Is Gaza Outside Israel?
(Article changed on November 26, 2012 at 09:53)
On returning from his first trip to the Gaza Strip, Noam Chomsky told Democracy Now's Amy Goodman, "It's kind of amazing and inspiring to see people somehow managing to survive as caged animals subject to constant, random, sadistic punishment only to humiliate them, no pretext. Israel and the United States keep them alive basically. They don't want them to starve to death. But life is set up so you can't have dignified lives. In fact, one of the words you hear most often is dignity... And the standard Israeli position is they shouldn't raise their heads. It's a pressure cooker. It could blow up. People can't live like that forever. It's an open-air prison."
And that was before the Israelis began raining down their most recent round of death and destruction on that tiny, densely populated area. Other than the Palestinians themselves, no one has experienced this grim reality in a more up close and personal way than Israel's soldiers, sent repeatedly into the Gaza Strip and into Palestinian towns and villages in the Occupied Territories, where a creeping program of land theft is still underway. Testimonies from a large number of veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) on their daily experiences -- on what the (IDF) once described as a policy of "searing of consciousness," involving brutal methods of all sorts -- have been gathered by the dissident group Breaking the Silence. These can now be found in a powerful new book, Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010, published here this September (and almost totally ignored ever since). Today, they couldn't be more grimly relevant.
These are testimonies that must be read if the situation and anger in the region are to be fully grasped. Think of them as the equivalent of the Winter Soldier Investigation of the Vietnam era, in which American Vietnam veterans testified to the horrific on-the-ground brutality of a failing pacification war. Oded Na'aman, an IDF veteran and co-editor of Harsh Logic, introduces a small selection of the testimonies from that book, adapted and abridged for this site. Tom
"It's Mostly Punishment""
Testimonies by Veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces From Gaza and the Occupied Territories
By Breaking the Silence
"There is no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders," President Barack Obama said at a press conference last week. He drew on this general observation in order to justify Operation Pillar of Defense, Israel's most recent military campaign in the Gaza Strip. In describing the situation this way, he assumes, like many others, that Gaza is a political entity external and independent of Israel. This is not so. It is true that Israel officially disengaged from the Gaza Strip in August 2005, withdrawing its ground troops and evacuating the Israeli settlements there. But despite the absence of a permanent ground presence, Israel has maintained a crushing control over Gaza from that moment until today.
The testimonies of Israeli army veterans expose the truth of that "disengagement." Before Operation Pillar of Defense, after all, Israel launched Operations Summer Rains and Autumn Clouds in 2006, and Hot Winter and Cast Lead in 2008 -- all involving ground invasions. In one testimony, a veteran speaks of "a battalion operation" in Gaza that lasted for five months, where the soldiers were ordered to shoot "to draw out terrorists" so they "could kill a few."
Israeli naval blockades stop Gazans from fishing, a main source of food in the Strip. Air blockades prevent freedom of movement. Israel does not allow building materials into the area, forbids exports to the West Bank and Israel, and (other than emergency humanitarian cases) prohibits movement between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. It controls the Palestinian economy by periodically withholding import taxes. Its restrictions have impeded the expansion and upgrading of the Strip's woeful sewage infrastructure, which could render life in Gaza untenable within a decade. The blocking of seawater desalination has turned the water supply into a health hazard. Israel has repeatedly demolished small power plants in Gaza, ensuring that the Strip would have to continue to rely on the Israeli electricity supply. Daily power shortages have been the norm for several years now. Israel's presence is felt everywhere, militarily and otherwise.
By relying on factual misconceptions, political leaders, deliberately or not, conceal information that is critical to our understanding of events. Among the people best qualified to correct those misconceptions are the individuals who have been charged with executing a state's policies -- in this case, Israeli soldiers themselves, an authoritative source of information about their government's actions. I am a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), and I know that our first-hand experiences refute the assumption, accepted by many, including President Obama, that Gaza is an independent political entity that exists wholly outside Israel. If Gaza is outside Israel, how come we were stationed there? If Gaza is outside Israel, how come we control it? Oded Na'aman
[The testimonies by Israeli veterans that follow are taken from 145 collected by the nongovernmental organization Breaking the Silence and published in Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010. Those in the book represent every division in the IDF and all locations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.]
1. House Demolition
Unit: Kfir Brigade
Location: Nablus district
During your service in the territories, what shook you up the most?