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Through the Eyes of a Soldier

Through the Eyes of a Soldier

As an Israeli soldier disturbing the daily routines of Arabs, I began to question the validity of what I was doing. It didn't take long for me to find the answers.


The almost daily depiction in the media of the so-called "Israeli aggression" and the dramatic pictures of Palestinian suffering with children being carried away on stretchers and hordes of teenagers throwing rocks force us to ask: Why are these people suffering?

Serving in the Paratroopers unit (Tzanhaniim) of the Israeli Army for the past year and half in Nablus (Shechem) and Ramallah has given me a first hand glimpse into the underlying causes of the conflict, a perspective not commonly portrayed by the world media.

After completing eight months of intensive training, my unit's first assignment was in Nablus. As we moved into our new domain in armored vehicles with tank support, I was somewhat surprised to see the esthetic beauty of the city. Overlooking the city are two biblical mountains, Har Aval and Har Grizim. On the outskirts of the city lay remnants of impressive houses and cars. Before the first surge in violence in 2000, Nablus was the financial hub of the Palestinian Authority (PA). It has since been transformed into a terrorist hub that has reduced the city into ruins. According to intelligence reports, a majority of all terrorist attacks coming from the West Bank had some connection to Nablus.

We could see the full scope of decay engulfing the city -- roads completely destroyed by tank and armored carrier movement, buildings hollowed from weapons fire. We directed our operations from inside an Arab house on the northern border of the town close to the refugee camps Askra Yeshan and Askra Hadash, relocating the Arab occupants to the basement apartment. Our immediate mission was to enforce the curfew imposed on the area in order to prevent the smuggling and movement of bombs, bomb making equipment, and terrorists. The main methods used to carry out our objective were to establish check points in various parts of Nablus and to conduct raids and patrols at night.

"Afpteh al Jaket afptheh vkies" -- (lift up your shirt and open your bags)", I shouted in Arabic during one of my first times manning a checkpost. "Taal! Taal! (approach)," I yelled out to the Palestinian who is waiting with his family at the check post to cross into Nablus. The man told me he and his family were going to the doctors located in Nablus, a common response at the checkpost. He showed me a two-year-old prescription written in Arabic and English that stated he has foot problems, as he professed to me that he was suffering from serious heart problems.

"Afsterig (closed)," no crossing today, I explained to him, because there was a general warning in the region.

"When will it be open?"

"No idea," I responded as he turned in dismay and walked home with his family. As the family walked away from me, I could not hold back from feelings of guilt in disturbing these people's lives. After conducting searches of every man, woman, and child and making them wait in long lines and disturbing their daily routines, I began to question the validity of disrupting the lives of civilians. It didn't take long for me to find the answers.

A group of four heavily armed terrorists were in the refugee camp, en route to commit a terrorist attack in one of the bordering Jewish towns.

That night, as we were sitting down to eat dinner in the Arab house, the communications officer ran into the kitchen and yelled out "Hakpatzah emet! -- a real emergency!" I was on the emergency team that night, so five soldiers and I abruptly dropped our food, put on our equipment, and jumped into the armed carrier. We sped off in the direction of the Askra Yeshan refugee camp with an armed Hummer following us and a tank leading the way.

We had confirmed information that a group of four heavily armed terrorists were in the refugee camp, en route to commit a terrorist attack in one of the bordering Jewish towns.

We rode through the camp with the hatch of the carrier open. I was leaning out with my heavy caliber machine gun primed, waiting for the order to shoot. While pursing the terrorists through the refugee camp, we were pelted with rocks, and a Molotov cocktail narrowly avoided the Hummer.

Many thoughts and emotions flowed through my mind. If we miss these armed terrorists, many Jewish lives will be lost… How many people injured? Families ruined? I recited passages from Psalms while leaning out the vehicle and continuing to look and wait. In the end we didn't find the terrorists, but, thank God, the local patrol of the town tracked them down and killed them.

On one mission in Ramallah, after the first attempt on Shiek Ahmed Yassin's life failed, my unit had gone on full alert expecting a retaliatory attack from Hamas. A group of Hamas terrorists were planning a suicide attack inside the green line (Israel proper). We had specific information of who the lead terrorist was but his exact whereabouts where unknown.

