Said veteran Arnon Degani, 25, today in a guided tour to a half dozen UPenn Hillel students, “It’s a slippery slope. You begin doing everything by the book. But then you realize that you can get away with everything. And that’s when enforcing curfew or guarding a checkpoint turns into abuse. You have so much power for an 18 year old. Shooting your gun becomes the most exciting part of the day.”
A very agitated participant, brought in by his son today, confronted Arnon on whether the territories were safer for Israeli citizens as occupied. Claiming the Arabs would kill all the Jews if Israel ended the occupation, he clearly represented a mainstream American Jewish understanding of the conflict.
Arnon said, “If you believe the occupation is necessary for Israel’s security, then you must accept that all of this will continue to happen. For all of the world to see. All of this must happen if we are to keep the settlements. And that’s fine if you think that. But if you think the settlements are for Israel’s security, then you legitimize settlers are military targets by terrorists. They are no longer civilians. I am there to protect civilians from attacks. That’s my job.”
To me, the most enlightening testimonies given by the soldiers are those which explain the realities of military operations.
“How can you tell if a detainee is a terrorist?” asked on student.
“Easy,” Arnon replied. “You radio the secret service and they tell you. You have the man’s ID. There are two kinds of detainees: terrorists and everybody else. I do everything necessary to capture terrorists. But I’m talking about what I have to do to civilians. I know these people are not terrorists. And far more numerous than terrorists. And yet I have to humiliate them to keep order. Every day. It can’t be done differently.”
This is what occupation looks like — not just the Occupation, but occupation in general. This bears an important relevance to Americans rightly concerned about Iraq today. And the message Breaking the Silence is bringing to the States is not how to end the occupation or even whether it should be.
This exhibit poses the question directly to you, asking, “This is what occupation looks like. It can’t be done differently. Are you willing to pay this price?” And the answer is up to you.
(X-posted to Breaking the Silence’s exhibit video blog.)