[East Jerusalem, Occupied Territory, 27 July 2007] On the last day of my fifth trip to Israel Palestine, a religious Jew and former Infantry Lieutenant in the Israeli Defense Force/IDF who served six years in the occupied territories of Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, Jenin and the Gaza Strip addressed over forty youth and a few committed middle aged and elderly supporters attending Sabeel's http://sabeel.org 2nd International Conference: 40 Years in the Wilderness"40 Years of Occupation"
Mikhael Manekin, discharged from the IDF in 2002 is now the Foreign Relations Manager of Breaking the Silence www.breakingthesilence.org.il which documents former IDF soldiers testimonies about the occupation and oppression of Palestinians, "I am a practicing Jew and in two weeks we go into the month of repentance; which requires acknowledging our sins. We cannot change things until we acknowledge our culpability.
"The problem is government policy that is implemented by young soldiers and whenever religion is involved, we will have fundamentalism. The Israeli peace and justice activists are less than 1% of Israeli society and anybody who is an activist is an optimist. You cannot do anything if you do not believe you can do something to change the situation. We have to remind ourselves that we are the minority; [it appears that] we are loosing, but we remind ourselves we are right!
"Everybody in Israel knows somebody who has served in the occupied territories. The situation in 2007 is worse than 2006 and it looks worse for 2008, but more and more activists-like Anarchists Against the Wall and Tayoush are actively working with Palestinians against the occupation, they are not afraid to travel in the occupied territories and are learning Arabic. Two, three years ago you wouldn't have heard anything; but now every week Israelis are getting arrested for fighting the occupation.
"A few years ago, the soldiers you have encountered at the checkpoints would have been me. Soldiers like myself who served during the second intifada, got our education on the job. You all have visited more places [the past nine days] than most Israelis ever have. Israeli's have no idea what is happening in the occupied territories. But, so far in 2007 we have given more Israeli's a tour through Hebron than we did in 2005 and 2006 combined. Hebron is a ghost town, the settlers are unbearable and every soldier who is stationed there understands the 600 settlers there are psychotic; insane.
"I became very opinionated while in the army, but I kept it all to myself. Nobody talks about it in the army and I was the commander and did not know until after I got out that one of the other soldiers in my unit was feeling the same way, until he gave his testimony. Israeli society wants you to believe you are a bad apple for speaking out because unless you trust the system, it will fall apart. Most Israelis who get out of the army leave the country and are probably all drugged out. They suffer post traumatic syndrome but we are the victimizers. My age group is getting the hell out of here or walling themselves off from society and are not involved in anything.
"Over 450 former soldiers have now given their testimonies and we don't publish any stories without the corroboration coming from another former soldier and the testimonies are kept anonymous.
"You have to understand you must preach to your own people; we want to shake up the comfortable people who may agree with us in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, but are not activists yet."
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