Monday, September 29, 2008


Young Israelis spend three years in the military forces and are sometimes posted to the Occupied West Bank.  Their duties may include manning checkpoints or patrolling near the many illegal Jewish settlements.

As one of several human rights workers with the International Solidarity Movement, based in the southern city of Hebron (Al Khalil), part of my daily routine was to monitor a checkpoint next to the infamous settlement of Tel Rumeida, scene of many vicious attacks against Palestinian residents. These residents were routinely searched and required to produce their identity cards before they were allowed to go on their way.  Whether these searches were security measures or part of the regime of routine harrasment and humiliation is open to dispute.

If they were approachable I would sometimes engage the heavily-armed soldiers in conversation. One of them, Dan, had two years' service under his belt and could hardly wait to get out.  He would sometimes joke and play with the local kids and he seemed quite a reasonable person. He told me that he wanted to study literature when he left the army. However, when I asked him what he thought about the situation in Hebron, he replied, "It's their fault, the Palestinians."

Such certainty!  It allowed him to justify the presence of the Hebron settlers in properties and on land stolen from the Palestinian owners.  It allowed him to condone the attacks these settlers make on Palestinian children on their way to and from school. But then, if he was to admit to himself that Palestinians are human beings like himself, and are entitled to the same human rights as Israeli Jews, how could he do the job he was doing?

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