This post contains some explicit language which has been preserved for its truth value and raw candidness.
On December 25, 2019, I interviewed an IDF solider who is originally from a town located south of Tel Aviv. His name is Yoni. For security purposes, I will be withholding Yoni’s last name. At the time of the interview he was sitting on the Israel-Gaza border staring at the fence surrounding Gaza and smoking cigarettes. We talked about peace, the American left, the problems affecting Palestinians, and the struggles of a soldier. Yoni is 20 years old.
“You want a list of all the medical problems I have from the military?” he said, doubting his long list of wear and tear injuries would be interesting, but with a nudge, he reneged, and went over them.
“I have pain that doesn’t go away in my legs. I have bad knees, especially my left one. My left ankle is also fucked up. My back is, well it hurts. I don’t know what the problem is. I think it’s a lifelong thing. I also had a hernia in my stomach removed a month ago. It was actually a blessing because I got surgery done and I was home for months. So I got three months at home!”
Strain on the body is bound to occur to those who serve in the military, and so is being homesick. Home is where Yoni’s life is. He says it’s his favorite place to be in Israel, especially when he is “on base” staring at a fence for days on end.
“Yeah, I’m looking at the Gaza Border right now,” he said. “I just see the wall. It’s not as cool as it sounds. I just sit here and watch. Once in a few days, I’ll see a Hamas guy clean his weapon or a sniper or them generally training.”
Israel has mandatory service for all its citizens, with exception to its Arab population. By the time Yoni was 16 it began to sink in that he would soon become a soldier. With his service looming, Yoni tried to understand both sides of the conflict. He talked to Palestinians, read about an anti-IDF group called Breaking the Silence, and B’Tselem, a left-wing human rights watch group that typically showcases the Palestinian side of the conflict.
As he discovered, these groups “lie for a living.”
“Let’s say there is a situation where a 16-year-old Palestinian terrorist wielding a knife is trying to kill Israelis, Israeli security reacts and the terrorist gets shot. What groups like Breaking the Silence, Boycott Divest Sanctions, and B’Tselem do is they only show the portion of the Palestinian being shot. They create, sorry for the buzzword, fake news,” he said.
“Their whole business is making sure the conflict stays ongoing,” he said.
When it was time for him to join the military at age 18, his Russian-born parents were against him going into a combat role, and wanted him to first pursue an education. But Yoni was hungry to fight for his country. He wanted to join the special forces, Kfir Brigade. Yoni is the first person in his family to serve in the IDF.
“So the Oslo agreement turned out to be a huge fuck up,” Yoni said in his candid, tell-it-like-it-is style. “Basically, when we gave the Palestinians their autonomy, they took it, and started a bunch of terrorist acts against civilians.” Yoni said.
According to the U.S. Office of the Historian, “On September 13, 1993… Israel accepted the PLO as the representative of the Palestinians, and the PLO renounced terrorism and recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace. Both sides agreed that a Palestinian Authority (PA) would be established and assume governing responsibilities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over a five-year period… By the time Clinton left office, however, the peace process had run aground, and a new round of Israeli-Palestinian violence had begun.”
Following failed peace talks and Oslo, the Second Intifada had begun in 2000. This is the single most important event in Israeli history and it remains steeped in the Israeli consciousness. As Yossi Klein Halevi has noted, you cannot understand why Israel does what it does without knowing what the country went through during the years 2000-2005.
During the Second Intifada, Palestinian Authority media encouraged Palestinians to kill and hurt Jews. It occurred before there were checkpoints, or any significant land barriers, thus allowing Palestinian terrorists with suicide vests loaded with shrapnel and anti-coagulants (rat poison) to easily transfer from the West Bank into Israeli towns where they staged attacks against civilians. Over 1,000 Israelis were killed and thousands more severely injured.
Yoni’s Kfir Brigade was founded at this harrowing time in 2005. The violence finally ended when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority agreed to stop all acts of violence and reaffirmed their commitment to peace. Nonetheless, Israel recognized they needed soldiers who are trained to handle hostilities in post-Oslo Judea and Samaria, which is now a complicated web of Jewish areas, Arab areas, civilians, checkpoints, and terrorist hotspots (see map above).
Kfir Brigade soldiers receive 8 months of combat training and 4 months of advanced training in urban warfare, advanced weaponry, fighting from armored personnel carriers, and chemical warfare to prepare them for hostile zones.
Conducting operations in Palestinian areas opened Yoni’s eyes to the reality of how some Palestinians see Jewish people.
“Palestinians living in the Judea and Samaria get bombarded with propaganda all the time. So I remember doing raids inside the different refugee camps and seeing a bunch of propaganda posters that glorify terrorism, glorify killing civilians, and glorify things that our side doesn’t. I think the hate is so much more deeply rooted on their side.”
Puff-puff, Yoni inhaled a cigarette and said, “Being in daily contact with Palestinian civilians [from the Judea and Samaria] I see their culture, I see their hate is much more black and white. They see it as, ‘Israel is our only oppressor and if we didn’t have them then things would be amazing’ –– which its really not. We gave them autonomy a bunch of times and in Gaza and everything went to shit. When Ariel Sharon just gave Gaza away for peace, and with the Oslo agreements, everything became worse.”
