I Love My Brother
By Adam Maor, Translated by Nurit Peled-Elhanan
I encounter a lot of difficulties trying to explain my refusal to serve in the Israeli army, to unravel the route by which my conscience instructed me that serving in today's IDF is contradictory to most of my values, and to describe the process that made me reach the conclusion that joining the army means, for me, being an accomplice to a wrong done to nearly 10 million people.
This is because Occupation is not our only sin since 1967, nor is it composed of a series of sins deriving from mis-management of an immoral action. Occupation is an immoral continuous activity. It is an ever-renewed sin that commits hundreds and thousands of sins on a daily basis. Even as we speak, here, in this beautiful building, occupation is raging free all around Palestine, forsaking no one. Checkpoints, prohibition of movement, frequent curfews, but most of all the suffocating oppressing presence of a conquering army, are tormenting the inhabitants of Palestine as they have tormented them for the last 36 years.
Since, despite the difficulties, I must testify here I have chosen a few representative cases in which I was present myself and which have affected me more than any others. I will state before you the cases and the facts I have consequently learned about them, but also my personal view on the matters and my own conclusions about them. At the end of my testimony I will talk about factors that were crucial in the formation of my world view, my conscience and my ideas regarding the Israeli occupation of the West bank and the military service.
Taayush11 Taayush is an Israeli-Palestinian organization devoted to help Palestinians in everyday survival under the occupation and to prevent unnecessary bullying in Checkpoints and roads.
Action in Yanun Village.
Yanun is a tiny village, not far from the Palestinian village of Akraba and the Israeli settlement Itamar. With the Oslo agreements between Israel and Palestine, and the thought of a permanent solution, Itamar was to be evacuated. In order to prevent the evacuation it was decided to try and create a continuous line of settlements between Itamar and the Jordan valley, an area that all the Israeli governments have claimed they would not renounce. In order to maintain the continuous line 4 settlements were founded: Gidonim 1-2-3 and Forever- Ranch, all of them illegal settlements according to Israeli law. These settlements surround the ruins of Yanun and overlook the hills around it. Yanun, by the way, was forbidden any expansion by the civil government of Israel in 1992. By forbidding expansion, and the building of new houses for no apparent reason, the civil government sentenced all young couples to a life outside their village, thereby limiting the population to older people and their small children.
With the breaking of the Intifada, settlers started bullying the villagers in order to frighten them away. The settlers would enter the villagers' houses, beating them up, washing themselves and their dogs and making their own laundry in the drinking water of the village. They would rob the villagers and prevent them from picking their olives - their only means of livelihood . At night the settlers of Gideonim would walk on the roofs of Yanun with the sole aim of frightening the inhabitants.
All these horrible deeds were well known to the army and to the civil authorities, since they were done within area C which has always remained under complete Israeli control. As in other areas occupied by Israel, the army and the civil authorities give their consent to such actions by not preventing them, knowing that such deeds are contrary to any moral criterion.
During one of these attacks the head of the village approached the settlers who were busy polluting the village's drinking water and asked them not to use this water which is the only drinking source of the village. A few days later several boys came to his house and beat him out of his senses in front of his wife and children. The very same day he received a telephone call from a man called Avri Ran who took responsibility for the beating and warned him against any other intervention in the actions of the settlers. This man, Avri, said that the beating was only a lesson to teach him who controls the area, and that the next time would be much more painful.
These actions were not unique, they grew more and more severe and became a routine. After two years of incessant bullying the inhabitants of Yanun left their village. Just before its desertion the settlers murdered Hani Ben Mania in the olive grove near his village, Akraba.
I arrived at the village as a part of Taayush action during which the activists would sleep in the village in an attempt to protect the villagers from the settlers, several of whom went back home indeed. The way to the village did not pass without trouble.
The Israeli army is very hostile toward such actions and tries to stop and interrupt them everywhere. We were told there is an army barrier on the way to Akraba and we had to make a detour, in a road that was destroyed by the army so that the Palestinians cannot drive on it.
