PeaceCast #218 with Ori Givati Transcript

Listen to the podcast episode here.

Ori Nir 0:10
Welcome back to PeaceCast Americans for Peace Now's Podcast. I'm Ori Nir it's January 4 2022, our first podcast this year. So Happy New Year to everyone! In recent months as anti-Palestinian and at times anti-IDF settler violence intensifies, we're focusing on this issue of settler violence and shedding light on it as best we can. Today we'll examine this phenomenon from a somewhat unusual perspective, the perspective of the Israeli military, the IDF. To illustrate it, we're using a new report by the Israeli anti-occupation organization Breaking the Silence report titled "On Duty". It's a collection of soldier testimonies collected between 2012 and 2020. These testimonies focus on the phenomenon of settler violence through the eyes of soldiers who were on the ground, saw it and sometimes were on the receiving end of it, and were willing to share their impressions with Breaking the Silence. You will find the link to the report in the show notes. In the course of this episode, you will hear quotes from some of these testimonies, which I am reading in my voice from the report. The testimonies are anonymous, but they do indicate the rank, unit, and location. And the general period of the testimony refers to the testimonies were given in the form of conversations between or sort of an interview between Breaking the Silence staff member and the soldier. So there will be some q&a as well. These snippets will be woven into the conversation with our guest. And now finally, it's time to introduce our guest. And our guest is Ori Givati, yes, another Ori. And he is the advocacy director of Breaking the Silence. Hi, Ori, welcome to PeaceCast.

Ori Givati 2:06
Hi Ori, it's really nice to be here. And thank you for inviting me and us.

Ori Nir 2:11
Sure, sure. You know, I was named Ori, when this name was still very rare in Israeli society. I you know, there were my parents knew only one Ori at the time. And I didn't like my name that much because it was so unusual. Today, it's ubiquitous. So as we usually do on PeaceCast, I'm going to ask you to say a few words about yourself. And for the handful of listeners who don't know about Breaking the Silence, maybe also a few words about the organization.

Ori Givati 2:41
Okay, great. Yeah, so my name is Ori Givati. I'm 30 years old. I live in Tel Aviv today grew up in a village in the center of Israel, called Kfar Monash. I've been I've served in the Army Corps of the IDF from 2010 to 2013. Last service in the occupied territories, for me was on reserve duty in 2016. I joined Breaking the Silence almost five years ago, I started as a researcher basically conducting interviews with the soldiers for about two and a half years. And then I moved on to this position that I am in today, the advocacy director, in which I'm responsible for our international relations in our political work abroad and in Israel. Breaking the Silence is an organization of former soldiers served, who served in the IDF in the occupied territories, meaning in the West Bank, or Gaza, in what we basically do is we bring our testimonies from our experiences for what we saw what we did what we experienced as soldiers enacting the occupation. So checkpoints, invasions to villages, sexual violence, patrols, you name it. And we bring those testimonies to the public, I want to expose this reality of a 55 year old military rule over the Palestinian people. And we do it basically, because we believe that any person that will truly understand what it means to control people with a military force, we want this occupation to end. And this is our aim, end occupation. Not as many people would would be mistaken to think that we're trying to improve certain elements by shedding light on some practices. This is not true. What we're trying to do is to bring the occupation to an end because the occupation is morally indefensible. There isn't any way to rule people with the military force and do it morally or in any legitimate way.

Ori Nir 4:58
Thanks. Okay, so let's talk a little bit about the topic of the report. The impression that I think many people have, is that IDF soldiers in the West Bank aid and abet settler violence. That does happen sometimes. But as we see in the testimonies that we have here, the reality is very complex. The soldiers find themselves in a very complex situation, what I thought we could do in this conversation between us is sort of explore those complexities. So the first one, I think, is the kind of confusion that soldiers have about what their mission is, they seem a little confused as it relates to what what their role is, what their mission is, in this conflict between settlers and Palestinians, they- are they guarding the settlers or serving as a buffer between them and the Palestinians? How do you see it? And what is your experience with talking to soldiers about this topic?

