Serene, Canada

May 5, 2012

I’m a Jordanian of Palestinian origin. (In short I’m Palestinian) I have a displaced identity. I am currently studying documentary media in Toronto, and before that I worked in video production.

Do you ever feel bad for the Palestinians? For their daily reality that is created and maintained by IDF soldiers?

If not, how do you see Palestinian people (inside Israel)?

Did you ever experience any trauma as a result of your military service? If so can you please describe how you feel to me? 

Hi Serene,

Thanks for visiting the site! Sometimes I feel like I made a mistake that I didn’t pursue a career in production and media. I wanted to study production design back when I lived in Los Angeles… it just never really materialized. Do you enjoy it? Shooting documentaries all around the world sound like a dream job to me.

Do I ever feel bad for the Palestinians? Yes. I’ll even go as far as saying that I feel bad for them often. I think that the vast majority of them are decent people who only seek the basic things in life… food, shelter, health, prosperity, education for themselves and/or their children..

While I agree with you that the IDF largely maintains the everyday reality, my opinion differs on who created the reality. I’m not saying that the Israeli government and/or the IDF are immune from making mistakes, but I think that the Palestinian leadership is largely responsible for the present day situation. I think the best way improve the lives of Palestinians and to gain Palestinian statehood is by not giving the Israeli government any more excuses. If the Palestinian government can prove to the global community that it can get serious about statehood, the Palestinian people would reap tangible economic rewards within only a few years time…

Presently, the Palestinian government is divided between Hamas and Fatah, and much of the economic aid being funneled into Gaza and the West Bank is lost to political corruption and arms purchases. Furthermore, the Israeli government has recognized the right of a Palestinian state to exists.. the time has come for the Palestinian government to do the same. The “all or nothing” mentality has gotten them nowhere and has little chance of bearing fruit in the future. Let’s be real. There are nearly eight million inhabitants in the State of Israel… “pushing them into the sea” as is promoted in much of the Palestinian rhetoric, is nothing more than a fantasy.. its just not going to happen. The Palestinian government must have the courage to accept this and move on to their next best option. I think that overall they are headed in the right direction…

I think they are just now realizing that there is more power in non-violence than there is in violent struggles. I encourage them to embrace the power of non-violent protest to demand social change as has been done in Tunisia and Libya. They will be most effective in attaining their goals by removing the pretext for Israeli opposition and retaliation. Stop giving us an excuse. Really… I beg of you.. for your own sake. I would much rather live in a reality where my government feels comfortable reallocating tax money to from military spending to education and the improvement of transportation infrastructure… As much as I enjoy seeing my friends from the army… I would much rather it be at a local pub and not in Gaza, Lebanon, or a training exercise. Believe me. When them Palestinian quality of life improves, so will ours. To make this happen, the Palestinian leadership needs to get serious, get real, and take brave steps to improve the lives of their people. We must compromise and in a compromise you don’t get everything you want. The Israeli government has agreed to a Palestinian state, now the PA leadership needs to step up and meet us half way.

As far as trauma from the military goes… I can’t say that I have experienced any… Much of my service was spent on the relatively quiet Lebanese and Syrian borders. My service comprised mostly of large-scale training exercises and border patrols. I was never in a situation where I had to exert force on anyone or even point my rifle at a person. Contrary to what is portrayed in the media, this is the reality for the vast majority of Israeli troops. The IDF is largely a “reservist”-based military. As an active duty reservists, I recognize that the chances that I will see action at some point in my life is high. This can occur in five years, ten years, this summer, or even tomorrow. That is the reality we live in here. I hope it never materializes as I do have friends who served in the 2nd Lebanon War, Operation Cast Lead, and even Iraq and Afghanistan who have trouble sleeping at night because of the horrors they witnessed. I like sleeping. Let’s keep it this way =)

I really enjoyed answering your questions Serene. Whether you choose to agree with me or not is your decision.. and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts as well. This site was built to work as a two-way channel and not as a mouthpiece for one sided rhetoric. Just as I think I’ve helped paint a clearer picture for some of our visitors, they have similarly helped me see things from angles I hadn’t previously considered. I think that many of the soldiers on this site would claim the same thing. I wish you luck with your studies and a great rest of the week.