We came to help with the olive picking but since we were too late we went straight to the village. On the way we saw people working, trying to fix a generator that was burnt by the settlers.
Coming to the village we settled down in a house that was lent to us. Then we went to walk around the village, before sunset. In the twilight I saw people sitting and talking and a group of children playing not far from them. I saw the incredible view that the village enjoys and I saw on every hill, similar to the ancient crusaders fortresses, the farms of the Gideonim casting a huge shadow on the whole area. I did not have to go far in order to discover that the atmosphere of peaceful life transmitted by the people at my left hand side was nothing but an illusion. The house I was coming from was one of a line of houses overlooking the valley. Arriving at its backside I saw the deserted village, its haunted houses in the half light, and remembering the atrocities that were committed there I knew I was looking not just at Yanun but at a repeated sight of ravaged villages all along history, of pogroms in other countries at other time, only this time we were the Cossaks.
Anyone who saw what was happening in Yanun or heard about it would be appalled. No man in his right mind could question the fact that Avri Ran, the man who leads all these actions in the area is a terrorist, a model of a terrorist. But I would like to stress that my anger is not directed towards Avri Ran or his gangs. Religious and national fanatic fundamentalism and racist manifestations such as these are part of human history everywhere and the Jewish people among other minority groups, have experienced them time and again. The question is, in my view, what is the sane majority doing in such cases?
It is quite certain that if Avri Ran and his boys had broken into my house, beat me up and robbed me, no one would have let this go on for two years, or even more than once. It is also obvious that if the villagers of Yanun had come near any settlement the army would have been very quick to react. But Avri and his boys enjoy immunity if not cooperation from the army and from all other Israeli authorities in the occupied territories.
The sane majority, in this case, not only doesn't stop the terrorists; it finances, protects and cooperates with them. It so happens that people who have nothing in common with these fanatic hooligans are actually protecting them, discriminating between them and their victims and supporting many other deeds the IDF is doing in order to promote the criminal settlement of the West Bank, for instance annexing territories on the false pretext of security needs and with the aim of building settlements on them later on and committing more crimes of discrimination and apartheid. When the IDF becomes the tool of the fanatic fundamentalists, then each one of its soldiers, unknowingly or un-caringly turns into a fanatic fundamentalist himself.
The caves in the southern Hebron mountain
Another Taayush action which I joined was the trip to the caves of the Southern Hebron mountain. As we were told before the trip, the settlers prevented the children from reaching their school, the road to which passed by a settlement. They would throw stones at the children and threaten them with their weapons. As a result of those threats, children had to walk 7 kilometres twice a day instead of the usual 1 km road to school. Consequently a third of the children - mostly 1st and 2nd grade pupils - dropped out of school, being unable to walk that much. Our mission was to accompany the children to school and to protect them from their attackers. We also brought two lorries with water and school supplies.
I came to help the children against the settlers whom nobody chose to stop from bullying those kids, but upon arriving I soon learned that the settlers were the least of the problems. Here, contrary to Yanun, the part played by the IDF and the civil authorities was not helping the settlers but rather being helped by them in committing the crimes. The Southern Hebron Mountain is again a C area, namely an area dominated completely by Israel. The inhabitants have been living there since the 1830s, keeping a unique culture and a special way of life. In the 1970s the area was declared a closed military zone, again on the unexplained pretext of Security Needs. But since then there has never been any army training in this place. In 1977, 1982 and 1997 there were attempts to drive the inhabitants out by destroying cabins and buildings that were later restored by the their owners. In 1984 there was a definite expulsion of the inhabitants in Hirbet Algeneba. The caves where the people lived for generations were blocked and the water wells filled with dirt.
