- Title: WEST BANK: Israeli army veterans show "dark side of occupation"
- Date: 1st May 2007
- Summary: ISRAELIS LISTENING TO PALESTINIAN RESIDENT PALESTINIANS AND ISRAELIS LISTENING TO THE EXPLANATION MORE OF GUIDE EXPLAINING
- Embargoed: 16th May 2007 10:05
- Topics: International Relations,Defence / Military
- Reuters ID: LVAD7CN84SW85D80IDLYL6EO5OL
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: Over the past 20 months former soldiers have led some 2,500 people in small groups of around a dozen, mostly Israelis, on grim show-and-tell excursions meant to explain the brutalising effect of daily routine in an occupied city.
Stops along the tours in the Israeli-controlled part of the West Bank city of Hebron include the positions where Palestinians and Jewish settlers clash daily.
Twenty-six year-old Michael was one of the founders of "Breaking the Silence", a group of former soldiers who shocked Israel in 2004 with an exhibition of photographs and video testimony on Israeli harassment and abuse of Palestinians.
The exhibition, which ran for weeks in Tel Aviv and was briefly on display at the Knesset (the Israeli parliament) spawned the tours of Hebron, where many of the soldiers in the group served during the second Intifada (the Palestinian uprising).
"What we try to do is through our stories is say to Israelis, most of who don't know what is happening in the occupied territories. Tell them what is being done in their name, in our name, and hopefully create discussion about morality. Through that we also give these tours in Hebron to have Israeli see what's happening. Most Israelis again they have never been in occupied territories, they do not know," Michael, who declined to give his full name, told Reuters.
More than 4,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis have died in the Intifada, which saw a sharp increase in Palestinian suicide bombings and hardened the mental wall between Israelis and Palestinians.
The tours have two aims: to show the effect of Israeli occupation on daily Palestinian life and to show its effect on the Israeli soldiers.
Michael served for a year in Hebron and says he began having doubts over the justness of what he was doing shortly before returning to civilian life.
He spoke as he walked through the old city of Hebron, past shuttered shops and graffiti painted by some of the 650 Jews who live in four settlements in H2 (Hebron 2), the official name of the sector under Israeli control under a 1997 accord that effectively divided the city.
H2 takes up about a fifth of the area of Hebron and embraces what used to be the bustling market of the Old City, the wholesale market, and Shuhada street, the main commercial artery in the days when 30,000 Palestinians and 500 Jews shared the area.
H1 (Hebron 1), the rest of city, is home to 150,000 Palestinians, few of whom ever cross the checkpoints that control movement between the two parts of the city.
"So we've been working here for over a year, we've brought thousands of Israelis already. Through that we've also met many Palestinians who are now - we are in very good relations with. For me it's also one of the first times that I met a Palestinian when I was not in uniform. It's a mind opening experience and very important experience," said Michael.
For Hebron Palestinians, the date that best illustrates the mindset of the settlers is February 25, 1994, the day Brooklyn-born Baruch Goldstein used his army-issue Galil assault rifle to kill 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Cave of the Patriarchs, a site holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
The attack drew harsh condemnation from the Israeli government but, Hebron Palestinians point out, it backfired on the victims: to keep the two communities apart, the army closed Shuhada Street and the wholesale market next to the Avraham Avinu settlement.
It is a compound of low, grey buildings and few Palestinians remained in their vicinity. The house of one who did, Hashem al-Azza, often serves as the last stop of "Breaking the Silence's" city tours.
"The Israeli and foreigners' visits to the (old city) have been extremely useful, because they have decreased the Jewish settlers' attacks against us. The settlers see them (ex-Israeli soldiers) as enemies because they side with the Palestinians and they see them as bad Israelis among the Israeli community. These visits greatly decreased the (settlers') attacks," al-Azza said.
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