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Part 2: Former Israeli Soldier Eran Efrati Speaks Out About Documenting IDF Abuse in Gaza, West Bank

Web ExclusiveSeptember 12, 2014
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Part two of our conversation with Eran Efrati, a former Israeli combat soldier turned anti-occupation activist. He recently interviewed several Israeli soldiers who participated in the Shejaiya massacre in Gaza. Later this month, Efrati will testify at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in Brussels.

Click here to watch part 1 of this interview.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Israeli government has quietly acknowledged Hamas leaders had no role in the abduction of three Israeli teens that led to a massive raid in the West Bank and the ensuing Gaza assault. According to The New York Times, documents released by Israeli police provide no evidence that the top leaders of Hamas directed or had prior knowledge of the plot to abduct the three Israeli youths. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reports Israeli intelligence has concluded the abduction was carried out by an independent cell.

AMY GOODMAN: Still with us, Eran Efrati, a former Israeli combat soldier turned anti-occupation activist. He recently interviewed a number of soldiers who participated in the Israeli assault on Gaza. Later this month, he’ll testify at the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in Brussels.

Eran Efrati, why did Israel attack Gaza this summer, in 2014?

ERAN EFRATI: We need to understand that what we’re seeing now is a masterpiece of a PR relationship in Israel. From day one, we knew what happened to these young men that were kidnapped. They’re saying today they know it wasn’t—got nothing to do with Hamas, but actually they knew it a few hours in the kidnap. There was a phone call being made from one of these young men into the police, where his voice is being sound, saying, “We were kidnapped.” You can hear the shooting in the background. You can hear them being killed. You can hear that two Palestinians from the Hebron area are talking between them in the car. Everybody in the government, the heads of the government, the prime minister, Netanyahu, and in the police knew exactly what happened. But from that moment on, we were going into a trip with the Israeli government trying to distract us from all of the things that happened previously to that in that summer.

When we’re talking about that, we need to start with talking about the peace talks, that of course were a failure. They were never serious, but this summer everybody understand nobody was really meant to go toward peace. Outside of these peace talks, the failure peace talk, what it result with, it was with Hamas and Fatah reunion in the West Bank and in Gaza. After years of Israel conquered and divided, Hamas and Fatah are starting to work together. And the world seem approved. During this time, the European countries, a lot of European countries, are calling their citizens to withdraw their investment from settlements and from the West Bank. And the BDS campaign is getting stronger and stronger.

AMY GOODMAN: The boycott, divestment, sanctions movement.

ERAN EFRATI: The boycott, divestment, sanction movement is getting bigger, and it’s getting stronger. And at the same time, the [inaudible] in Israel is getting bigger and getting stronger. And Israel is actually using the boycott, divestment and sanction to rally up the people against that. When we’re seeing this times, we’re talking about police corruption stories coming out, the heads of the police. We’re talking about corruptions in the government. We’re talking about Rafael, one of the biggest weapon companies in Israel, CEO coming out in last [inaudible], in March, and talking about how they lost this semester. They actually lost money for the first time in a lot of years. And we’re seeing a lot of reason why to start an operation in the West Bank and in Gaza at the same time.

And the first day after the young men were kidnapped, a hashtag was coming out. All the buses in Israel was covered by slogans—hashtag of course referring to the social media campaigns—#BringBackTheBoys, not in Hebrew, not in Arabic, but in English, saying, when we’re out there killing hundreds of people in Gaza, you will be our PR people. Everybody here need to work for us. #BringBackOurBoys in English from the first day, after they knew they were killed. Their families didn’t know they were killed. We, the citizens, didn’t know they were killed. But the police and the government did, and they hide this from us.

Instead, they went into a very long operation of three weeks into the West Bank, into Hebron, arrested 850 people, killing 15, stolen money from houses, according to Electronic Intifada, arresting so many people that were released in the Gilad Shalit agreement, taking them back in, destroying houses. Me and my colleague, a activist in Israel, were actually in Hebron in a solidarity visit during this time. The things that I saw in houses in Hebron, I never saw in my life, not after the Second Intifada and not during my service as a combat soldier—houses completely wrecked and children’s room completely destroyed, kitchens, bathrooms completely destroyed. It was a revenge attack all along, saying to the Palestinians, “You think you can embarrass us around the world? You think you can go to the U.N.? You think you can unite with Hamas? We will punish you for all of that.”