We conducted house to house searches throughout the night with no success. A few days later, the news over the radio reported that there had been suicide bomber who had blown himself up in a cafe in Jerusalem. In the attack, seven people were killed including Dr. Appelbaum and his daughter, Nava, who was to be married the next day. The suicide bomber was a 'student' at Bir Ziet University, close to the area that we had conducted searches. He seemed to fit the profile of the terrorist that we had tried to apprehend.

We were never informed if he was, in fact, the terrorist that we were pursuing. But I cannot remove the contradictory pain of feeling both responsible and helpless. Perhaps if my unit would have been able to capture that bomber on that fateful night, Dr. Appelbaum would have walked his daughter to the chuppa. Instead we accompanied them to their graves.

Their society has chosen violence and destruction, and we have every right and duty to defend ourselves from it.

Yes the Palestinians are suffering; no one denies that fact. But the question as to why they are suffering also has an unequivocal, simple answer. Their leadership and government have chosen terrorism and violence as form of conflict resolution. Their society has chosen to grant idol or martyr status to terrorists who have tried or succeeded in murdering innocent men, women, and children. The choice of terrorism -- or in Islamic fundamentalists terms, Jihad -- has distorted the murdering of innocents into holy acts.

The next time the world media parades pictures of Palestinian suffering, consider the reasons why. Their society has chosen violence and destruction, and we have every right and duty to defend ourselves from it.

June 5, 2004

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Visitor Comments: 14

(14) Michael F., August 10, 2004 12:00 AM

Your life......

I assume from the by-line that you are still alive. What scares me is that you seem to have bought into the same type of fanaticism that the terrorists/islamic fundamentalist preaches, namely that everyone in Israel is evil, that the US is evil and that the only way to win is to eradicate their entire society. How else to you explain such generalizations as "Their leadership" and "Their society"?

(13) Delia, June 15, 2004 12:00 AM

you are very right,may G-D protect you

(12) Anonymous, June 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Excellent article, it is such a change to read facts instead of a newspaperman's distortion of events affecting the downtroden Palestinians.
It showed heart as well as the reality of the miserable situation for both the soldiers & innocent Palestinians. I say innocent Palestinians because they are too afraid to speak out and those that do are murdered. I look forward to more informative articles such as these.

(11) Alexander Landa, June 11, 2004 12:00 AM

Response to Ms. Robin Alexander

Dear Ms. Robin Alexander,
Your question, I believe is one of the essential parts in understanding the conflict and one which I tried to portray in my article. In essence the question is why can't we take action against the 'terrorist' without disturbing the life of innocent people who are not themselves directly involved in terror.
The question has to be dealt with both in practice and in theory. In theory the Israeli Army plays a balancing act of trying to limit the amount of disruption to daily life of
the average Palestinian in relation to the security needs. On a general basis, the checkpost are open for Palestinians to move freely except for heightened warnings of attacks or weapons smuggling. However, even in the case where there are heightened warnings of attack 'Humanitarian' cases and women and children are allowed to move freely. The nature of the checkpost is not necessarily to catch the terrorists. (In very rare instances does the terrorist actually try to pass at a checkpost, although it has happened). The checkpost is to make the terrorists movements difficult, in order to keep them confined in one area so that we can capture them with other means.
(Humanitarian are classified medical personal, teachers, and UN) The incident of the checkpost which I related in my story was at a time of heightened risk of attack.
Practically speaking the average Palestinians lives are being disrupted. It is militarily infeasible to separate between terrorists and civilians. A likely scenario is that a terrorist will may try to pass the checkpost unarmed with a family of women and children, and once he passes arm himself in another area. However, the average Palestinian doesn’t go with out blame. Each individual Palestinian contributes and makes up part of his society. Palestinian society has society has chosen to grant idol or martyr status to terrorists. Any society that grants superstar status to murders of innocent people is a sick society, and we have the right and duty to defend ourselves from them.
Alexander Landa

(10) Robin Alexander, June 10, 2004 12:00 AM

I am confused

Kol hakavod to the author for serving in the army and seeking to thwart terrorism.

However, I must respectfully ask: how does keeping a Palestinian family (old prescription or no) from going to the doctor protect Israelis from terrorist attacks? In addition, if the family members were searched (both person and bags) and were found not to have weapons on them, how is allowing them to enter Nablus a terrorist risk? If the soldier was not planning to let them pass, why search them at all? I am truly puzzled.

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