I was trained to be a killing machine. I was taught how to use a rifle, a machine gun and a pistol, and even more than that, I spent hours in Krav Maga training intended to turn my hands into a weapon that can kill if needed. I was told I was military property, not a sovereign being that can choose for myself. I was trained in a military unit that is known for how the soldiers serving there can be mentally scarred by what they do. I went to the holiest of places for the Jewish people and in front of the western wall in Jerusalem, I swore to give my life and die for my country if needed. I volunteered for officers training and extended my service, giving a total of 4 years and 4 months of my life to the Israeli army and the state of Israel.
I was told I was trained to protect, not kill. I was told that everything that I was doing was because of the need to protect my family at home from the terrorists on the other side of the wall. I was a high school student in Jerusalem between the years 2000-2005 when there were at times weekly attacks against children, women and men just because they were Israeli Jews.
It could not be any clearer. The years of training were to turn me into a protector of the good. Fighting evil is what good people do and if I were ever to use my weapons it would be for the greater good.
And still I was trained to be a killing machine and I’m realizing now more and more the price I paid from this time in the army. I know there is honor in being a warrior, but it can be problematic if you don’t truthfully choose the war you are fighting. I know there is a deep importance for protecting those who are weak and vulnerable from those who are strong and vengeful, but how do you know you are not hurting others who are also weak and vulnerable?
It turned out I did exactly that. I was part of a military organization that is responsible for hurting many weak and vulnerable people. Nobody told me, but Palestinians are people too and they matter too. It might seem obvious to many, but to me it was impossible to see that.
Are Palestinians humans with basic human rights? Do Palestinians suffer from the Israeli military? Do Palestinian women and children need protection too? Does the Israeli state and army have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable people that are under their control? Do Palestinians suffer just because they were born on a certain land to certain religion (not Jewish)?
The problem was not that I thought they were not people with rights. The problem was that these questions were never asked and had no place in our conversations as Israelis and soldiers in the army. When I look at it today, I realize that part of the Israeli education and indoctrination is meant to make us see only one side of the story and identify with it to such a level that the stories of the other people who live on this land are irrelevant and should not have place in our history books.
And so, we Israelis send our brightest and finest boys to learn how to protect and kill. The price they’ll have to pay must be worth it all since we have no other place to live. The price we have to pay must be worth it since it is for our survival and if our boys don’t do the work, who will?
I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I’m not sure whether I’m talking about myself and what I had to go through for 4 years and 4 months and the price I had to pay, or if I’m talking about the price millions of Palestinians have to pay because of my existence and my choice to serve in the military. Maybe I’m talking about both and maybe I will never be able to separate between the two.
What is clear to me is that I need to speak about it. I need to talk about the years that I spent being trained to kill. I need to talk about those who are on the other side, suffering from military oppression. I need to tell my story and the story of my people and the suffering and pain we went through too. I need to talk about the complexity of two people who I believe want the same thing; to live on this land in peace.
In order to move in that direction, I feel we need to learn to listen better, to allow ourselves to hear the story of the other side, to understand that on both sides are humans who suffered in different ways and deserve to have a home and a safe place to live.
Recently, I told my story on an amazing podcast created by Yahav Erez about Israelis who’s views changed and who choose to speak about what’s happening on this land in a different way than we normally hear. In my story, I focused on my time in the military and touched on the complexity of good and bad in a war inflicted country. I hope that through my story you might start to question (even a bit) your preconceived notions about who’s absolutely right and who’s wrong and open up to a more complicated reality where both sides can be right and wrong about different parts of the story.
If you feel like listening, please listen with an open mind and feel free to share your thoughts and feelings from your listening experience.