Noam Raz
Ynetnews (Opinion)
February 2, 2011 - 1:00am,7340,L-4022620,00.html

Op-ed: IDF soldier who serves as B’Tselem official explains why he criticizes Israel

A volley of bullets tears through the quiet night. I’m in an IDF outpost opposite Tulkarm in the West Bank and the bullets ring out as they strike the outpost wall. Moments later, I find myself holding a grenade launcher – a weapon that fires dozens of grenades a minute, reaching as far as two kilometers away. I cock the launcher and, without giving it a second thought, open fire at houses in Tulkarm.

In my youthful fervor, I don’t stop to think about the meaning of firing such an imprecise weapon into a town. It’s 2001, the height of the second intifada, and we see red. It doesn’t occur to me that I might be doing something wrong, that I might hurt innocent people. I’ve received an order and that’s all there is: they fire at us and we fire back. When you have to shoot: shoot. Don’t think.

Maybe, back then, someone in B’Tselem filed a complaint and demanded an investigation into what I had done. Now, I am that someone. As data coordinator, one of my responsibilities is to demand that investigations be opened into suspected offenses committed by soldiers and police officers against Palestinians in the occupied territories.

I was brought up to contribute to my society. That’s why I did a year of public service between high school and the army, served in a select army unit and became a commander. The same values led to me to join B'Tselem. I work here because I believe that Israel can be more moral and more just, and because that’s the kind of society in which I want to live and raise my daughter. I believe that this can be achieved, or at least aided, by confronting the public with those things they usually don’t want to hear and which they manage to ignore. It isn’t an easy task, but I view it as the duty of a citizen who loves his country and wants to spend his life in it.

Yet my reality is gradually becoming inconceivable. On one hand, some are calling me and others who do similar work “accomplices to terror.” On the other hand, I still do regular reserve duty in the army, even in the occupied territories. Some of my colleagues at B'Tselem may disagree with this choice; I won’t deny that I, too, am uncomfortable with being another bolt in the machinery of the occupation. Yet, regardless of this internal conflict, when the order arrives in my mailbox, I put on my uniform and report to base. Rather than refusing to do reserve duty, I prefer to try and make a change from the inside. That’s how I was brought up.

Future prevention

When I research an incident for B’Tselem, I feel bad whichever way I turn it. I am full of sympathy for the civilian or civilians, usually Palestinians, who have been harmed by actions of Israel’s security forces or other authorities. Yet I also think about the soldiers – those young men sent out on the psychologically destructive mission of policing a civilian population, and end up acting badly or committing outright criminal offenses.

Don’t get me wrong – under no circumstance can I accept or justify soldiers destroying property, beating, degrading and abusing persons or shooting them for no reason. Israel has the right to defend itself and must do so, but security needs can’t be used as justification for reprehensible acts. Such acts must be condemned and investigated, and the perpetrators prosecuted.

But it is not enough for justice to be done. Justice must also be seen. The harm to the victim cannot be undone, but publicizing the case can help prevent similar incidents in the future by causing soldiers - and more importantly, the commanders and politicians who send them - to think twice before harming civilians for no reason. The public has the right to know what is being done in its name. It is important that our society know what can happen when its sons and daughters are sent to control another population.

It is clearly to thwart this goal of ours that Foreign Minister Lieberman and his party are now working to establish a Knesset committee to purportedly investigate foreign funding to organizations that monitor human rights violations by the IDF. Clearly, the aim of move this is to silence B'Tselem and other organizations seeking to advance human rights in the occupied territories.

I find it ironic that Lieberman has chosen to push the spin that we aren’t transparent about funding, of all things. Not only is this an outright lie, but it directly contradicts the very essence of transparency: informing the Israeli public of what the authorities are doing in their name in the territories. As long as free speech is still permitted in Israel, I can wonder aloud: Where will the line be drawn? Will the next step be to block the media from telling Israelis and the world about human rights violations in the territories? What about the Judge Advocate General’s Office in the military? Maybe we should bar it from investigating suspected offenses committed by soldiers? Is the Judge Advocate, too, collaborating with the enemy?

Why should somebody who dares to criticize, who dares to cry out against Israel’s long-standing governmental policy in the occupied territories, who has the courage to stand up and say, “Like it or not.. . . this is how you look” – why should he, of all persons, be viewed as a traitor? When did an offender become “one bad apple” and the person who exposes the offense a traitor?

I was born and raised in Israel and I have built my home here. I want to live here and nowhere else. I criticize my country because I love it so much, and I’m sick of having to apologize for that.

Noam Raz is a data coordinator at B'Tselem – the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories


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