The status of the southern Hebron mountain has completely changed in 1994, when the option of a permanent Israeli-Palestinian solution was brought up. Moshe Yaalon, today the chief of staff of the Israeli Army, said on the 15 of February 2000, in a conversation with Israeli writers, that since Israel is facing a final borders agreement there is an Israeli interest to keep the area in Israeli hands, which means to cleanse it from its original inhabitants and to populate it with Israeli citizens. In other words, transfer.
In November 1999, the IDF drove 750 human beings out of their homes, thus forcing them to spend a freezing winter in the open air. Army bulldozers destroyed every shelter, cabin, straw house and building and blocked all the caves. In the spring of 2000, after the hard winter of homelessness and a continuous struggle of the movement for human rights the supreme court instructed the IDF to let the people return to their homes.
Another more thorough transfer was done in July 2001, after the murder of Yair Har Sinai, a settler in the area. The IDF soldiers arrived a few days after the murder and destroyed the village in an unprecedented manner. The caves that were previously blocked were now completely destroyed. Crops were ruined and cattle was killed. The water wells completely destroyed. People's property was ravaged and the whole action was accompanied by ruthless acts of violence. Shock grenades were thrown at unarmed civilians who were hiding inside their homes, in order to hasten the transfer. Innocent people were beaten up, although they were never suspected of anything.
Among the expelled were the people whom the supreme court instructed to return to their homes. This time the IDF was so diligent that even tents supplied by the Red Cross were destroyed and all humanitarian aid was forbidden. These actions were always committed without warning, in complete avoidance of the supreme court's orders. According to testimony collected by the human rights organization Betselem, there were about 15 civilians with the military force, some of them with kippa on their heads. The soldiers told the inhabitants that they have killed a father of nine children and that their punishment is too light.
The villagers, who were for the most part shepherds, could not leave and stayed on, homeless, with no water and no sheep. Coming to the area, we were told by the army that it is a closed military zone. The water we managed to bring to the people who stayed there was lost a day after, because the soldiers blew up the only well that was not destroyed before while frightening the people off by shooting shock grenades at their tents.
Since we could not do what we came to do we toured the area, seeing again what I had seen in Yanun, destruction, ruin, and a few devastated people. We connected our telephone to loud speakers in order to be able to speak with the people, and what I will never forget is that from the other side of the line we suddenly heard the children whom we wanted to accompany to school, singing songs of peace.
Once again I faced a situation I could not tolerate. This time, contrary to Yanun, it was not the action of a few marginal maniacs but an organized crime committed by soldiers my age, or even younger than me, boys who did not necessarily approve of these actions, did not necessarily understand what they were doing. They received an order to do a transfer and obeyed. The obeyed orders that were categorically immoral.
Yet, I cannot put the blame for all the terrible deeds I have been describing so far, on the soldiers who actually committed them because I see the soldiers as I see the Palestinians or even the victims of suicide bombs, as victims of the Israeli occupation. That is why I would like to tell you about Uri, whom I met in Jail, not for refusing to serve, naturally. I met Uri on my first night at prison 6. I didn't have a bed and he noticed me and "organized" one for me, which was not a simple matter.
When you come to jail you are immediately briefed on the place and its norms, and only later are you asked as to the nature of your "crime", where you come from and why you are there. The reactions to conscientious objection are various but they are usually quite approving. Most of the questions are usually about the technical aspects and consequences of such an act. Sometimes people ask about the motives. That night the reaction was intolerant and angry. One inmate especially was yelling and shouting at me, and Uri hushed him, saying he wanted to hear what I had to say. Later we sat together and talked, each telling his own experiences from the occupied territories.
All our talks from then on were civil and polite and quiet. Uri came from Yeruham, a poor and disadvantaged small town in the Negev, where most of the population is of Moroccan origin, quite orthodox in their religion.
