Make Your Presence Felt

By EA Elizabeth, who recently returned from serving in the Southern West Bank.

What do EAs and the Israeli military have in common? They both wish to make their presence felt in occupied Palestine.

EAs have been present since 2002, escorting children to school, accompanying farmers in rural areas, and monitoring the situations at checkpoints. They are visible in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Hebron where movement restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities affect access to everyday aspects of life including the workplace, education and health. Access to holy places for Palestinian Christian and Muslim worshipers is also affected contrary to the Right to Freedom of Religion and Worship stated in Article 46 of the Hague Regulations and Article 58 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

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EAs escorting children from school who have to pass through a checkpoint [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

EAs accompanying shepherds during a dust storm (Photo: EAPPI/E.Brightwell]

EAs accompanying shepherds during a dust storm (Photo: EAPPI/E.Brightwell]

Like EAs, the soldiers are also here to make their presence felt. Those are the orders they receive when deployed to occupied Palestine. As an army of occupation the soldiers are responsible for protecting the civilian population, as stated in Articles 4 and 47 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, and ensuring the population is treated humanely and never discriminated against as stated in Article 27. The reality is very different.

A soldier making his presence felt in Jerusalem [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

A soldier making his presence felt in Jerusalem [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

Soldiers overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

Soldiers overlooking the Old City in Jerusalem [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organisation established in 2004 by soldiers from the Israeli Defence Forces concerned at the gap between what they saw and did as serving soldiers and the silence in Israel where the occupation is too often ignored or completely denied.

Yehuda and Ido, former soldiers now working with Breaking the Silence, independently tell us that the orders given by the government to the army are to make its presence felt, to disrupt the daily lives of the Palestinians, to threaten them, and to ensure they live in fear. Ido adds, “we stopped them at the check points to ‘dry them out’” – an army euphemism for tying and blindfolding Palestinians before making them stand in the sun for up to eight hours – perhaps for not having the right permit, or for the way they looked at a soldier, or for no particular reason at all – simply because “we can”.

Soldiers telling a shepherd he has to move [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

Soldiers telling a shepherd he has to move [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

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Soldiers refusing entry to this street to a Palestinian because they can [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

In Hebron, Ido takes us to Tel Rumeida and shows us ‘the cage house’. A Palestinian family lives there opposite an illegal settlement. Hundreds of Palestinian boys are detained every year for allegedly throwing stones (see my previous blog). Here settlers throw stones and generally attack the family and their property which is why the house resembles a cage, but no settlers are arrested.

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Living in a caged house in Tel Rumeida, Hebron [Photo: EAPPI/E Brightwell]

Ido says it’s not the settlers themselves that are the problem but the soldiers who protect them, always defending them so inevitably the settlers believe they are beyond the law. Similarly Yehuda is not against the soldiers, nor does he see them as the problem. Most are only 18 to 20 years old. He says the problem is the government which gives such orders.

An Israeli soldier serving in Hebron says, “As long as you want to maintain the Israeli settlers in Hebron and give them a semblance of a normal existence, you must destroy everyone else’s existence.” There are 200,000 Palestinians in Hebron and 650 settlers protected by over 1,000 soldiers.

The soldiers involved with Breaking the Silence are proud to be Israeli and love Israel, but believe the army should be an army of defence, not of occupation, and are critical of things they have seen and done while serving. Many are sure the occupation is undermining the state of Israel because of the huge financial cost and because of the shame it brings. Yehuda leaves us saying. “We, Israel, will only survive if we end the occupation.”

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Click here to find out more about Breaking the Silence and read some of the testimonies of those who have served in the army of occupation.