Beyond Images Challenging Myths and Presenting Facts About Israel
Israeli military commander:
do not take "a soft drink" from Palestinian homesrs

London - published on 30 May 2004
Beyond Images Ref: 97

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description of an episode in Jenin which encapsulates the humanity and discipline of Israeli soldiers in the midst of fighting against terrorists

The vilification of Israel’s armed forces

Across the world, Israel’s military actions are condemned, and its soldiers portrayed as deliberate killers of Palestinian civilians. Israel denies outright that its soldiers deliberately target civilians (see Beyond Images Briefing 7), but its denials are ignored, or scorned. Its attempts to place events in context is distorted or treated with suspicion. Meanwhile, Palestinian accounts of events, which are often unverified and proven wrong at a later date, are routinely taken at face value by journalists, and broadcast in dramatic and graphic terms, across the world. Israel’s army is being vilified, unjustly (see Beyond Images Briefing 64 – the Demonisation of Israel).

In this Briefing, we describe a particular episode which conveys a different reality: that of an elite Israeli commando unit upholding Palestinian property rights in Jenin, in the midst of the fighting there.

Israel’s military operation in Jenin

In April 2002, as part of so-called ‘Operation Defensive Shield’, Israeli soldiers entered the refugee camp on the outskirts of the Palestinian town of Jenin, in order to root out a terrorist centre located there, from which 23 suicide bombers had been despatched into Israel in the previous 18 months. In fierce clashes, 23 Israeli soldiers and 52 Palestinians (mostly armed fighters) were killed.
One of the Israeli commando battalions was led by Major Avihu Yaacov, a 24 year old career soldier, with a reputation for being very tough, yet sensitive to the needs of the weaker soldiers under his command. Here is an account, published recently in the book A Psalm from Jenin (by Brett Goldberg – Modan Publishing House: 2003), and based on the accounts of those who were there, of what happened when Avihu Yaacov realised that some of his soldiers might be taking property from Palestinian homes in Jenin:-

From Psalm in Jenin, p263:

Avihu took a firm stand against the taking of ‘souvenirs’ from the battle. Not even loops of masbaxah beads, the rosary bracelets that the older men would count behind their backs. Not even a soft drink or pitah bread from one of the refrigerators. And no graffiti on the walls. He commanded the soldiers to leave rations behind when leaving an inhabited house. He handed out ashtrays so that no one would leave ashes on the floor. He aimed to teach his men what he had stressed to Zohar his sister: “Strive to leave every place better than you found it”.

It reached his ears that despite his commands, souvenirs had been taken. He assembled the soldiers in a circle: “Anyone who has taken souvenirs put them in the middle of the circle”. A few soldiers stepped forward and tossed some objects in the centre of the circle. Some of the soldiers hadn’t been able to resist leaving their own inscriptions among posters of suicide bombers. “Likewise for those of you who wrote on the walls”, said Avihu.

He set the punishment for those who had taken things or had written on the walls: they would not be joining the company on the next mission. For Avihu, there was no worse punishment than being left out of the action.

“We don’t need any more souvenirs from Jenin. We already have plenty: four of them”. The company had lost four men in the fighting thus far. He didn’t want to overwhelm [his soldiers] with guilt, but he wanted the battle ethic upheld. “These things aren’t yours. You’ll be taking home a lot from Jenin, but it won’t be these little things…..”

(Three weeks after this episode, Avihu Yaacov was shot dead in the course of an operation in Nablus against Palestinian gunmen).

Our conclusion

Psalm in Jenin contains many other stories of the humanity of Israeli soldiers, senior and junior, in circumstances where many armies around the world would not be capable of maintaining such standards.

Israeli soldiers’ lives have been sacrificed in the course of helping Palestinian civilians: a recent example being the killing of two Israeli soldiers in Rafah while helping a Palestinian woman get food. And countless small actions have been taken by Israeli soldiers on the ground to make life better for Palestinian civilians.

No-one would suggest that there are no instances of excessive force or indiscipline by Israeli soldiers. But the impression given by the international media is that brutality is the only reality when it comes to Israel’s army. This is a completely false perception, which those advocating Israel’s case need to challenge, by specific examples, as well as by general refutations.

It is a tragic and unjust fact that the humanity shown by Israeli soldiers in the midst of conflict is virtually invisible to the outside world.

Related Beyond Images resources

Briefing 64 – The Demonisation of Israel
Briefing 92 – Avoiding Palestinian suffering: Israel pays the ultimate price