Ori Givati 5:59
Yeah. So look, I think I will actually take it even a step further from what you said, because the reason that is so that it appears from the testimonies and of course, it's true that the soldiers themselves are in a complex situation, right? Because they see, for example, when a soldier sees a settler throwing stones, on a policy and in the area of Nablus, or in the area of the South Hebron Hills, of course, this in and of itself is a very complex situation. But and here is where I take it a step further from what you said, from the testimonies from, from so many soldiers, and including myself, by the way, who received all the details of how to operate in the West Bank, it's not complex at all. Our mission is to protect the settlers when I served in Hebron 2011-12. I was there for a short period of time for 10 days, our mission was, and it was written in the order to protect the Jewish settlement of Hebron. From testimonies we receive all the time. Yeah, this is one of the most, you know, one of the most usual testimonies we received until today, the order that we receive as soldiers doesn't matter where is always protect the settlements protect the Israelis, there is never an order to protect everyone around you. It's not an order. As a soldier, you never hear the order, protect Palestinians if they are attacked by settlers. Yeah. And that's why from again, of course, on the ground, the soldier that is there because he's a human being because he is a young Israeli, most of them, I would definitely believe they are they don't support this type of violence, they are in a complex situation. But the orders that we are given are not complex at all, are protected settlers, doesn't matter what.

Ori Nir 8:05
So that really leads me to the next question that I wanted to ask you that that has to do with this sense of cognitive dissonance that many of the soldiers feel the soldiers are conditioned to think of the settlers as being on their side, they're there to protect them. But that's not the way, sometimes, that the settlers behave, either toward the soldiers or more often toward the Palestinians. In other words, their behavior sometimes sort of violates the values and the morals of the soldiers and what they're conditioned to think, of how Israelis should behave, or human beings should behave. How does that come into play? Testimony of a First Sergeant armored corps who served in Yitzhar around 2012. "If Jews are involved in something, like we said, arson or something, it always ends in more significant incidents, because then the military gets like, entangled. What's the entanglement? What's the entanglement that you there are Jews that you're allegedly supposed to protect, but in practice, the Jews started this wrong thing. But now the Palestinians are heading out and you as an army, you're totally programmed that you need to drive the Palestinians back to their village. And you need to like, speak to the Jews nicely, politely. Ask them to go back. And the guys in Yitzhar are really difficult guys. It's truly the bottom of the right wing barrel in Israel. It's all kinds of guys who come to the yeshiva who came from broken families, I don't know and they're also people with a very violent character, and who also have extreme opinions. And that's it when it comes to such cases with them even though they're really dangerous people, you treat them more gently because they're like, the ones you're supposed to protect."

Ori Givati 10:10
Look, the, the relationship between soldiers and settlers, I think is what determines this kind of reception, right? Because we have so many layers of relationships, we have the first layer that that is the day to day life. intertwining every single day, every single hour between soldiers and settlers, right when we are invited to settlers home for dinner on Friday, or when sector children come to our, our military posts and play with the soldiers and so forth.

Ori Nir 10:47
Is that very common? By the way, this thing of being invited to let's say, Friday dinner or something like that?

Ori Givati 10:53
Yeah, ofcourse, of course, I can tell you, it's very prominent in say most most soldiers. It's all about relationship with settlers speak about this. So in Hebron in the area of in the area of Nablus, when I served in Qalqilya, five, six years ago now, settlers came to our military base and brought us snacks and dinner on Friday. So it's extremely prominent. And this is only one part of the day to day life intertwining because there is also military cooperation, security cooperation between the soldiers and settlers between the IDF. And right, every settlement has a settler that is designated by the Ministry of Defense, you receive a weapon and a salary. And we team a few volunteers that receive a weapon from the Ministry of Defense. And these people are meant to protect the settlement. Okay. This on its own, you know, we see this type of stuff in other places in the world, right, like Civil Guard of neighborhoods and so forth. Right? It's not working like that here. Here. We see, we have testimonies of soldiers talking about how a those heads of security from the settlement sometimes take charge, right, we have a soldier serving in lately that said, the talks about how the settler, the head of security was considered the fort command, the fourth officer in the company. And when a soldier you know, is at someone's home, in dinner, and his children play with with him in the military post. And then he is also or the settlers are one of the visitors is also part of his day-to-day military activity. Right? And by the way, we don't need to look so far away only about seven months ago, in the area of Nablus, where there are videos of settlers and soldiers invading Palestinian villages together, right to understand how far this phenomenon has grown. Yeah. So when, when this is how the relationship between settlers and soldiers look like. I'm not surprised at all, that the perception by soldiers and settlers are on their side, because it's not only it's not only a you know, it's not a mistake, in the eyes of the soldier. It's actually what the system directs them to do, to cooperate with the settlers in all levels in all fronts.

