Vow of Silence
Going against the accepted norms of the society in which they live, and defying the accepted narrative in Israel, a handful of female ex-soldiers “broke their silence” last month in a series of recorded testimonies. The testimonies they shared of their experiences from the time they served in the West Bank as IDF soldiers joined a database now consisting of over 900 similar testimonies, which together add up to sound a reverberating alarm bell for all to hear.
Well, for those who can and wish to hear at least. Israeli society is doing a great job of ignoring these ex-soldiers who are coming forward to, essentially, confess. The Israeli society is not willing to show them the respect they rightly deserve by giving them a decent hearing or discussion. How should we interpret this apathy? What explains the dissonance between the consequential evidence these testimonies provide and the way they are almost ignored by the Israeli society?
Firstly, since the testimonies are perceived as criticism of the IDF, they automatically lack legitimacy and are discredited. This knee-jerk reaction stems from the fact that the Israeli military enjoys a stature unrivaled by any other political or civilian body in Israel. It is the holy cow. Anyone, or anything, criticizing the IDF is usually labeled as anti-Israel or even anti-Zionist. Since the IDF is ultimately an executive arm of the Israeli government, this built-in reflex dangerously wipes out any real chance of a civil debate over IDF behavior as a reflection of official government policy. The fact that the main target of these testimonies is not the IDF but the policies dictating its operations, is of little importance.
Secondly, and interconnected to the first reason, we are not emotionally or cognitively equipped to deal with this information. Our identity as Israelis cannot entertain the thought that there may be an element of truth to these stories since that may place us at a moral disadvantage. Should we no longer be able to claim the moral high ground, we may lose our moral self justification. We need to know we’re right.
This need is of course reflected in our steadfast belief and claim that the IDF is the most moral army in the world. Now, whether this is true, as many Israelis like to claim, is beside the point. We dare not, or cannot afford to, believe otherwise. Thus, we cannot fathom any claim or implication to the contrary.
By the way, to the question of whether the IDF is the most moral army in the world or not, I give a reserved ‘yes’. Reserved, since I am not truly acquainted with other armies in the world. However, I have served, and still do, in the IDF, and know first-hand the extent to which it attempts to avoid unnecessary deaths or injury of civilians. Oh, it’s far from squeaky clean – I myself have witnessed troubling events similar to those reported in the recorded testimonies, but these are mostly exceptions to the rule. The IDF is making the most out of the impossible circumstances dictated to it by politicians and the harsh reality on the ground – governance and control over another people.
And so we would rather ignore or suppress than take a hard look into the mirror to understand the real long – term cost we are paying as a society for our presence in the West Bank. Instead of dealing with the root cause, we engross ourselves in the symptoms of the illness. We bemoan crippling rules of engagement given to our soldiers, and decry the daily humiliations suffered by one of the finest armies in the world. Instead of realizing that controlling a civilian population can only lead to a debasement of our soldiers and continued de-legitimization of Israel in the world (a battle long lost), we busy ourselves with delegitimizing contradicting narratives by blaming foreign organizations for funding “traitors” within our midst. Pure and utter denial.
The sheer number of these testimonies, not to mention their troubling content, means that they cannot be simply swept under the carpet. They demonstrate not only the price the Palestinian population is paying, but also the long term effects on Israeli society. Anyone wondering where the violence and extremism we are witnessing today within the Israeli society originates from, should start with this undeclared vow of silence.