Uri claimed that he joined the army rather free of any political inclinations. Except for his deep hatred of the whole Arab nation and his will to kill them all, which he developed in the army, he didn't care much for politics or politicians. He didn't know what the Green Line was (the line separating Israel from the occupied territories) or what the Oslo agreement was. All these political terms were insignificant to him. Uri serves in one of the regular regiments and nurtures an enormous pride regarding his unit. He claimed that all his values were acquired during his military service and even his personality was formed there. When I asked him how some of the things he did measure up to the ideals of human dignity and the purity of arms he answered without hesitation: "This doesn't count. The Palestinians are not human beings".
One night Uri and his unit captured a man who was about to break into a settlement. They handed him over to the settlers for the night. In the morning they found him tied up to a tree, bleeding and bruised, missing some of his nails and some of his teeth. The soldiers told him to make a last wish. He asked for a cigarette and they lit a cigarette and extinguished it on his tongue.
They were about to shoot him, upon the order of their commander, when one of the settlers came to tell them the capturing of a live terrorist has been reported and that the reporters are on their way.
On another occasion Uri and his friends took the three children of one family and one by one, simulated their killing in order to obtain their parents' cooperation.
There are few people whose friendship I cherish as much as I cherish Uri's. But I couldn't believe that this sensitive, considerate and tender guy is the same person who committed all the acts he told me about.
Consulting psychological literature I understood a bit more: Uri serves in the army under the conditions of fear. The fear awakened in him the impulse of aggressiveness. Even after the threat was neutralized (the man was unarmed) he remained flooded with aggressive feelings. He hated the man and wanted to kill him. He became a split person, could not reconcile Uri the moral man with Uri the aggressive man, so he denied the humanity of the other (the Palestinian), and so exempted himself from guilt for torturing him.
Another aspect to be considered is the social one: If Uri cannot activate the defense mechanism that allows him to be aggressive he risks to be a target of contempt, criticism and even punishment by his commanders. Very few young boys can bear paying this price. One of the papers I read ends with these words: "This is how a high school boy turns into a judge, a hangman and a grave-digger all at once, at the age of 19...This is how an innocent sensitive boy becomes violent".
What will happen to Uri in the future?
"An exaggerated use of the defense mechanism makes one shallow, rigid and closed. It is one of the signs of an unhealthy personality and one of the reasons for a possible nervous break down in the future, as is proved time and again in psychological reports regarding the treatment of soldiers or ex-soldiers. Unbearable guilt, shame, nightmares and restlessness, anxiety fits, are only few of the after effects of committing terrible deeds without reporting them to one's own conscience.
This is what we know about people who asked for help. Most people remain within this whirlpool of feelings without realizing what is happening to them."
Knowing that sending people to conquer and colonize civilian population is not only unnecessary but criminal, knowing that such a service blurs one's judgement, mentally crippling him for life, I cannot and will not do it. I do not worry about my soul because I trust my own awareness and strength to distinguish between moral and immoral. But I will not cooperate with this double crime: the crime against the Palestinian population and the crime against the Israeli youth.
Having known Uri I am even more certain that a man in such a situation cannot have moral judgement. His judgement is blurred by fear and anger that are directed towards people who are unable to protect themselves, while he is fully armed.
I do not want to take any responsibility for the mental state of soldiers or for their deeds. Neither as a partner nor as an accessory.
Here is a quote from the report written by Brian Ivory, a volunteer in the International Solidarity Movement, of the events of the 5th of November 2002, in Jenin:
"On that day in the afternoon I woke up from a long nap, after spending the previous night in ambulances of the local Palestinian relief services. Some friends came and we decided to go down, knowing that Palestinian children are playing out in the streets and might get hurt because the city was under curfew as usual. We wore our fluorescent coats and went out.
We didn't see any military presence in the streets and went on southward, to meet our friends. Then we heard army vehicles approaching and we thought it wise to stand still and let them pass in order not to raise their suspicion .The vehicles were equipped with canons. We raised our arms to show them we were not a risk. It was early evening and all the lamps were lit. Suddenly the vehicles opened fire. I was hit in my face and fell down, trying to stay alive. When I woke up I was in the Rambam hospital, in Haifa, in the department of mouth and jaws surgery.