With Friendship,

Avi

Hi Avi, 

Thanks for your quick response. You would have been rich and famous if you did production design in L.A … but Alas … and covet me not for it doesn’t look like i’m going to be traveling the world and making documentaries any time soon … although id really want to ..  

this is my favorite line that you wrote: “This site was built to work as a two-way channel and not as a mouthpiece for one sided rhetoric.”

and i see you studied political science so lets engage in two-sided rhetoric :) 

for me the Palestinian Authority is irrelevant and powerless … it is as someone put it nicely an authority without authority … Israel is in the position of power and we both know it … Hamas may not allow Palestinian women to smoke sheesha in public spaces in Gaza but it is Israel (and Egypt) that have built a wall around both Hamas and the Gazan women…  so i’m not going to engage in a conversation about Fateh or Hamas … im not talking about politicians i’m talking about people … 

and also i don’t think that Israelis should be driven into the sea that’s absurd .. what i meant by reality is standing at checkpoints … not being able to move freely … not being able to travel, work, or study  … not being able to live a normal life without interference from IDF soldiers … the daily stuff that constructs the daily narratives of Palestinians living under Israeli rule (to avoid the word occupation again because of the PA) 

This is the reality i was talking about … i guess from what you said … you have never stood at a checkpoint, fired rubber bullets at demonstrators, arrested or pointed your rifle at someone … so i guess you can’t really answer my question … unless you attempt to answer it on behalf of some of your soldier friends who have? 

You said in your last e-mail: “I would much rather live in a reality where my government feels comfortable reallocating tax money to from military spending to education and the improvement of transportation infrastructure…” 

Why don’t you?? do you see the Israeli treatment of Palestinians as necessary? how about sustainable? 

let me know what you think and i hope i didn’t offend your logic with mine :) 

Hey Serene,

You didn’t offend me at all. I think you’d be surprised to hear that I agree with many of your points. Yes, me… the big bad IDF soldier in the khaki uniform and the M-16 rifle… and I’m sure there are many others like me. We’re not the baby-eating, organ-harvesting monsters that organizations such as BDS portray us to be.

I too have a favorite line of yours, ” for me the Palestinian Authority is irrelevant and powerless … it is as someone put it nicely an authority without authority ”

I agree with your statement that Israel is in a position of power. I also agree that the current situation cannot be sustained. The status-quo will eventually give way to something… whether it be a demographic shift in voting majority, another intifada, or another war..

I think I have a better understanding of your question now. Concerning the issue of checkpoints.. while most of my service was spent along the Northern border… I did spend a few months in the West Bank. During that time my unit often conducted surprise checkpoints and both vehicular and foot patrols in and around Palestinian villages. If your question is if I think that these things inconvenience and interfere with the daily lives of Palestinians, then my short answer is yes. I recall a few instances where our checkpoints caused long traffic jams and I felt bad for the ordinary people who had to wait through them… especially during the summer heat when everyone is agitated and devoid of patience.

That being said, I also recall a few of our patrols returning to base with knives and molotov cocktails they found during these very same checkpoints. I think that in a general sense, the big losers in the present situation are the ordinary Palestinians who do not embrace violence…  but I may argue in the same breath that the biggest losers are those like the Fogel family who were massacred by two Palestinian youths in their sleep (ages 36, 35, 11, 4, and 3 months). Furthermore.. there have been two cases just in the past few weeks where Palestinians were caught attempting to smuggle explosives though the Hawarta checkpoint near Nablus. I think you can begin to see how the cycle is formed…

You could similarly argue that the daily inconveniences imposed by the IDF on Palestinians are what drives them to do these things… I think that’s plausible… but more likely it’s a combination of a pre-conceived religious or nationalist ideology plus personal experience (ie checkpoints, home raids, jailed relatives) which may spawn terrorist. So yes.. in my opinion it’s a cycle driven by violence. The IDF by nature and by definition is a defensive force. Territorial expansion and conquest does not fall in line with the interests of the state. As such, the defensive nature of the army characterizes it as a reactive force… meaning that a pretext is needed in order for it to operate in accordance with international law. This goes back to our previous correspondence. Stop giving the IDF and excuse. Kill us with kindness. Prove to the world that the Palestinians are capable of forming a stable government which can promote economic growth and instill peace education. The change needs to come within. This example I gave you of the checkpoint is a microcosm of this. We set up a checkpoint.. I, the IDF soldier, feel sympathy for the ordinary Palestinian Joe (or Khaled, or Basmah) for their inconvenience… I recognize their kids are tired and hungry… they just want to get home… but the next car I signal to pull over to the side of the road is occupied by two males, ages 19 and 20.. upon my request, they provide me with their ID cards and exit the vehicle. A fellow soldier open their trunk and finds a few improvised knives, a milk crate filled with stones, slingshots, and a few molotov cocktails. Suddenly… I don’t feel so bad for those stuck in the traffic jam. As far as I’m concerned, I may have just prevented a girl from being stabbed to death while waiting for the bus tonight.. or a car carrying a family of four from being hit with a stone or a molotov cocktail at 70km per hour.

