Two former Israeli servicemen shared the testimonies of soldiers serving in the West Bank, including their own, at the Student Center Monday. Their program, “Breaking the Silence,” was sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine.
Avichay Sharon, a former first sergeant in the Golani Brigade and Noam Chayut, a former lieutenant in the Nachal Brigade, echoed the voices of many Israeli soldiers who were affected by the occupation. Every 18-year-old in Israel is required to serve three years in the Federation, Sharon said.
“[For young men] the question is not ‘Will I serve?,’ but, ‘How will I come back as a hero?'” Sharon said.
The former soldiers described what they said the life of an 18-year-old soldier in the West Bank is really like. Each showed one photo of themselves with their fellow soldiers while they occupied homes in the West Bank. Both soldiers served in the city of Hebron.
“To understand what happens in [the West Bank], in an 18-year-old’s mind, right and wrong have evaporated,” Sharon said.
Sharon showed a photo, taken by another soldier, of a teenager seen through the scope of a rifle. While it was initially difficult for him to cope with seeing women and children in the crosshairs, it didn’t take long for it to feel entirely normal to him.
“The first time I saw women and children in the scope, I moved my rifle,” Sharon said. “The second time, I moved my rifle. But the third time, I didn’t notice. They were just part of the scenery.”
Sharon said the mission of the soldiers in the West Bank was to protect the Jewish settlers. The settlers, Sharon said, made up about 5 percent of Hebron’s citizens. Sharon and Chayut showed a slide of children of Jewish settlers vandalizing an Arab-owned store, their mother by their side. Sharon said the store was later knocked down, and Jewish settlers now use it as a parking lot.
“We were always taught that the [Israel Defense Forces] is the most moral army in the world,” Sharon said.
Sharon and Chayut agreed that most soldiers have no perception of right and wrong, only what they are told by their superiors. The purpose of “Breaking the Silence,” Chayut said, was to inform Israelis and Americans of the corruption that comes with the occupation.
“This is not a story you can hear unless you listen to a soldier,” Chayut said.
Chayut and Sharon showed one slide depicting a variety of car keys, all hanging on the same wall. The keys had been confiscated from Arabs, along with their vehicles, at Israeli checkpoints. As a lieutenant, Chayut saw many keys that were confiscated at checkpoint, and sometimes took them himself.
Chayut said he intended for their visit to Temple to bring home the unknown and to reveal the untold truth of secretive Israeli military efforts.
“It is to tell what we did, what we saw,” said Chayut. “I love my country. I believe Israel has a right to exist.”
The soldiers said some of their former comrades are angry they have revealed information about their experiences to the public. Often, soldiers would agree with Sharon and Chayut, but they preferred not to discuss the past.
“The squad is like your family,” Sharon said. “The dynamics between you and your fellow teammates are so extreme. If you are sent to fight this type of war for three years, you do not return home the same person.”
Sharon and Chayut said they meet resistance both in Israel and in the U.S. when discussing their stories. The reason, Sharon said, is because the stories touch both Israelis and Jews on the most sensitive issues.
“We have a moral obligation to take the truth and bring it back home,” Sharon said.
In Israel, the soldiers’ stories are never discussed in their personal lives. Sharon and Chayut acknowledged a “Code of Silence” shared among soldiers after the war. The most important weapon that Israel has, Sharon said, is its misled positive public opinion in the U.S.
“People say, ‘You are betraying Israel,'” Chayut said. “I say I’m trying to save my Jewish faith from being corrupted … I feel I’m trying to save Israel.”
Chris Reber and Chris Stover can be reached at TempleNews@GMail.com.