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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
Former IDF Soldiers Urge Moral DebateJewish Review
November 1, 2005
By Deborah Moon Seldner
"I grew up believing the IDF was the most moral army in the world," former IDF soldier Avichay Sharon told a gathering of about 50 Portlanders Oct. 26. "To put a question mark on that is very difficult."
As part of its first tour outside Israel, Breaking the Silence members Sharon, 23, and Noam Chayut, 26, shared slides and testimonies from former IDF soldiers illustrating the impact the occupation has on IDF soldiers, Palestinians and Israeli society.
Both men emphasized they are not supporting any solution or proposing any action beyond true moral debate.
The Portland gathering was sponsored by Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, and co-sponsored by Havurah Shalom and the Tikkun Olam committee of P'nai Or.
The two men showed slides of Palestinian detainees whom they alleged were being humiliated, and other images of IDF soldiers relaxing in homes they had torn apart searching for explosives.
"I don't think it's a war crime," said Chayut of scenes depicted in some slides. "It's not a nice thing."
Breaking the Silence includes about 20 to 30 members actively telling their stories to the Israeli public and another 300 or so ex-soldiers who have shared their testimonies.
Sharon read one testimony describing the change a soldier goes through serving in the territories: "I was ashamed of myself the day I realized I enjoyed the feeling of power," said the testimony. Discussing how it felt to man a checkpoint where about 2,000 Palestinians a day line up to pass, he wrote, "Suddenly you have a mighty force at the tip of your fingers … like a computer game. You make them obey the tip of your finger. … I checked in to see what had happened to me. I noticed I am getting addicted to controlling people."
"The problem is not the extreme cases," said Chayut. "The problem is sending 18- 19- and 20-year olds to control people."
According to Chayut, "It doesn't matter what your basic values are. If you are an occupier, you behave as such."
Asked if they were omitting the context in which these actions took place, Chayut said, "I think the context is known. It is well covered by Israeli press." He added that when they spoke at a university in the Midwest they gave more context but a student told them, "We know the bad things the other side is doing."
Both men said that tearing up homes to find explosives and enforcing curfews make sense militarily and logically. Yet the impact lingers.
Chayut said he was serving as an officer in Jenin when the army arrested and interrogated every Palestinian male there between the ages of 16 and 50.
"In Jenin, we did stop explosives," said Chayut. "But I believe the amount of hatred we created will cause more bloodshed."
"We are trying to bring the information," said Sharon. "The most important thing is for people to know. We are not here to talk about solutions or how to reach solutions. We are trying … to raise a true moral debate."
Partially as a result of the awareness spread by Breaking the Silence, according to Chayut, one change is under way in Israel. The IDF has implemented special training for commanders of checkpoints.
Additionally, two months ago Breaking the Silence launched a campaign to create written rules of engagement.
"In the past, every soldier would receive a pocket book with the rules of engagement," said Sharon. He said that since the second intifada that is no longer the case.