Saturday 22 November 2014

Our politicians don't even pretend to promise hope

Avner Gvaryahu

Published 17/07/2014 | 02:30

Smoke and flames rise into the sky after an Israeli air attack on Gaza. Photo credit: AP Photo/Adel Hana
Smoke and flames rise into the sky after an Israeli air attack on Gaza. Photo credit: AP Photo/Adel Hana

I only knew Gaza from the stories.

It was the military zone for which the Givate Brigade was responsible and we had all heard the stories about how they managed to kill several militants in one ambush.

Honestly, we were a bit jealous.

I was drafted into the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) at the end of the Second Intifada.

From the start of my service I knew that the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin would be the areas for which we were responsible.

Child's play compared to the stories that came out of Gaza – but my child's play.

I'll never forget the first time that I was shot at, the first Palestinian corpse I ever saw, and the fear and adrenalin during my first military operation.

My first mission involved the seizure of a Palestinian home.

I had never even been in a Palestinian home before.

I remember being surprised that an entire family – three generations – lived there.

We woke everyone up and took over the house. We put everyone in one room – women, men, children, and the elderly. One of the guys was stationed at the door to ensure that they didn't get out.

I remember asking myself: what do they think about all of this? What would I do if soldiers broke into my home? But I immediately repressed these questions and carried on with the mission.

These operations became our daily routine.

As a result, the next time I didn't really think about how the family whose home we entered felt.

My personal red moral line blurred very quickly.

It's in the nature of red lines to move along an imaginary scale.

I wasn't bothered when we destroyed entire homes during search operations, and when my squad accidentally shot an innocent woman, we quickly buried the incident and moved on.

My ability to distinguish whether a particular action crossed the line no longer existed.

What happened to me is happening to the IDF and to Israeli society at large.

A friend who took part in Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 military assault on Gaza, returned shaken by the fact that homes of "Hamas members" were deemed legitimate targets for bombing regardless of whether they posed a risk to our soldiers.

That was the first time he had encountered such orders during his military service.

In testimony he later gave to Breaking The Silence, an organisation of ex-Israeli soldiers, he said: "We identified four men, aged 25-40, with keffiyehs (traditional headdress), standing outside the house talking.

"It was suspect. We reported it to intelligence, specifying the house they were about to enter. Intelligence passed this on to the Shabak – the Israeli Security Agency – who reported that this was known as a Hamas activist's house."

This is automatically acted upon.

I don't remember what we used – whether it was a helicopter or something else, but the house was bombed while these guys were inside.

A woman ran out of the house holding a child, and escaped southwards.

That is to say, there had been innocent people inside.

Operation Cast Led saw the homes of "Hamas members" added to the IDF's long list of targets in the Gaza Strip for the first time. This has now become standard practice.

More than 170 people were killed in Gaza during the current operation.

The vast majority of them were civilians.

A quarter of them were children.

Our red line has moved.

The politicians that send us to perform these tasks don't even pretend to promise hope for a better future.

Just further use of force and violence.

Our doubts about logic and justice don't even interest us any more, as our red moral lines are constantly moving in the face of our reality – much like mine during my military service.

The red line at which we stopped during Operation Cast Lead in 2009 is the same line from which we commenced Operation Pillar of Defence in 2011.

The point at which we stopped during Pillar of Defence is the same place from which we've started Protective Edge.

Millions of Israeli and Palestinian people live in constant fear that a rocket or a missile will fall on their heads.

The end of one bout of violence merely sets an alarm for the next.

What will our next red line be? And when will we cross that one too?

Avner Gvaryahu served in the Israeli Defence Forces as a sergeant in special forces from 2004-2007. He is a member of Breaking The Silence, a partner organisation of Trócaire

Irish Independent

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