The recent public attack on Breaking the Silence (BtS) has caused me to think a lot about my army service. Some thoughts I have already written down, but my it didn’t stop the train from continuing to run.
As I have become more politically minded, I have spent more time shying away from talking to people I meet about my service. I bring it up less with non-Israelis. This week, I started a new job this week and the office is all foreigners. When my service came up, all I mentioned was that I was a shooting instructor. I found myself wanting to say more, to explain that I don’t agree with the army most of the time even though I was in it. The conversation went in a different direction and so I didn’t have time to defend myself.
Except, no one asked me to defend myself. No one asked me my viewpoints or seemed to have judged me harshly over the first comments. It became obvious to me that this conflict was mainly, if not completely, internal.
When I look back on my time in the army, I don’t regret having served. I learned a lot of skills, met a lot of interesting people and became familiar to Israeli culture in a way that I hadn’t been before. Sometimes I feel very disconnected from the army. Not because of my political views, but because it was a long time ago already. When I hear about the gun debate in America, I forget that I know how to use rifles and that I even understand the mechanisms and ballistics behind it. I think back to that time and remember how much I enjoyed both the learning and the teaching processes. At 21, I had a skill, and I got to instruct on an almost daily basis. I live for teaching and interacting with others, and that was at the heart of this job.
I loved my job.
I feel guilty that I loved my job. I feel shame that I loved being part of something that I now realize hurts many people.
Looking back, I would have done things differently. I regret that I wasn’t more critical of the things I was learning. I rarely questioned tactics or motives. I taught soldiers how to shoot, but I wish I had spent more time talking about the deep responsibility that comes with being armed. I wish I hadn’t assumed that because I wanted the army to always be moral, that it was always moral.
I also realize that I wouldn’t serve today. Once I realized that the occupation is wrong and hurtful to both Palestinians and Israelis, I realized that I am also no longer willing to fight to maintain it. Almost every country in the world has an army, and I am not against Israel being one of them. Yet, as a citizen and former soldier, I also believe it is my duty to ensure that my army and country isn’t violating the human and civil rights of others. Since I cannot ensure that under the current rules of occupation, I cannot serve.
Breaking the Silence doesn’t tell soldiers to disobey orders, nor does it shame soldiers for having served. They also believe in acting through society, as opposed to just army channels, because of the view that this problem is mainly societal and not based in the military. BtS asks that we learn from our past actions, but they do not ask that we shame soldiers for having experienced or even partaking in them.
I can’t go back in time and change my army service. I can, however, use it as a life lesson for the future. My role and actions in the army are teaching me life-lessons. Instead of acting first and questioning later, I should first question from every angle and then act. In the army, I had orders to follow, but today, I have only myself as my commander. Breaking the Silence is teaching Israel how to critique its action productively as a society, but it is also teaching me how to do it for myself.