Citizen Action Monitor

Repentant ex-Israeli soldier reveals “scar of memory” of “medieval-style” torture of Palestinians

Yuval Lev now faces virulent backlash and threats of violence from fellow Israelis

No 611 Posted by fw, November 14, 2012

“Perhaps to remember and never forget is our real punishment. It is not absolution, but for me this scar of memory has always been a kind of warning signal and a constant reminder of the clear red line which, if we cross, we turn from human beings into human animals.”Yuval Lev

In a telephone conversation with The Electronic Intifada, Lev said that the events he described in his November 8, 2012 Facebook entry actually occurred around 1989, at age 21, when he was in the army, and not during the Second Intifada as stated in his testimony below. Lev, now 44, said his Facebook revelation was the first time he had spoken out about this horror.

This post is a reorganized, edited version of The Electronic Intifada piece. To read the original account, click on the linked tittle below.

Israeli who revealed “medieval-style” torture of Palestinians faces virulent backlash, submitted by Ali Abunimah, November 13, 2012

Lev’s Facebook testimony (in Hebrew), posted on November 8, 2012. With thanks to David Sheen for spotting it, and to Dena Shunra for the translation

I will never forget what I saw there.

Today I think that the real punishment for a sore conscience is that you simply cannot delete what happened from your brain, and you are sentenced to remembering it forever, with no ability to forget. But then, when I was a ground forces soldier doing regular military service, in the middle of a Company Commanders’ course, although I felt that what we were doing there was entirely not ok – I did nothing about it, and even cooperated, with nary a word. And maybe it is because I was silent then that I cannot forget to this very day.

Yuval Lev

So here’s the story: in the middle of an activity in some remote hole in the Territories, somewhere near Ramallah, at the height of the Second Intifada [sic] I believe, one day two fellows came to the [military] camp looking like Shabak* men, and after a short chat with our commanders, took four of us (myself included) to a mission lasting a few days – to secure a secret Shabak interrogation facility, in the heart of one of the violent, rough neighborhoods around. [*Shabak is the Israeli acronym for the General Security Service (GSS), a secret police force].

We went gladly, of course, full of pride for having been selected for the important, patriotic mission which would save lives and prevent attacks. We were given the explanation that this was a “hard core” interrogation facility, for the most dangerous Arabs in the Territories, but nothing made us ready for what we saw in that basement. Without exaggeration and without even a drop of melodrama for enhancing the effect: we arrived at a medieval-style torture facility.

A long, narrow hallway, white fluorescent bulbs and the stench of bunker air, on the left a row of interrogation rooms, with the shouts of the interrogators and the screams of the interrogates always coming out of them, and on the right, along a gray concrete wall, stood a line of “detainees”, stood and waited for their turn to be interrogated. Legs shackled, hands behind their backs, a jute sack over their head, standing in absolute silence. As surrealistic as a movie about the Inquisition. At the end of the hall, on a sort of giant metal mesh, another detainee was hung by his handcuffs like Jesus on the cross, with his hands up and to the sides and his sack on his head, groaning with pain, and a soldier screaming at him and beating him with the butt of his rifle.

[“]This piece of garbage had the audacity of lying down on the floor as if he were in some kind of hotel[!”] shouted-explained the soldier that I was supposed to replace in the guard duty. Sitting was prohibited and lying down was definitely prohibited, and when they fell to the ground after standing for a few hours or a couple of days (he laughed) [“] you whack them to pieces. Did you understand? [“] I did not answer, but he stopped hitting him.

The air was stifled and reeked of urine. They would deny the interrogatees not only water and food or a visit to the toilet, but also sleep, for days on end, in waiting for the interrogations. And when they’d pee on themselves of fall asleep standing up, from exhaustion, they would be beaten murderously. I remember how once, some soldier grabbed hold of one of the interrogatees who had peed on himself, tossed in to the ground and rubbed his head and his hair into the puddle of urine on the floor.

Every now and then one of the doors would open, and an investigator or two would drag out of the white room some broken person, beaten and bruised, and toss him into the hall. We had to re-shackle him, put a sack on his head, and stand him next to the concrete wall for the interminable wait for the next part of his interrogation. The investigators didn’t talk to us soldiers, neither for good things nor bad, but once one of them yelled at me when I dared let the people awaiting interrogation lean against the wall while standing up.

A few days later people came to replace us. Since our regiment had already returned to the Company Commander School, we were given a ride back beyond the Green Line, and put on a bus toward Dimona. We didn’t exchange any words on this subject, or at all, all the way there; and even when we got to the base, we refrained from telling the rest of our friends what exactly had gone on there.

Personally, this is the first time I’m telling about this. Why tell now, and why tell at all? I don’t know, exactly. What I do know is that many people like me saw and took part in terrible deeds, like these and other kinds, by act or by omitting to act. There is no way to justify such conduct toward human beings, whoever they are, for any reason. Even if under the circumstances at the time our conduct was not deemed to be a crime, in the legal definition of crimes, I have no doubt that we committed crimes and sins, towards them and towards ourselves, as human beings and as a society.

Perhaps to remember and never forget is our real punishment. It is not absolution, but for me this scar of memory has always been a kind of warning signal and a constant reminder of the clear red line which, if we cross, we turn from human beings into human animals.

Israeli reactions to Lev’s revelations — “Hate and anger” (Scroll down the Intifada article to see hateful comments)

Lev’s post was followed by hundreds of Hebrew-language comments expressing violent sentiments and condemning him for speaking out. This is only a sampling of the comments on Lev’s post, but it is also consistent with the widespread racist and violent anti-Arab sentiments of Israelis on Facebook documented in other instances previously.

  • In a comment that garnered 71 “likes,” one person quipped, “What do you expect? For them to be given a 5 star hotel?”
  • “That’s exactly what’s supposed to happen there,” wrote another, “you weren’t supposed to be there, you should have served [your military duty] in the Qiryah [base in downtown Tel Aviv] you cross-dressing leftist, you.”
  • One explicitly justified the torture: “First of all, you don’t know who those people who stood before you with sacks on their head, or how much blood they had on their hands, and maybe the information that we maybe extracted from him in a way that was maybe not nice… saved the lives [souls] of some dozens if not hundreds of people.”
  • For yet another, torture is the very reason Israel exists: “Dude… such facilities are the reason we have a state… stop being [horrified], there is one path they understand, and that is force!”

Lev told The Electronic Intifada that in addition to the publicly visible comments on Facebook, he had received abusive private messages, some of which were threatening. “I’m not a political person,” Lev said when asked why he published the testimony, “I wrote it as a personal experience.” While he hasn’t been totally surprised by the negative reactions, “I didn’t expect this much hate and anger.”

Lev’s confession similar to those by other Israeli occupation soldiers

Lev’s confession is similar to those by other Israeli occupation soldiers, such as those published recently by Breaking the Silence, in which former soldiers described horrifying and gratuitous acts of cruelty and even killing of Palestinian children.

Lev said that though he had heard of the group Breaking the Silence he knew nothing of its work.

While such confessions shed additional light on the decades of abuses to which Palestinians themselves have been the first witnesses, they cannot be a substitute for formal accountability, something that has been absent within the Israeli system and internationally as Israel continues to commit crimes with total impunity.

Fair Use Notice: This blog, Citizen Action Monitor, may contain copyrighted material that may not have been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Such material, published without profit, is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues. It is published in accordance with the provisions of the 2004 Supreme Court of Canada ruling and its six principle criteria for evaluating fair dealing

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