainees to their cages. He saw detainees eating like dogs, as he put it – crouching with their hands tied behind their backs – and smelled their sweat and urine.
Benn tried to argue that everyone did this, thousands of soldiers of the occupation army for generations, and that is why he was not shocked by the acts of soldier Eden Abergil. That is a twisted but frightingly banal moral explanation: Everyone does it, so it’s okay. I never saw aberrations, Benn wrote, immediately after describing the detainees’ horrendous doglike meal. The occupation did not corrupt me, he added later, without batting an eyelash.
Well then, my excellent editor and good friend, Aluf Benn, your article is unequivocal proof of how much you have been corrupted after all – and, more seriously, how unaware of it you are. You didn’t know and didn’t ask who the prisoners were and why they were detained that way. Even their crouching to eat in handcuffs was deemed by you, a soldier who read Uri Avnery in his youth, to be normal, not a monstrous moral aberration. But really, what can you expect from a young brainwashed soldier?
The problem is that even today, with mature hindsight, you still don’t consider this an aberration. Why? Just because everybody did it.
The occupation did not turn us into lawless criminals, you write with a pure heart. Really? You handcuffed thousands of people for no reason, without trial, in humiliating conditions, causing them pain that made them scream, according to your testimony. Is this not a loss of humanity?
You didn’t return home to riot in the streets and abuse innocent people, you write, and that’s all very well. But you were silent. You were a complete accomplice to the crime, and you don’t even have a guilty conscience.
Try to think for a moment about the thousands of detainees that you handcuffed, humiliated and tortured. Think about their lives since then, the traumas and scars they carry, the hatred you planted in them. Now think about yourself, the soldier who has matured, become a family man and a respected columnist, a liberal editor to the bone, with independent and enlightened opinions. Could it be that you are blinder today than you were in your youth?
So that’s what everybody did. You have made an important contribution to Breaking the Silence, providing proof of what the occupation does to the occupier, who doesn’t even notice the ugly hump on his back anymore. The occupier you described is a grave development. An occupier who feels so good, so at peace with his past actions, is in need of profound self-examination.
“When I was Eden Abergil” is an important article. It honestly exposes what most of us don’t want to admit. It can’t be called false propaganda, and no one would dare accuse its author of being an anti-Semite. He was a dedicated soldier in the defense forces that committed (and still commit ) such criminal deeds.
But the lesson Benn took away from his military service is perhaps the most chilling of all: It is better to be the one taking the prisoner, not the prisoner. It is better to be the one placing the handcuffs, not the handcuffed. It is better to guard the detainee and then go to the dining room than to eat crouching, hands cuffed, in a stinking hall. This is the binary world of the former Israeli soldier: either a brutal soldier, or his victim.
And what about the third possibility, which is neither one nor the other? The world has plenty of these – neither torturers not torture victims, neither occupiers nor the occupied. But they have been entirely erased from the narrow and frighteningly distorted image of the world that Israel plants in its soldiers’ minds.
Benn and his fellow soldiers just wanted to be on the strong side, and to hell with being on the just side. But those who forced people to eat like animals are not the strong side. Even the mighty, who once read the leftist Haolam Hazeh and now edits the op-ed page of Haaretz, has fallen.
Pfc. Benn certainly did not deserve a medal for his army service. Years later, he doesn’t even understand what was wrong with it.