An exhibition in Tel Aviv has displayed dozens of portraits and testimonies of former Israeli soldiers who speak out about the abuses they saw and often perpetrated against the Palestinians.
The exhibition was held by Quique Kierszenbaum, a Uruguayan-Israeli news photographer and journalist, with the help of Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation Israeli whistleblower NGO, The Guardian reported.
Former first sergeant Omry Balely, whose portrait forms part of the exhibition, remembered weeks of boredom at a roadblock near the Palestinian city of Jericho in the West Bank.
He said that his unit, looking for amusement, hand wrote bogus VIP permits for the Palestinians who crossed regularly.
Once, he recounted, an elderly man in his 50s arrived. He had one of the VIP permits, but that day, he came with a donkey. “Where was the donkey’s VIP pass?” the soldiers demanded.
“We all laughed at the situation, including the Palestinian,” said Balely. “But looking back a few years later, I realise what being drunk with power combined with boredom can do to you. You toy with the life and livelihood of a person for entertainment.”
Yehuda Shaul, another ex-combat soldier, shared a story from his time in the early 2000s during the Second Palestinian Intifada (uprising).
“I would shoot directly at Palestinian neighbourhoods using a grenade launcher in response to Palestinian fire towards the settlements in the city,” he said in his testimony. “It’s clear to me that many civilians were hurt by this fire. We did it without any identification of the sources of shooting from the Palestinian side.”
He noted that a decision was later made to carry out what he calls “deterrent firing,” shooting every day before the Palestinians had even started attacking.
“For years, our society has been making decisions based on incorrect information with no understanding of the meaning of what’s happening on the ground, and from my perspective, this is the vacuum that Breaking the Silence fills,” Shaul added.
Since its foundation in 2004 by a group of Israeli veterans, Breaking the Silence has been collecting personal military stories, hoping it will show the public the reality of everyday life for the Palestinian people under the Israeli occupation.
It says abuse towards the Palestinians is systematic and institutionalised – an unavoidable part of five decades of the Tel Aviv regime’s occupation.
Kierszenbaum used a black background for his portraits, asking testifiers to look at the camera.
“This is part of the message,” Shaul said. “These guys were sent on a mission to operate the occupation. They want you to look at them in the eyes and listen to what they have to say.”
He said the atmosphere in Israel is changing a lot and people who oppose the occupation and criticise what the Israeli army is doing are called traitors and spies.
“Because there is no face to them, it’s easy not to confront them. But when people see the pictures around the wall, they will see this is more or less Israeli society. This is your son, your brother, your neighbour,” he added.