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PORTSIDE  August 2010, Week 4

PORTSIDE August 2010, Week 4

Subject:

Israeli army's female recruits denounce treatment of Palestinians

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Date:

Tue, 24 Aug 2010 21:23:55 -0400

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Israeli army's female recruits denounce treatment of
Palestinians

    Facebook images of an Israeli servicewoman posing
    with blindfolded Palestinians have caused a storm.
    Now two former female conscripts have spoken out
    about their own experiences

by Harriet Sherwood

The Observer (Guardian - UK)

August 22, 2010

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/22/israel-
female-soldiers-gaza-occupation

It was a single word scrawled on a wall at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem that unlocked something deep
inside Inbar Michelzon, two years after she had
completed compulsory military service in the Israeli
Defence Force.

The word was "occupation". "I really felt like someone
was speaking the unspoken," she recalled last week in a
Tel Aviv cafe. "It was really shocking to me. There was
graffiti saying, 'end the occupation'. And I felt like,
OK, now I can talk about what I saw."

Michelzon became one of a handful of former Israeli
servicewomen who have spoken out about their military
experiences, a move that has brought accusations of
betrayal and disloyalty. It is impossible to know how
representative their testimonies are, but they provide
an alternative picture of the "most moral army in the
world", as the IDF describes itself.

Concerns about Israeli army culture were raised last
week following the publication on Facebook of
photographs of a servicewoman posing alongside
blindfolded and handcuffed Palestinians. The images were
reminiscent of the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq. But the
former soldier, Eden Abergil, said she didn't understand
what was wrong with the pictures, which were described
by the IDF as "ugly and callous".

Israel is unique in enlisting women at the age of 18
into two years of compulsory military service. The
experience can be brutalising for the 10% who serve in
the occupied territories, as Michelzon did.

"I left the army with a ticking bomb in my belly," she
said. "I felt I saw the backyard of Israel. I saw
something that people don't speak about. It's almost
like I know a dirty secret of a nation and I need to
speak out."

Michelzon, now 29, began her military service in
September 2000, just when the second intifada was
breaking out. "I joined the army with a very idealistic
point of view - I really wanted to serve my country."
She was posted to Erez, the crossing between Israel and
the Gaza Strip, to work in the radio control room.

"There was a lot of tension, a lot of shootings and
suicide bombings," she said. "Little by little you
understand the rules of the game. You need to make it
hard for the Arabs - that's the main rule - because they
are the enemy."

She cited a routine example of a Palestinian woman
waiting at the crossing. Michelzon called her officer,
asking permission to allow the woman through. She was
told to make such a request once the woman had been kept
waiting for hours. "I felt very alone in the army. I
couldn't talk about the things I felt were misplaced,"
she said. "I didn't have strong views but I felt
uncomfortable about the talk, about soldiers hitting
Arabs and laughing. I thought everyone else was normal
and I was the one who wasn't. I felt an outsider to the
group experience."

At the end of her service, in June 2002, Michelzon said
she felt the need to escape and took off to India. "I
went through a breakdown little by little," she said. It
was only when she returned to enroll in university, and
two years of therapy, that she began to consider her
"duty" to speak out. She also came across Breaking the
Silence, an organisation of army veterans who publish
testimonies from former soldiers on life in the occupied
territories to stimulate debate about the "moral price"
of the occupation.

Michelzon gave evidence to the group and two years ago
appeared in a documentary, To See If I'm Smiling, about
the experiences of young women in the army. The film,
she said, was criticised by all sides. The left focused
on "the bad things we did and not on the fact that we
wanted to start a discussion. We wanted to put up a
mirror and tell Israeli society to look itself in the
eyes.

"From the right, the reaction was, why are you doing
this to your own people? Do you hate your country? But I
did it because I love my country. We had to fight to say
we want to talk about the political situation."

The psychological impact of military service on women is
undeniable, according to the testimonies of Michelzon
and others, particularly those who serve in the occupied
territories. "If you want to survive as a woman in the
army, you have to be manly," she said. "There is no room
for feeling. It's like a competition to see who can be
tougher. A lot of the time girls are trying to be more
aggressive than the guys."

Her experience is echoed by that of Dana Golan, who
served in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2001-02 as one
of about 25 women among 300 male soldiers. Like
Michelzon, Golan only spoke out after finishing her
service. "If I had raised my anxieties, it would have
been seen as a weakness," she said.

Golan, now 27, said the "most shaky moment" of her
military service came during a search for weapons in a
Palestinian home. The family were awoken at 2am by
soldiers who "turned their whole house inside out". No
weapons were found. The small children of the house were
terrified, she recalled. "I thought, what would I feel
if I was this four-year-old kid? How would I grow up? At
that moment it occurred to me that sometimes we're doing
things that just create victims. To be a good occupier,
we have to create conflict."

On a separate occasion she witnessed soldiers stealing
from a Palestinian electronics shop. She tried to report
it, only to be told "there were things I shouldn't
interfere with".

She said that she also saw elderly Palestinians being
humiliated on the streets, "and I thought these could be
my parents or grandparents".

Israel is discomfited by these testimonies, she said,
partly because of the universality of military service.
"We grew up believing the IDF is the most moral army in
the world. Everyone knows people serving in the army.
Now when I say we are doing immoral things, I am talking
about your sister or your daughter. People do not want
to hear."

The IDF is proud that 90% of its roles are open equally
to men and women. "Serving in a combat unit where you
have daily contact with people who might do you harm is
not easy - you have to be tough," said Captain Arye
Shalicar, an army spokesman. "It's not only a female
thing, it's the same for everyone. In the end, a combat
unit is a combat unit. Sometimes things happen, not
every deed is 100% correct or fair." The army, he said,
has procedures for reporting misdeeds which soldiers are
encouraged to follow.

Both Michelzon and Golan have no regrets about speaking
out. "For two years I saw people suffering and I didn't
do anything - and that's really scary," said Michelzon.
"At the end, it felt like the army betrayed me - they
used me, I couldn't recognise myself. What we call
protecting our country is destroying lives."

==========

_____________________________________________

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to people on the left that will help them to
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