Occupation Has Corrupted the Humanity of Israel’s Military

Israel’s military has brought utter devastation to the Palestinians of Gaza after the attack by Hamas on Oct. 7. But the extreme response is not only a reaction to the horrors of that day. It is also a product of the decades-long role the military has played in enforcing Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.

The occupation has cultivated a longstanding disregard among Israeli soldiers for Palestinian lives, and similar impulses in the words and actions of commanders can be seen to lie behind the horrors of what we are witnessing today.

Israel has governed a people denied basic human rights and the rule of law through constant coercion, threats and intimidation. The idea that the only answer to Palestinian resistance, both violent and nonviolent, is greater — and more indiscriminate — force has shown signs of becoming entrenched in the Israel Defense Forces and in Israeli politics.

I know this through the numerous testimonies collected by my organization, Breaking the Silence, which was formed in 2004 by a group of Israeli veterans to expose the reality of Israel’s military occupation. We know firsthand and from thousands of soldiers that military occupation is imposed on civilians through fear, which is instilled by the growing and often arbitrary use of force.

For 20 years, we have heard these soldiers speak of the gradual erosion of principles that, even if never fully upheld, were once seen as fundamental to the moral character of the Israel Defense Forces. We have continued our work despite criticism from the military and the government.

I also know this because I myself have undergone this moral corruption. I, like many Israeli soldiers, went into the military thinking I knew the difference between right and wrong, and had a clear sense of the boundaries on legitimate use of force. But every boundary is destined to be redrawn in a military occupation, whose very existence relies on terrorizing a civilian population into submission.

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