During this time, the Israeli Air Force is bombing Gaza, although there was never a connection between Hamas and between the kidnap that happened in the West Bank. They’re bombing Gaza for weeks before Gaza—before Hamas officials are starting to react. For days, they’re bombing Gaza. And from soldiers that I will talk to a few weeks after it will start, they will tell me all they were looking for inside the army was to get some reaction. They were looking for a reaction, so they can blame Hamas for whatever is going to happen next in the summer. And they succeeded. We were completely—and a lot of journalists in Israel will never write this, but they will talk about this between us. In Israel, the researchers, the journalists will say, what happened in Israel in the last summer was a completely stealing of our mind, a complete distraction from what’s really going on on the field. You know, the BDS movement is getting so strong since 2009 and until today. And the Israeli government is really on the last breath of an apartheid regime right now, trying to do whatever they can, even if that means to kill more than 2,000 people in a few weeks’ time.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, after each of these attacks or invasions, which obviously then delays or scuttles any prospects of peace talks yet again, the government then announces more expansion of settlements.

ERAN EFRATI: Of course.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you talk about that, because you mentioned how you were transformed having to guard one of these settlements in the West Bank?

ERAN EFRATI: Yeah. Of course, we need to understand, you know, before the operation started in Gaza, the army, the military, was asking for an increase of two billion shekels to its fund also to protect more settlements in more areas. In a very weird and surprising course of events, they were refused by the Treasury in Israel, because of an inside conflict inside the government, something very special that happened. Until now, because of the operation that happened, it was increased already by three billion. So this is what happened in operation. We completely forget what we are doing here. Someone is selling us with the idea that an expansion of a settlement will somehow make us more safe and more protected. And, of course, it’s completely ridiculous, but we believe it, because we were so scared. The people in Israel, citizen in Israel, we need to understand, are also victims of the same methods, are also victims of the Israeli government, and also of the support of the U.S. government, that continue to support Israel, like right now in the U.N. It’s the only country against, vetoing U.N. interrogation inside of what happened in Gaza. The U.S. money is continue to go into settlement expansion, into military equipment, and, of course, going back to your military-industrial complex, because more than 70 percent of the $3 billion you’ve given us every year is coming back to your companies and to your weapons. But it also increases ours.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You’ve also had a quite a bit of a reaction from the Israeli government to your exposés. Could you talk about what’s happened to you, the arrests that you’ve had and the warnings that you’ve been subjected to?

ERAN EFRATI: Right. For the last five years, I’m doing this research and I’m taking testimonies, but I never publish stuff under my name. I am trying to keep myself clear and safe so I can continue talking with soldiers and my name wouldn’t be out there. This summer, after collecting these testimonies, I had a deal with a very big newspaper in the U.S., that I will not mention because I want to keep working with. But I had a big agreement with them. And they called me two days before publication and told me that they are waiting for announcements from the Israeli spokesman, from the military spokesman. And the Israeli military spokesman asked them to wait with the publication, because they want to write a different story, a different narrative of what happened. And that made me furious, and I did something I’d never done before: I decided to just publish the story of the Shejaiya massacre and the Shejaiya sniper killing on my Facebook feed—something that I never done, but got a huge response from people. Thousands of people shared that and wrote about it. And it just, you know, blew up in social media.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait. If you can explain that again—explain what happened. Why did the U.S. publication hold off on your report?

ERAN EFRATI: So we were talking about a very, very big newspaper here in the U.S., a major newspaper in the U.S., that I already worked with before publication stories from inside the occupied territory. And when I’m giving them the story of the Shejaiya sniper, they are thrilled. They want to publish it that week. And after a few days of verification, all the details that I gave them, they decided to go ahead and publish the story. And two days before the publication, I’m getting a phone call from the U.S., explaining to me that they are in touch with the IDF spokesman, because of course they need to get a response. But during this time when they’re calling the IDF spokesman and waiting for response, they’re asking them to wait with the publication.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel is saying wait, because they want to put out their own description of the massacre.

ERAN EFRATI: The Israeli military is asking them to wait. It’s even worse than the Israeli government, let’s say. The Israeli military is asking them to wait, and they say yes. They say, “Of course. We’re working together. We will wait with the publication,” like mainstream media, I guess, will do. And they decided to hold on with the publication. I am furious, going back into my house in Jerusalem and deciding to blow up all the things. And I write a Facebook message and write in a Facebook post, that just getting picked up and become viral, thousands of people sharing that. And then I’m getting a visit in the middle of the day in Jerusalem two days later from the secret agents in Israel, from the Shin Bet, like I will do many years before that for almost every year. I’m getting visited and interrogations from the secret agents in Israel and from the official police in Israel for years now.

AMY GOODMAN: The Shin Bet is like a combo of the FBI and the CIA.

