[Sergeant] GIL HILLEL
Left [soldier's personal archive, between 2001-2003]: A shirt belonging to Sergeant Gil Hillel, Military Police - Hebron, [Palestinian Territories, West Bank], is pictured.
This typical "Sof Maslul" shirt commemorates the end of the military course. It is for her one of the most symbolic mementos of her active duty. It was during their active duty that a very close friend of hers, Karen Jacobi, was killed by Palestinian gunmen while they were stationed in Hebron in December 13th 2002. Another soldier and friend of Gil's, Maor Halfon, was killed in the same attack, at the height of the Second Intifada.
Right [ Violeta Santos-Moura, 2013 ]: Gil sits in her garden with her dog Tuv in the kibbutz where she lived with her fiancée. Currently Gil works for the NGO Shatil, dedicated to the promotion of civil society initiatives related to women’s rights; religious pluralism; shared society and participatory democracy, among other issues.
"On my first or second day in Hebron, my commanders asked me to go on a "doll", a foot patrol that we conduct in the casbah and Jewish settlement. I agreed, it seemed cool. It was my first time in the field, come on, let's do it. We went on patrol, into the casbah, and I think that was the first time I sensed the existential fear of living under constant threat.
We started the doll and I started feeling bad. The first time in the field is not simple. One of my commanders, the veteran among them, took an old Palestinian man, just took him aside to some alley and started beating him up. And I … it was fine by all the others … I sort of looked at them and said: "What is he doing? Why is he doing that? What happened? Did he do anything? Is he a threat? A terrorist? Did we find something?" So they said: "No, it's OK." I then approached my commander, the [one] who trained me, and asked: "What are you doing?" He said: "Gil, stop it."
And that really scared me. I was scared of their reactions, of the situation we were in. I felt bad with what went on there, but I kept quiet. I mean, what can I do? My commander told me to shut up. We left there and went back to the company and I went to my commander and said: "What are you doing? Why did you do that?" So he said: "That's the way it is. It's either him or me and it's me and …"
They took him aside and just beat him up. They beat him up, they punched him. And slapped him, all for no reason. I mean, he just happened to walk by there, by mistake".
Hassling the Palestinians, the verbal and physical abuse, that violent behavior and aggression, it’s a norm. It’s a norm in my company too and in all the other companies. It’s the way soldiers act in the field, it’s the norm, aggressive and violent behavior toward the Palestinian population. It usually stems from a place of getting respect, of being more respected the more aggressive and violent you are.
And you.. if you are the opposite, I mean, more… less violent, more humane, trying to mediate and find solutions, then you turn into… you’re left out of things. It’s like the society that you live in, my company for example, did not appreciate humanity, let’s say it… let’s call a spade a spade. It did not appreciate humanity. Humanity is reflected in more reason, less violence, less aggression.
For example, if you make an arrest without hitting them, if you escort prisoners without hitting them or without abusing them or if you have them food or water and something to drink, or if you tried to keep them out of the sun, then all of that was like: “Is that what you did? Is that all you did”? Like.. “What? That’s really wrong. That’s not the right way to escort. That’s not the way we behave”.
Now, that it’s not really expressed in words. It’s expressed in behavior and it’s a place that is very… very complex because I can’t pinpoint one instance when I was told “this crosses the line” or “Gil, your humane behavior is incorrect, you have to be more violent”. But I did get feedback. Like, when I was first in the field, at the beginning, I commented all kinds of things that didn’t seem right to me so my commander hinted very… “Look, I think that perhaps you need another weekend here (another weekend without going home)”. I eventually didn’t get that weekend, but for the entire week I had the worst duties. I guarded 8-8(hours) at the worst posts while usually, we split them.
You see? The feedback for being humane somehow weakens your ability to be… To stand up for your convictions and I wanted, more and more, to merge with the society that I lived in. So I gave upon humanity, gave up on who I am and just became more and more aggressive, more and more violent in order to adjust to society and the situation I was in.
Our violent behaviors eventually included daily abuse of the Palestinian residents, daily delays of Palestinians and Palestinian families, children parents, adults and aged people at the posts for hours end. It was about taking prisoners and putting cigarettes out on them, not giving them any water or food for days, abusing them with physical blows, tightening the restraints on their hands and legs, hassling them to get up and sit down, get up and sit down, run and lie down and… Think about a person tied up before you. Every attempt to get up and sit down is difficult for him so think what happens when he does it 50 times in 5 minutes - stand up, sit down. Stand up, sit down. It’s a crazy hassle. It’s very painful. And there was no end to it, just no end.
We could do whatever we wanted to, whatever we felt like doing. If I had a bad day, that’s what it looked like. It simply corresponded with my violence… If I had a bad day, if a had a good day, I was more merciful. I really felt in control… “This is my kingdom, my kingdom”. No one said no to me, the opposite happened, we got more feedback: “Develop your creativity, do what you want”. No one stops you in the negative direction, the violent direction. It was in the other direction that I was stopped. “You want violence?Go for it”. And it wasn’t just me. It was us. It was the company, as soldiers in the field, it was us as… Everyone around me acted this way.
I chose to give my testimony on my service in Hebron because i understood after a very long process that being at a position of power as a occupying nation, an army… I personally paid a very heavy price and I am part of this society.
I decided to break the silence because I want us, as a country, as a society, to examine the reality that we live in. I want to look it in the eye and say: “Okay, we’re a conquering nation. So this is what it looks like. This is how it is in the field”. I have no solution, I have no other option. I have nothing to propose as an alternative option, but I still have to show what’s happening in the field.
We’re sending our children, our friends, our brothers, our fathers, our sisters… When we send them to the field, this is what they do, whether we like it or not. I came to the field from a humane place. I didn’t even want to be conscripted. When I was conscripted, I said to myself: “Okay, I have to do this, so I’ll go to the most combat focused unit there is and I’ll give it my touches of humanity”. And I turned into a monster and I can’t look myself in the eye and for that… and I’m not alone. There is no escape from becoming that violent, aggressive creature which I have become. I ask that anyone who sees my testimony, just to think about it, it’s the reality: It’s not just mine, it is like this for everyone in the field and anyone who is given such limitless power in their hands. It’s what we turn into, it’s our society".