The situation is neither black, nor white. The only people who are wrong in the present situation are those who chose the path of violence. They ruin it for everyone. I’ve seen many cases in the news media where Palestinian children are taught that Israelis come from apes and pigs and must be killed. Are you familiar with this? How prevalent is this? Can you see how this just serves to fuel the cycle where both sides lose? In a good case.. the Palestinian will be late to work today because of an IDF operation and the IDF soldier will lose three years of time he/she could have used to get a college degree.. in the bad case.. the Palestinian may catch a stray bullet and the IDF soldier may lose his/her life to a pipe bomb at a checkpoint. As you can see… there are no winners in this cycle.

I have never been present at any of the protests popularized on YouTube and Al Jazeera.. never fired tear gas or rubber bullets at anyone… you can direct those questions to Yoav on this site who served in the Border Guard.. I’m not sure if he himself engaged in any of this but I know the Border Guard generally deals with these flare ups. He may be able to better answer your question(s).

“I would much rather live in a reality where my government feels comfortable reallocating tax money to from military spending to education and the improvement of transportation infrastructure…”

I don’t think that the defense ministry feels like it is in a position where it can reduce its annual defense spending. As long as there is not a stable and lasting peace.. the IDF will have to keep allocating a huge percentage of its annual GDP towards defense. Take a look at the Jordanian border… even though the peace between Israel and Jordan isn’t exactly a “warm peace”… the IDF doesn’t really perceive it as a threat and it is apparent in the way the Israel/Jordanian border looks… the fence in old and dilapidated and there is a relatively small IDF presence along the border. If the IDF felt that they could allow this around Gaza and in the West Bank, trust me.. you’d see the same thing.

Again, I don’t see the present situation as sustainable… something will have to give… the Israeli’s have made unheard of compromises on territory and sovereignty… the PA needs to do the same if we want to escape the cycle I illustrated above… Neither side can have their cake and eat it too.

I think that as long as there is the threat of intentional violence targeted at Israeli civilians.. the current treatment of Palestinians may be necessary. Its like a game of cat and mouse… They say the need metal for home construction… we allow a few truckloads in.. and the following week that metal is returned to us in the form of a Qassam or Grad rocket on a pre-school. We halt the trucks.. they complain to the UN.. we try to justify our reason… they condemn us… I think you get the point.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Don’t be afraid of offending me… maybe I’ll learn something new. These are exactly the type of correspondences this site was built for.

All the best,

Avi

BDS is about Apartheid …. its not about soldiers … its about a system of segregation based on religion …

It’s not that i demonize soldiers … but in all honesty i don’t like guns … in every sense of the word … I don’t like people who make them, sell them, buy them, or use them … I’m a naive idealist and would like it to stay that way as much as you like your good sleep …

I do understand that there are Palestinians who believe in armed resistance … for me they are no different from an armed soldier  

Both speak a violent language …. a language that like i said i don’t understand … 

i think there needs to a major shift in the way of thinking …  

i just wish it was easy to discuss the conflict as an abstraction not in who started it and who is wrong terms ..   

anyways … i’m glad my parents left … this is not about me … 

its weird that you wrote Basmah … that is the name of my first “best friend” when i was about 11 

:) 

p.s: are you paid to do this? 

Sincerely, 

Serene 

Hi again Serene,

Just out of curiosity, do you think Israel is an apartheid state?

On guns.. I personally enjoy them only in the shooting range as a sport. They’re not like what you see in the movies.. they are heavy.. they constantly require maintenance and cleaning.. and ammunition is heavy as well. Even soldiers don’t always like their guns ; )

But.. if someone was threatening your life… would you rather have a pistol or a banana in your holster? I wouldn’t feel very safe in South Lebanon carrying pepper spray. Guns are necessary evil sometimes.