ERAN EFRATI: Something like that, yeah. It’s more like the FBI, I would say. And we got the Mossad, which is like the CIA. And the Shin Bet are interrogating me for years about my research, but it was never so serious, I think, like this summer. This summer, after the publication, I was picked up in the middle of Jerusalem, brought down into a facility of the Shin Bet, where I was told that I was lying for about 20 minutes. They were coming and saying that I was lying. And after 20 minutes of saying I’m not, someone else came into the room in civilian clothes and told me, “Are you sure you’re not lying? Because if you’re not lying, it’s even worse. If you’re not lying, you’re breaking the censorship in Israel. You sure you do not prefer to lie?” And when I say no, a few hours of interrogation goes on. Well, my life has been threat very directly. My partner’s life, Maya Wind, another activist in Israel, life has been threat. And I’ve been advised to leave as soon as possible. They’re telling me sentences like, “Enjoy the day. You’re on a vacation here. Enjoy. Have fun, because you never know what will happen to you tomorrow. You better leave the country.” And this is how I find myself here now, continuing to work on my research.

AMY GOODMAN: In the United States.


AMY GOODMAN: Share again with us your background, how you came to have the position you did. You come from a family of high-level military soldiers.

ERAN EFRATI: Yes. I come from a family of officers. I was supposed to be the next officer in line. I’m also coming from a family of, from one side, Holocaust survivors and, from the other side, generations in Jerusalem. So, my father’s side, my Iraqian side of my family, is for generation lives in Jerusalem. I’m—

AMY GOODMAN: That’s unusual, going way back.

ERAN EFRATI: I’m a seventh-generation Jerusalemite, and very proud of it. My grandpa grew up in the old city of Jerusalem with other Palestinians. He knew Arabic before he knew Hebrew. He actually referred to himself as a Jewish Palestinian. He had Palestinian friends, and he fought with them against the colonial forces of Britain at the time. Of course, in some point, he became the colonial forces himself, because he had to choose if he’s more Arab or more Jewish. Of course, you can be American Jewish in Israel, or you can be European Jewish, but you cannot be Arab Jewish in Israel. Arab Jews in Israel, much like people of color here, like blacks in here in the United States, in Ferguson, is under the same kind of racism, systematic racism, as Palestinians. We are all really Palestinians. Here in the U.S., in Israel and in Palestine, we are under the same oppression.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you account for the massive, overwhelming support—at least that’s what we read here—


AMY GOODMAN: —in Israel for the attack on Gaza? And is your sense that soldiers who were in Gaza are asking questions?

ERAN EFRATI: Mm-hmm. Well, since 2009, it’s important to understand, when the boycott, divestment campaign is starting to rally up, and more and more states—in Europe, mostly, and starting in the U.S., as well—people are starting to ask questions, starting to talk about settlements. But more important than that, they don’t talk only about occupation now. They’re talking about Zionism as a structural problem, as a racist ideology of countried land only for one people, only for one color or one religion. People are starting to talk about these topics. And Israel, at the same time when all of the world is moving a bit left, according to Israel and Palestine, Israel is actually moving right, using the boycott campaigns to tell the people they just need to rally up and be together, because everyone is against us, everybody is anti-Semitic, we have to be together right now.

What I saw in Jerusalem in the last few months was the worst thing I saw throughout my life inside the Israeli public eyes. I saw mobs on the streets looking for revenge, looking for blood. I think most of us, if you will ask the activist world in Israel, will tell you that we saw that coming. We saw this fascist idea coming into Israel, these fascist ideologies and the fascist people in the streets taking over, and the government taking over. We saw it happening. But we would say it will happen in five or 10 years from now. I think everybody is surprised of how fast this thing’s happening right now. In the last few months, my fellow activists and I were walking in the streets of Jerusalem every night trying to protect Palestinians from being lynched in the streets. Every night in the center of Jerusalem, we saw hundreds of people, youth, mostly youth, being led by some adults with interest in Israel, going around Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the south, the north, looking for Palestinians, screaming for Palestinians to get out of the shops, where they work for us as cleaners, as dishwashers, there’s cooks, calling them out of the shops and trying to lynch them. And we will try to stop and protect these Palestinians’ life and lead them to their home safely every night. Of course, we failed to do it in the case of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, that was burned to death.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you also about the use of the missiles, supposedly being shot from the Gaza area. And in the U.S. media, it was almost an equivalent, the barrage of missiles every day from Gaza—


JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —and then Israel responding with its air attacks. Could you talk about that relative equivalence?