Ori Nir 13:37
Testimony by a sergeant of an infantry unit who served in Hebron around 2016. "Ideally, a soldier isn't supposed to have an emotional connection, either with the Palestinians or with the Jews, who are there in Hebron, he comes to do a job that really needs separation in order to do it. Well. In practice, the feeling is that you're coming to live with them with the Hebron settlers for six months. Do you understand? We like, eat at their houses? And we do Kabbalat Shabbats. And why does this happen? Like why? Because in the end, who are you going to want to protect? Is the Arab who you feel because of the demonization? Is the reason your life is shit? The one who you should be protected? Which is surreal, of course, because the situation is that because the Jews decided to live there, you were there. But no, this Arab who's walking on the street, you have to guard because of him? Are you going to want to protect him according to your principles? Or a person you had Friday Night Dinner with a second ago? And this person might just be creating a provocation to irritate Arabs, so that soldiers come and there's going to be chaos because of it. But you've had Friday dinner with him. You know, and by name, like there are 800 people settlers there. There are about 10 very prominent people there that everyone knows, like, you know him by name. You had dinner with him two days ago? Who are you going to protect? Even if he's doing the worst thing in the world, you won't even know it's a terrible thing. And that's really the issue." So some of the testimonies indicate that the settlers try to co-op the soldiers and to cajole them, including through giving them giving them some gifts and so on, to behave aggressively, sometimes more aggressively than needed, perhaps, toward the Palestinians. But they create sort of a material incentive, if you will, for the soldiers to brutalize Palestinians. What impact does that have? How the soldiers cope with this kind of behavior?

Ori Givati 15:57
Look, because we don't receive basically, if you will go to you know, most soldiers, they will tell you that we don't receive any tools to deal with settler aggressions of violence in any form. Okay. And by the way, what you mentioned is also a type of aggression type of violence towards the soldiers, right? So, basically there isn't any, so you can either, you know, try to resist it, but then you are, you're in a, you're in a twilight zone, because you're operating in a place where you don't know the orders. And this for a soldier is very weird, right? The system is in complete denial of giving soldiers tools to deal with this kind of situation. So if a soldier decides to confront the settlers to do something against the settlers in any way, yeah, is operating in a place where it only depends on his own, you know, instinct, I don't know gut feeling or whatever. And it will be extremely rare to see something like this, because there is nothing in the system that prevents us from acting violently towards Palestinians. Right. So what would I prefer? Would I prefer to confront the settler doing something extremely controversial that I've never been told to do? Or just, you know, act a little bit more aggressively towards the Palestinians to calm the settlers down. I would also I was never in this type of situation. But I still did as a soldier, I would also choose that.

Ori Nir 17:36
Testimony by first sergeant infantry who was serving in Hebron around 2016. He's telling the story about the Palestinians who came to complain that settler kids stole his donkey. "I remember that one of the settler kids mothers joined them, and told me, are you the Israeli Defense Forces or the Palestinian defense forces? You're supposed to protect us? Why are you even listening to him? He's not one of your people. You're supposed to protect your people. That's your job here. And we, like tried to stop the commotion, we realized that we weren't succeeding. And we called our officer on the two way radio. He got there. And I said that, like all of us just wanted things to be quiet. And we'll try for a second to understand what's right and and try to resolve the problem somehow. He arrived wasn't really interested. Of course, he was of the crew, one of the friends of a well known settler in Hebron. And so he like, tried to resolve it, listen to the Palestinians for a second mostly listen to the settlers. And then he said, Okay, listen, just tell tell them tell him to go to the police or I don't know, he should get out of here quick. We're standing there like, unsure what to do. Like, what do you mean, quick, the Palestinians here, he's here saying that this donkey was stolen. What am I going to tell him go? It's your problem. And also this kind of thinking of like, I'm in the military, and I'm here. Who am I protecting here? And what does it mean to protect and what am I supposed to be doing? After all, most of the things I do are like the job of a police officer, but if something criminal happens, and I'm not a police officer, what can I do about it? I don't know."

So you talked earlier about the relationship between the soldiers and the security officers in the settlement, the civilian security officers in the settlements, the soldiers actually sometimes receive orders from them do they report to them or how does that work?

Ori Givati 19:47
So officially, officially, no, officially, official, if you look at the orders, and if you will ask military, head military commanders, they will tell you no, this is not legal. The Center of security as we never we're not allowed to give orders and so forth. But again, when you look at the reality on the ground when you look at so there was testimonies definitely happens, right? Because think about it, you go to serving in the South Hebron Hills for three months, or four months or one week doesn't matter. One of the one of the tasks is to protect the settlement in the area. So when a guy that is the settler, head of the head of security of column L, or PIO or SOC, doesn't matter, which is doing that job for five or 10 years is usually at least 10 or 10 years older than you. Yeah. Comes and tells you, you see that Palestinian over there, they are in a place there where they shouldn't be. So go and arrest them, or go and push them away, and so forth. There is again, no reason that he will not do it. Because this guy, for example, again, I'll go back to, to our testimonies, we have dozens of testimonies of how a new unit comes to an area. One of the meetings that they do one of one of the first meetings is to meet the settlers head of security, but to give them a lecture about this area. Yeah. And again, I go back to testimony from earlier, consider the fort officer of the unit by the soldiers, right. We know about meetings between a high military commanders like brigade commanders, battalion commanders, meeting with settlers, head of security, in you know, also for dinners and so forth. It's not only the soldiers on the ground, like the last soldier on the ground that is part of that.