Over the past few years, Yoni’s Brigade has expanded their places of operation to more hostile settings –– Gaza.
Gaza was once part of Israel, including some parts of Northern Samaria, but was ceded to Palestinians in a peace deal in 2005. During the Disengagement, the Israeli government forced IDF soldiers to remove 9,000 jews from their homes. Over two dozen communities were liquidated all for peace that never came.
The plan for a Judenrein Gaza started on August 15, 2005 and was completed on September 22, 2005. Some IDF soldiers were caused to be traumatized following this initiative (To understand why see video below).
Then, in June 2007, Hamas was democratically elected in Gaza. According to the Israeli Government, “Thousands of rockets and mortar shells have been fired from the Gaza Strip onto southern Israeli towns and villages, terrorizing and destabilizing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens.”
The Kfir Brigade was given the green light to begin operations in Gaza last November following months of additional training in advanced tactics typically used to invade hostile foreign countries.
Over the course of his service, Yoni has apprehended hostile Palestinians after their attacks and during hostilities.
“It’s like a sport to them. They look so aggressive and so full of hatred when they throw rocks, etc., and you just can’t look at this any other way then its purpose is to release aggression against their so-called oppressor. It doesn’t help in any way and it just makes the situation worse. If you want to get tear-gassed or shot with a rubber bullet, then that’s the way that’s how you do it,” he said.
Unquestionably, Israeli security measures are inherently bad for the quality of life for Palestinians. Nonetheless, the riots, terrorism, and violence are more so caused by a lack of introspection than from Israel’s security measures.
“I think it’s their place to understand that it has to be this way. If there wasn’t any terrorism, this shit wouldn’t be like this,” Yoni said. In fact, over 98% of terrorism has gone down in Israel as a result of security measures taken since the Second Intifada.
The tension created by Israel’s necessary and reasonable security measures is merely the latest outlet for Palestinians to unleash their woes onto Israel.
“It’s really easy to collectively blame some sort of outward entity, than to take a look inside and understand that holy shit our Abu Mazen, which we view as a god, is corrupted to the bone. I think that is something that is really stopping them,” he said.
Most American Jewish leaders believe that the two-state solution is the right answer. Others, such as J Street, believe that settlement policies allowing increased Jewish presence over the Green Line*, is the major obstacle to peace. But the soldier on the ground disagrees with their highfalutin solutions.
“I don’t know if there is a right solution,” he said about the conflict between Israelis and Arabs.
“It’s really easy to look at the past few years and use that as a point of judgement. They don’t take into account the fifty years, at least, that this conflict has taken shape into its modern form, which is wrong. Beyond that I think it’s just pandering. It’s a way for them to seem progressive and co-exist in a world where the opinion is generally against Israel.”
Asked if he has a message for the American public that he wishes they would understand, Yoni said, “A lot of people that I have spoken to, especially foreigners, they don’t really understand the conflict, they don’t even start to understand the conflict. Don’t believe everything that you see on television, especially on conflicts that have been going on for a long time. Read up on it for yourself from unbiased sources, understand the mistakes from both sides, and don’t just pick and choose facts. Look at the full picture. Talk to Palestinians and Israelis, and decide for yourself what you think.”
Notwithstanding the lack of peace, Yoni has no plans to leave Israel. Although there are many reasons Israelis move to other countries, especially for better economic opportunity, Yoni wants to raise his children in Israel. He wants them to serve in the military and fight for Israel as he is doing.
Here is Yoni’s commentary on the solutions typically put forth for the Arab-Israel conflict. He does not believe any of the below proposals are viable solutions.
- There is the one state solution where everyone becomes citizens and this is just beyond unreasonable, and in my opinion, just wont ever function. You can’t just hand Palestinians citizenship and expect them to be okay with Jews, and to stop hating Israel and the Jewish people at that instant.
- Then there is the two-state solution, I don’t think this is a right solution, but we already tried and apparently it didn’t work with the whole Oslo agreements and stuff. I do acknowledge that over twenty years have passed since Oslo and the people changed, it’s a whole new generation. But I still don’t believe this new generation is ready to really start their own country and get rid of everything, like the terrorist acts. Beyond that, if we give them a country they can start their own military, they can have their own airport, things important to them this can end up becoming a proxy war with Iran right on our doorstep which will probably happen. If we give them a country what people think will happen is they will suddenly have democracy and everything. But no, they will have a certain party that is funded by Iran and Hezbollah, and other terrorist organizations, that will rise to power because they are the most powerful ones because they get foreign funding. Then, it would just be a proxy war with Iranian forces and Syrian forces joining in, which is, from a security standpoint, not tenable.
- Then, there is the other solution, which is take all the Arabs and give them to Jordan. But the Arabs don’t want it, and the king of Jordan doesn’t want them either. Jordan is 80% Palestinian and the king of Jordan isn’t. So there is an ethnic tension and the Jordanian people are really close to revolution at times. So it’s King Abdullah’s own interest of power to disagree with that.