ERAN EFRATI: Right. Of course, they’re trying to make it as a equal situation. What we’re really seeing is a very not developed, very not intelligent little militia trying to resist an ongoing occupation for more than 67 years, a control of more than 67 years. You know, these missiles coming out of Gaza are a response to something. And we never ask ourself: What are they response to? What are we doing, and how can we stop it? Obviously, putting a siege on Gaza did not stop that. Obviously, attacking civilians and killing a hundred and thousands of civilians does not stop the resistance. The resistance will not stop, because people will not stop resist controlling over their life. Our F-16s, our tanks, our shells are not equivalent with those missiles being shot back. And people are starting to understand that. I think even some people in Israel are starting to understand that it doesn’t make any sense, that we are not protecting the south of Israel.

In fact, we are lying to the south of Israel. You know, during this operation, I think a lot of people in the U.S. heard about this invention, the Israeli invention to stop the missiles, to stop the missiles from coming to target them in the air, where in fact our invention, that the United States are actually invested a lot of money in protecting those south areas from the missiles, are actually—doesn’t help at all, because the response time is so slow that the south is getting missiles all the time. It’s actually protected more of places like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, where the heads of Israel, the government, more rich people are living. We’re actually sacrificing people in the south, mostly because we want to continue control of Gaza.

You know, we need to start—if we have a few minutes, we need to start talking about how Hamas was even born. In the late 1980s, during the First Intifada, Israel was very afraid of the PLO. So, to stop the PLO, what we did was help to create a new group of resistance, that divided the West Bank into two. And the name was Hamas. We gave them weapon. Israel trained some of their people. And we gave them money to work.

AMY GOODMAN: What evidence do you have of that?

ERAN EFRATI: Well, today, we know that from the Israeli intelligence. Today, we know Israeli intelligence interests—Israeli officers that’s saying, “We were mistaken helping Hamas rise against the PLO.” Our fear was PLO, exactly like your fear was bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. Every time you’re trying to conquer the place, and you think you can shift everything and control it, it will blow up in your face. And this is exactly what happening to us. Right now, we are not willing to deal with Hamas, and we will get different resistance groups that will continue to resist our occupation. The answer is not more violence. The answer is stop the occupation and making an equal state, a real state for everybody on the ground.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go back to Mohammed Khdeir and what happened to him, the young Palestinian. Explain what happened. This is, the Israeli settler boys are kidnapped. The Israeli military goes through the West Bank, arrests hundreds of people in the West Bank. What happened to Mohammed Khdeir.

ERAN EFRATI: The news all over is talking about these poor young men, that were kidnapped and were killed—and my heart goes out to their families today. But they were used in a very cynical way, because when everybody knows—when government and the heads of the police knew that they were already killed, we thought that maybe we can save their lives. And during these times, all the media in Israel is making this picture, this narrative, and people are getting more and more angry. And more and more mobs are getting down to the streets and looking for revenge. And then, a few young Jewish men are getting with a car into Beit Hanina neighborhood in East Jerusalem and picking up Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a young 16-old boy, on his way for a prayer in the—next to his house, picking him up in a car, driving him up into a forest in Jerusalem, in the north of Jerusalem, making him drink fuel, and then burning him alive. And this revenge attack was only one of several that happened at that time. That was maybe one of the most devastating ones.

AMY GOODMAN: So, most recently, an Israeli police officer has been charged with the beating of a Palestinian-American teenager, that was caught on tape.


AMY GOODMAN: Tariq, Mohammed’s cousin.


AMY GOODMAN: Tariq Abu Khdeir was watching demonstrations in East Jerusalem protesting the death of Mohammed, when he was seized. The video shows him lying on the ground as the officers repeatedly beat him with batons. He was left with facial bruises, severely swollen eyes and lips. Tariq, again, the Palestinian—the cousin of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. Your response to the fact that Tariq Abu Khdeir’s—the police officer caught on tape, though there’s more than one who are holding him down, has been arrested?

ERAN EFRATI: Well, of course, their biggest mistake was that they did it this time for an American citizen.

AMY GOODMAN: He comes from Florida.

ERAN EFRATI: Exactly. They’re doing it every day. The violence in Palestine is every day. The structural violence in Israel toward Palestinians, like here in the U.S., is more than just structural; it’s happening in a big masses. We’re hearing sometimes about massacres, like what happened in Gaza. But we don’t hear about the everyday situation of the occupation, the everyday beating, the everyday arrests. They administer the arrests of people without them knowing what they’re charged of, sometimes for months, sometimes for years, never going to a trial. That, of course, will not help them, because if they would go to a trial, it will be a military court with a military judge and a military lawyer. So, of course, they don’t have any chance, from the beginning with. Beating like this is happening every day in Israel, not only to Palestinians, also sometimes to Israeli activists, like the last summer showed us. The only difference was that this story came out to the news because he was an American citizen.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us.

ERAN EFRATI: Thank you so much for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ve been speaking with Eran Efrati, who is a former Israeli combat soldier, not anti-occupation activist and investigative researcher. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

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