All I know is that during the shooting we were the only ones around and that the soldiers did not stop and did not offer any help."
I met Brian in the hospital, being treated there myself. The doctors managed to restore his right jaw with bones taken from his skull, rebuild some of his mouth and fix some of his upper cheek bones so that they can replace his eye, and he can see.
Entering his room I found him reading and introduced myself. At first sight it was unbearable. He was extremely thin, having been nourished through his stomach alone, there was a breathing hole in his neck and a huge scar crossed his head.
It is hard for me to describe the intensity of the shock of meeting Brian not because he looked so horrible but because you could not look at him without being exposed, albeit a little bit, to what he had gone through and to what he was about to go through. I was sure he would not wish to meet people, let alone Israelis, but I was wrong. Brian was welcoming, nice and intelligent and we had a lot of interesting talks.
Brian came to the occupied territories as a volunteer in the ISM movement, whose actions are various, from teaching school, through day-to-day help to the population to active protest against the demolition of houses and other ruthless acts of the IDF. They also serve as observers of human rights and report any violation of them. That is why Brian was in the street that evening, dressed up in his special outfit so that he could be easily recognized.
The IDF tries everything it can in order to interrupt the volunteers' activity. Some of them have been arrested for long periods of time without a trial, some of them were beaten up, their computers were confiscated and their offices broken into. The ultimate action against them is that in which Biran was hurt, unexpected shooting in the face or killing by a bulldozer as was done to Rachel Corrie, another ISM volunteer. Here I must put a hedging and say that this interpretation is mine, the IDF denies that the killings of three volunteers in such a short span of time was intentional. The fact remains, though, the none of the killers was punished.
Brian was angry but also full of love and called Haifa his second home, because of all the people who cared for him and came to visit him. He is an optimist and will overcome his accident. Brian went home to undergo a series of operations for which the IDF refused to pay, saying they have nothing to do with the shooting.
His only sin was that he was in the IDF's way and that he could not put up with the wrong done to human beings, no matter how far they may live from his own country. The IDF chose him as an exemplary victim, one of those upon whom it builds its famous deterring power.
Almost Final words
Reaching the end of my testimony I would like to say a few words about myself, about the factors that form my world view, and that brought me, directly or indirectly, to do what I have done. I will start with music. I started playing classic guitar at the age of 13.
As I grew older music has become the most important thing in my life. Music for me is not a hobby, it is communication and beauty. It was through music that I have experienced communication and beauty wholly and fully. In music I have experienced my thoughts in the most complete and powerful way. Music taught me the wonder of man and the depth of man, a depth I believe exists in all of us. Realizing that I felt a stronger empathy towards people. As Leonard Bernstein said: "I refer by that to this feeling of pleasantness, that envelops us whenever we recognize and share with another human being a shape or a hue so deep, so indefinite, so evasive to the realm of feelings".
My passion for knowledge and my wish to advance myself taught me to love studying. Besides, I have always considered myself a socialist, this is how I was raised. I have always believed that the only way to live in society is by creating equality between people where everyone lives a fulfilling life, without difference or discrimination. I protested when I found out that in Israel there is discrimination between different groups of citizens, and between different regions. When I found out that not far away from me people live in suffocating poverty, stuck in a vicious circle that only few can escape, and are doomed to stay there due to the decisions of politicians and their yes- men.
One day, after a wonderful lesson of music I thought, quite childishly how wonderful would the world be if everyone could share my feelings at that moment. Then I reminded myself that for some people, musical education such as mine is only a dream. And this is when I started to feel what I have always known. I felt I had to give music to other people. So I volunteered for a year service in Kiryat Gat, another small deprived town in the Negev, during which I taught music to "youth at risk". At the age of 18 I had 30 pupils.