Ori Nir 21:51
Testimony of a First Sergeant infantry who's served around Nablus in 2014, he talks about the relationship that the soldiers have with the security officials of the settlement inside the settlement of Kedumim in the area there. "Question, tell me in this operation room in Kedumim? What's your relationship with them? Like, if they say that you have to kick those Palestinians out of there? Do you do what they say? Or how does it work? Yes, I don't think it was that clear. Ultimately, they're not your commanders. But they're kind of understood as, I don't know, as locals who know the area better than we do. We arrived for a few months, you know, and learn the area and leave. I think we were just told you have to listen to them. Even though they weren't really you know, our direct commanders."

So Ori when soldiers do see settlers attack Palestinians. I mean, you- you said earlier that the mission is to protect the settlers, they know that that's what they should do. But still sometimes, you know, they face situations where they see settlers attack Palestinian, sometimes it's lethal even. What are they supposed to do? What's it, what are they supposed to do? What are the orders and how does it play out? In practice? What ends up happening in practice?

Ori Givati 23:20
Okay, so first and foremost, we have to understand that the system the military system is in complete denial. Okay, so many, many soldiers don't even realize at all there is for to do with violence. I can tell you, for example, I was in my mandatory service. Most of the service I was a an instructor of "How to become a tank commanders". Tank commander is after the course after the tank commanders course, they go in serving occupied territories, okay. So it's not like they go and serve only on times. And in this course, that I've done, that I was a commander in for seven times, but seven courses. We never there was not even one minutes that we spoke with the with the trainees about the option of settler violence.

Ori Nir 24:12

Ori Givati 24:13
Okay. So sometimes after when soldiers finish that course, and they go to serving in the territories, they have a week of a week or a day or two days of preparation to the to the service. And sometimes there in that week, there is one class or something like that, that they talk about settler violence. Yeah. And we're talking about a phenomena that is extremely likely to happen. And we're not talking about something that you can cover in one hour that firstly, and that's also extremely rare. Okay, I'm just I'm stating something that is like most likely that no soldier was taught. But a so let's go back I go back to a question. When we do hear about orders when we do hear about instructions from the soldiers from the testamonies, most soldiers talk about calling the police. Yeah. Calling the police, because, as I assume, we know, we have two separate law systems in the West Bank. Right, the military law over the Palestinians, the Israeli criminal law over everyone else. That's an Israeli decision, first and foremost. But this is also a justification for the military to say we don't want the military to enforce the law on settlers. Because we can call the police it makes more sense because the Israeli police should enforce the law, because we're talking about Israeli criminal law because settlers are Israeli civilians. Yeah, this is part of the part of the reality in the West Bank, that is two separate law systems for two different people are on the same geographic area. So the soldiers, in many cases call the police. Okay. Some soldiers We also heard talking about, that they're told that they can send between the Palestinians and the settlers, but they are not allowed to touch the citizens. Okay. So what do we know, best how to do is to act against Palestinians. Right. So in many cases, and it's not coming, usually from a bad place by the soliders, no, it's coming from a place of the soldier on the ground, the only thing you want to reach is silence. So you know that even if the Palestinians are the victims, you can throw a stun grenade or the gas grenade on the victims on them, they will run away or walk away. And by that, you will be able to stop the settler violence. Because this is something you know for sure that you're allowed to do. We are always allowed to us, at our own discretion, stun grenades and gas grenades on Palestinians. And this is why even if the soldier is 100,000% against it with violence, and he's, you know, after his service, he will come to testify for Breaking the Silence, it doesn't matter. Yeah, because he doesn't have any order to act against the settlers. And he has basically all free permission to act against the Palestinians. Now, another thing that's important to mention is what happens when the police arrives? Because in many cases, the police arrive. But this usually also doesn't help. Yeah, we have dozens of videos, if not hundreds of police also present it during settler violence, doing nothing exactly like the soldiers are doing nothing if the good case or doing something against the Palestinians, like we just mentioned.

