September 8, 2010
In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict
Pfc. Aluf Benn spent his years in the army in the Military Police in Lebanon. Yesterday, with commendable courage, he revealed his military routines in these pages ("When I was Eden Abergil"). He handcuffed and blindfolded people countless times and led many detainees to their cages. He saw detainees eating like dogs, as he put it – crouching with their hands tied behind their backs – and smelled their sweat and urine.
Benn tried to argue that everyone did this, thousands of soldiers of the occupation army for generations, and that is why he was not shocked by the acts of soldier Eden Abergil. That is a twisted but frightingly banal moral explanation: Everyone does it, so it’s okay. I never saw aberrations, Benn wrote, immediately after describing the detainees’ horrendous doglike meal. The occupation did not corrupt me, he added later, without batting an eyelash.
Well then, my excellent editor and good friend, Aluf Benn, your article is unequivocal proof of how much you have been corrupted after all – and, more seriously, how unaware of it you are. You didn’t know and didn’t ask who the prisoners were and why they were detained that way. Even their crouching to eat in handcuffs was deemed by you, a soldier who read Uri Avnery in his youth, to be normal, not a monstrous moral aberration. But really, what can you expect from a young brainwashed soldier?
The problem is that even today, with mature hindsight, you still don’t consider this an aberration. Why? Just because everybody did it.
The occupation did not turn us into lawless criminals, you write with a pure heart. Really? You handcuffed thousands of people for no reason, without trial, in humiliating conditions, causing them pain that made them scream, according to your testimony. Is this not a loss of humanity?
You didn’t return home to riot in the streets and abuse innocent people, you write, and that’s all very well. But you were silent. You were a complete accomplice to the crime, and you don’t even have a guilty conscience.
Try to think for a moment about the thousands of detainees that you handcuffed, humiliated and tortured. Think about their lives since then, the traumas and scars they carry, the hatred you planted in them. Now think about yourself, the soldier who has matured, become a family man and a respected columnist, a liberal editor to the bone, with independent and enlightened opinions. Could it be that you are blinder today than you were in your youth?
So that’s what everybody did. You have made an important contribution to Breaking the Silence, providing proof of what the occupation does to the occupier, who doesn’t even notice the ugly hump on his back anymore. The occupier you described is a grave development. An occupier who feels so good, so at peace with his past actions, is in need of profound self-examination.
"When I was Eden Abergil" is an important article. It honestly exposes what most of us don’t want to admit. It can’t be called false propaganda, and no one would dare accuse its author of being an anti-Semite. He was a dedicated soldier in the defense forces that committed (and still commit) such criminal deeds.
But the lesson Benn took away from his military service is perhaps the most chilling of all: It is better to be the one taking the prisoner, not the prisoner. It is better to be the one placing the handcuffs, not the handcuffed. It is better to guard the detainee and then go to the dining room than to eat crouching, hands cuffed, in a stinking hall. This is the binary world of the former Israeli soldier: either a brutal soldier, or his victim.
And what about the third possibility, which is neither one nor the other? The world has plenty of these – neither torturers not torture victims, neither occupiers nor the occupied. But they have been entirely erased from the narrow and frighteningly distorted image of the world that Israel plants in its soldiers’ minds.
Benn and his fellow soldiers just wanted to be on the strong side, and to hell with being on the just side. But those who forced people to eat like animals are not the strong side. Even the mighty, who once read the leftist Haolam Hazeh and now edits the op-ed page of Haaretz, has fallen.
Pfc. Benn certainly did not deserve a medal for his army service. Years later, he doesn’t even understand what was wrong with it.