Israeli ex-soldier shares insight into occupation

Thu, 29 Jan 2009
By Fareena Alam, Press TV, London

With more and more evidence that Israel may have committed war crimes and contravened the Geneva Convention during its recent 3-week assault on Gaza, concern is also brewing over whether any British subjects were involved.

Press TV’s Fareena Alam spoke to Seth Freedman, a British Jew who once served as an Israeli army volunteer. He has since become disillusioned with the occupation.

Freedman: I spent the first 7 months of my army service (for Israel) engaged in basic and advanced training – you don’t actually go into the West Bank, you just learn the basics. During this period, you’re psychologically prepared by the army on the way they want you to view the situation.

At that point, alarm bells start ringing because you realize you’re being conditioned to see the Palestinian people as the enemy. By the time we were taken to Bethlehem – the first point of our tour of duty, it occurred to me that the situation wasn’t as black and white as I’d been conditioned to see it.

The experience of actually policing the occupation on a day-to-day basis – not under fire, not in particularly violent circumstances – but with us just relentlessly harassing people at checkpoints, dragging people out of cars, taking over houses to sleep in – that’s when I realized that I don’t want to play a part in this and that this was detrimental to the security of the Jewish people, rather than the party line which is, ‘You have to do this in order to preserve the security situation’.

Press TV: Would you say then that you weren’t fully aware of the reality of this occupation?

Freedman: I think most people are in a sense, unaware. You can read all the second-hand opinions you like or you can see the television reports but until you’re taken out of your comfort zone in England, as a televisions viewer or holiday-maker and forced to confront it on a daily basis whereby you’re the one with the gun, looking into the eyes of Palestinians or whoever it is – you remain unaware.

They did a study for Haifa University with ex-combat soldiers and found that many turn left-wing because of what they’ve gone through.

So the only good thing I take from my service in the West Bank is that it opened my eyes, in a way that any number of television reports could never have done.

Press TV: Are there British citizens who are serving in the IDF?

Freedman: There are plenty of expat English men who still hold and English passport but living in Israel. They are both English and Israeli and they are serving in the West Bank on reserve duty. They have also served in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead. I don’t think anyone would hide that. I couldn’t give you exact figures but it’s quite clear that a big percentage of the Israeli population is made up of immigrants who aren’t obliged to give up their home-country citizenship.

Press TV: What do you think of the brewing concern over British Jews participating in a foreign conflict like the one in Gaza, particularly because war crimes may have been committed? They could face legal implications when they return to Britain.

Freedman: If it was clearly established that going to fight in the occupied West Bank was tantamount to committing a war crime, then I’m sure England could put preventative measures in place in the same way that they put British Muslims who allegedly go for what they call ‘terrorist training’ in Pakistan under surveillance.

I think it’s a fair discussion to have. Israel is a unique country. It grants citizenship without making you give up your British, French, South African citizenship – wherever you come from.

This does leave Israel open to the accusation that it is in fact employing mercenaries – particularly with regards to the volunteer corp who never actually take up Israeli citizenship. They come here, fight and then go back to their home countries as though nothing has happened. So this is an issue that needs discussing.

But I understand the motivation of those who come to serve here – it’s not as black and white as going around the world to look for wars to fight in. I understand their motivation is linked to the reason why Israel was set up in the first place, even if I don’t agree with it.

Press TV: Do you see a double-standard in the way British Muslims who allegedly travel to fight in foreign conflicts, are treated, compared to British Jews serving in Israel?

Freedman: If you’re asking if it’s a double-standard just to focus on British Muslims and not British Jews, then definitely there is a double-standard.