“i think there needs to a major shift in the way of thinking ..” I agree… a core element of conflict resolution is “peace education”.. that is an academic term. It should be promoted both in Israel and in the Arab world.

Basmah was just a random name I thought of ; -)

Lastly, no. I’m not paid to do any of this and neither are any of the soldiers on this site…  neither are the founders and site managers/promoters. Furthermore, we are not funded by the IDF, IDF spokesperson, Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Defense, or any other organization – official or not. Our site is run by the little “donation” button you see on the homepage and a few dedicated individuals.

Personally, I choose to take part in the project because it is an idea I believe in. I also enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts. I’ve got a lot of scattered thoughts and ideas floating around in my head and being involved in this project forces me to organize them and form an opinion. I particularly enjoy receiving questions about issues I know little or nothing about because it forces me to go out there and read a little bit about the issue so I can provide a response. I guess you could say I get paid in knowledge and experience which is good enough for me.

I guess one of the main messages I’d like to get across is that IDF soldiers aren’t these big bad killing machines. I’m willing to bet we like a lot of the same music.. the same foods.. enjoy the same movies and TV shows…  We’re not that different from you.

Thanks for taking the time to ask us and get to know us better. I commend anyone who takes that brave step outside of the comfort zone called ignorance.

I’m off to bed. Keep in touch.

Avi

Hi Avi … 

Yesterday I went to to a talk by Illan Pappe do you know who he is? 

i didn’t know him until yesterday … 

he talked about how the West Bank and Gaza are the world’t biggest open air prisons and that soldiers are the human face of an inhumane system. i find myself agreeing with him … the banality of evil is a term coined by a jewish journalist and writer …. 

i think i was trying to reach out to you as a human not as a soldier … i’m not interested in you changing my mind that you are not a “baby eating” “killing machine” i don’t think of you in those terms .. I don’t know you … i just think of you as the man in uniform who follows the orders … i wanted to know what you think of those orders … im not sure i liked ur answers … that it is necessary for children to stand at checkpoints …. and that u prefer guns to bananas … 

I’m not in a comfortable zone of ignorance … i actually find myself in an uncomfortable and powerless zone … 

last night i found myself regretting this whole exchange and i was getting paranoid to be honest … 

i wish you a comfortable life and good sleep always 

i say that with whole-heartedly good intentions :) 

sincerely, 

Serene

I can accept that Serene..

My goal is not to try to change anyone’s opinion here… just to offer my thoughts sans the media bias and spin… as someone who actually experienced some of the situations you inquired about first hand…

I don’t support everything the IDF and the Israeli government does just as I’m sure you don’t support Hamas’s suicide bombings and rocket launches..

I think you may have misinterpreted my comment on ignorance… I wasn’t suggesting you were ignorant but rather commending you for taking the time to ask questions about issues you may have lacked clarity on…

I’m not familiar with Illan Pappe but I will make an effort to attend one of his lectures in Israel…  I’ve got nothing to lose by hearing someone else’s perspective. If I do in fact manage to catch one of his lectures I’ll let you know my thoughts..  if that’s okay with you of course.

On the issue of following orders… you’re right.. we just follow orders.. and we don’t always agree with them. Likewise, the IDF doctrine on morals explicitly says that it is our right to refuse an order which is illegal or may be considered inhumane.

No matter where I go and what I do in life, whether it be in the army or in my civilian life.. I always make it a point to remember that we are all human before we are Arabs, Jews, Zionists, Palestinians, Soldiers, etc. We all have families, we all breath the same air, and we all want to live healthy, fulfilling, and prosperous lives.

I too wish you nothing but good things and I’m sorry if our correspondence made you feel uneasy..

With friendship,

Avi

Hi Avi 

Thank you for your kind message. It is a calm and gentle message 

I certainly am against suicide bombs and I think Hamas sucks … 

I am sorry for telling u I regretted the exchange (I changed my mind about that) 

How did you like the guns and bananas line? 😉 

And it’s good to know that a soldier has the power to refuse orders in the Israeli forces..  

I don’t mind at all if you tell me your thoughts on Pappe though I think that he was fired from a teaching post in an Israeli university so u may have to look for him … 

Best of luck 

S

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