And then, a year after giving what I cherished most to these youngsters, I was called to rob that very thing from young Palestinians. My state, the state of Israel, is depriving the Palestinians of any sort of normal life, of developing their economy, of studies and of self growth. Stealing their land, not letting them expand or build houses for their children, destroying personal property, would disrupt anyone's personal growth. To be sure, the state of Israel also deprives its poor Jewish citizens of a normal life, by using most of its budget for the expansion of the settlements and for the maintenance of the occupation.
I refuse to deny anyone the opportunity, that has to be every person's privilege. I see the military service as the exact opposite of my year of voluntary service. Serving in the army means to me undoing everything I have done in good faith.
One of the clearest statements of Tolstoy in his novel War and Peace is that historical decisions are not made by leaders alone. That the decisions of the leaders are part of a greater whole of decisions that are made by everyone involved in the situation. For me this statement is valid not only for the analysis of historical events but also for the question of responsibility, whenever I face cardinal decisions.
There is no doubt in my mind that the decision to colonize another nation is immoral and corrupting. It is the basis for all the immoral deeds of the IDF, which is the tool by which this decision is implemented, and that this decision is the main cause of all Palestinian terrorist activities.
But the question of responsibility is much more complex. My conclusion is that anyone who takes part in the occupation is responsible for it, and hence responsible for terror. I don't think that what happened to the people in the Southern Hebron mountain is more or less horrible than what happens to Israeli children killed by suicide bombers. Both actions are equally horrible, preplanned atrocities that are carried out in cold blood in order to obtain political goals. But I also know that both these actions stem from the same source, and that if I enlist I will be responsible for both.
The evening I decided to refuse to serve in the Israeli army I was at my father's house and I watched my 1 year old brother, Daniel, making his first steps. No words can describe my feelings at that moment but I remember picturing him immediately reading, writing and playing music and imagining the trips we would take together.
In the background the Israeli television reported the events of the week, it was Friday night, and I saw Palestinian children throwing stones at monstrous Israeli tanks and being shot at in return. Huge sophisticated military vehicles were busy destroying the infra structure of what remained from the Palestinian cities, including schools and hospitals. Dozens of people were killed and injured every day.
That night I realized that joining the army means robbing these children of whatever I was dreaming for my brother. Even the most basic things without which we cannot imagine our daily life, are robbed from them: housing, food, entertainment, health and personal safety.
I could never say that I love my brother, I could never dream a happy childhood for him if I take part in a system that oppresses other children. Because in a place where young children are snatched out of their beds at night and are held prisoners in order to extract true or false confessions from their parents there is no room for childhood. And I will never take part in the creation of such a place. But there is more to it. The events I told you about are but a small part of what I know, which is a small part of what is happening.
Colonialism has always engendered protest, which has never stopped till the end of Occupation. Terror affects our lives in every possible domain and causes the deterioration of the Israeli society. The continuation and maintenance of the Occupation are the continuation and maintenance of terror.
Time and again I have been deceived by Israeli leaders who promised us peace and did not keep their word. I am watching the downfall of the state of Israel and I don't want to contribute to this downfall. I will not take part in the creation of a place where my brother can get hurt every time he steps out of his home.
I don't know what the Israeli government is trying to achieve in its continuous refusal to end the occupation, or in persisting in committing the most horrible crimes against the Palestinian population. Is it the wish to create a voluntary transfer or to break the spirit of the Palestinian people and their aspirations for independence and freedom? I do not know. All I know is that only evil can come out of these evil, corrupt and immoral actions. I cannot take part in it.
I don't remember how many times I have spoken to my young brother during my 5 months in jail, trying to explain to this 3 year old toddler what is prison and why I cannot come to see him. But when he grows up I will be able to tell him I did it all for him, thanks to him and that I had no other choice.
*Testimony given at the military court in Jaffa on the 15th of July, 2003.
Adam Maor, a 19-year old Israeli, is on trial for refusing to participate in the occupation of Palestinian lands and violence against Palestinians. Adam's father, Alex, will be touring the U.S. beginning on Oct. 11 in Olympia, Washington, with the Refuser Solidarity Network.