I was present myself in a in a few situations where police was present, while settlers were attacking Palestinians or, or us as activists, and the police didn't do anything. And this and you know, we don't have testimonies from police. But but this is very simple to understand. Because the police in the West Bank, also live with the settlers, like the soldiers live with a setter. Right? And we have where we need to have here another layer, which is the political reality today in Israel, and the political reality today in Israel, is that extremely rarely, even the Minister of Defense says something about settler violence and it usually ends there. There is no action being taken against violence. So if the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Internal Security, you know, today's many guns, but still doesn't matter. It's true for all these last 55 years, don't do anything to stop the violence. Why would the policeman that lives with settlers do something about it, there is zero incentive for me as police to do something in favor of Palestinians, zero.

Ori Nir 29:13
We need to end and I wanted to ask you a question. And I'm asking it because I know that you have opinions about it, because I just listened to a another podcast that you were on recently, an Israeli Hebrew language podcast. So the question and the question that I asked myself all the time is, to what end? I mean, we're investing all these efforts at trying to bring the occupation to an end. And it just seems like it's getting deeper and deeper and that the goal is getting farther and farther. What What keeps you in this what what gives you hope?

Ori Givati 29:49
Good question. Yeah, I have to say, I'm asked this a lot. And unfortunately, the situation we're in today, it's I understand why am I asked this a lot, because it's very easy to lose all hope. And before I will start sounding optimistic, I will say yes, we're in a terrible situation. Now we are, we are in terrible situation, we are seeing the occupation a getting deeper and deeper. We are seeing violence and violence rising on all fronts, settler violence, military violence, and, and we are seeing that deepened that the deepening of the occupation everyday also with new technologies, like surveillance and so forth, definitely. But with all of this, there are a few things that, that motivate me. And I think that we should all be aware, first of all, there isn't another option, like the option of giving up is just illegitimate, I will even say, because what does it what does it mean that we just continue leaving our lives as people who are part of this, you know, either were soldiers or just Israeli citizens or citizens of the world, it doesn't really matter. Knowing everything we know, and just deciding No, it's too difficult. So we will stop this is, I think, very basically, the first, the first thing that must, we all must remember that not doing anything is not an option. And second, is the fact that big changes, sometime happened really fast, and sometimes happen when they're at least expected. And we know this from South Africa, we know this from France and Algiers. And we know this from many other examples in history. And our job is to understand that to work and to understand that we work on the long term not be disappointed from every day that passes by without a change, but understand that it's a long game, and gathers even if it's slowly even if it's one person every day, gather the as many people in Israel in the world understand that this must end. And when we do that, even if it's low, let's say in the last 17 years of Breaking the Silence operate, we took you know, 10s of 1000s of people to see this reality, some of them will never do anything about it. But some of them will and some of them did, I can tell you about myself that one of the things that made me start doing something is Breaking the Silence story. It doesn't have to be a Breaking the Silence, but we can be any other way to, to understand this reality. And when we gather people step-by-step, to, to understand the situation, we bring that day we bring the day that everything will change a step closer, and we have to be prepared, we have to make as many people as possible in Israel and in the world preparing in the Jewish Diaspora specifically prepared for the moment for that moment, because this will allow us to to grasp this moment right, to recognize it, and have a lot of people that will help us to take it and use it. The other let's say major motivation that I received that that and the major factor that I think that is crucial to bring the occupation to an end is the growing a cooperation between us, Israeli activists against occupation, organizations, activists, and Palestinians. And this has been growing, it's I can even say exponentially in the next in the last two or three years. Many Palestinians that want to cooperate, that we do stuff together, we are cooperating our tours with Palestinians way activism, you know, on other fronts is also in cooperation with Palestinians. And this is so significant for us, for them, and also for the entire movement, because we have to understand that the forces that will drive the occupation to an end are not us. Yeah, are also us, but not only us, Palestinians and the joint efforts, that can be a created by cooperation between Palestinians and Israelis. It's one of the, I think, major factors that that it gives me a lot of motivation, because it's also we are not even close to maximize its abilities. Let's say in the organizational part, you know, in the civil society, of course, we have a lot more work, but it's very established. You're working for many years here cooperation with Palestinians and Israelis. We have so much room to grow. And I think it's another very important element.

Ori Nir 34:46
Wonderful. Ori, thank you so much. Keep up the good work. And hopefully we'll you know, we have a lot of returnees on on PeaceCast. So hopefully we'll hear from you again sometime soon.

Ori Givati 34:59
Thank you so much

Ori Nir 35:01
Thank you