OUR HARSH LOGIC by Breaking the Silence

breaking-silence-banner595reviewed by Rebecca Hall

Every nation living in the midst of conflict creates its own master narrative, which serves to idealize its cause and excuse any collateral damage. In the case of Israel, that narrative is extremely pronounced—one last outpost of "civilization" in the midst of a chaotic Middle East, a beacon of Western civilization threatened by terrorism and barbarity.  This narrative is extremely popular in the West, and the United States in particular.  Unfortunately, it completely disregards the lived experiences of Palestinians residing in Occupied Territories, whose lives and resources are so often appropriated and exploited by both settlers and members of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).  Thankfully, the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence is living up to its name by educating Israel and the world about the realities of the Occupation.  Their book, Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 (Picador, 2013), is unflinchingly honest in its portrayal of the IDF, its operations, and its intentional disruption of the lives of Palestinian citizens.

The book is a compilation of close to 150 Israeli soldiers' stories about their experiences serving at different bases. Their honesty is as breathtaking as their experiences are varied. Some unapologetically recount instances of harassment against Palestinians, naming terrorist attacks and the murder of friends as excuse for their own violence.  Others, however, even those who participated in violence, recognize the injustice of the situation.  Some even recount instances of trying to protect Palestinians or their property, only to find that they had no support from their superiors.  Many mentioned the total disconnect between life as a citizen in Israel and their experiences as soldiers, participating in actions that they knew folks back home would never understand.

The book is divided into four sections meant to mirror the four aspects of Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories: prevention (of terrorism), separation (from Palestinians), "preserving the Palestinian "fabric of life," and "enforcing the law."  Each aspect reveals not only specific policies that disrupt Palestinian life but also actions taken by soldiers on the ground.  Soldiers recount how, in the name of prevention, they would enter Palestinian neighborhoods in the middle of the night, throwing stun grenades to announce their presence.  They also recall shooting Palestinian children and secretly occupying Palestinian homes, in effect holding the occupants hostage.  As Breaking the Silence comments, this reflects the "assumption that every Palestinian, man and woman, is suspect … consequently, deterring the Palestinian population as a whole, through intimidation, will reduce the possibility of opposition and thereby prevent terrorist activity."

Soldiers are not bound to respect any rights Palestinians may have.  Through checkpoints, they enforce the segregation between Israelis and Palestinians, sometimes even stealing the work permits that allow Palestinians to cross through.  Although they are tasked with preserving the "fabric of life" of ordinary Palestinians, in reality the soldiers work to ensure they are unable to carry out the functions of daily life, such as driving to work, visiting hospitals, or even tending their own land, without first seeking Israeli approval and support.  Soldiers are further asked to enforce a system of law in which Israeli settler children can beat and even kill Palestinian citizens with impunity, but in which Palestinian children can be shot for having "intended" to throw rocks.  Although some of the soldiers interviewed clearly still identify with the mission of the IDF, taken as a whole their testimonies reveal an intentional structure of human rights abuses in which both Israeli policy and individual soldiers contribute to dehumanize and degrade Palestinians.

Our Harsh Logic is a book every American Christian should read.  Through the testimonies of ordinary soldiers, it presents a compelling image of the dehumanization both of Palestinians and of Israeli soldiers themselves, trapped in systems that compel them to engage in senseless and reactionary violence.  The format of short testimonies and interviews adds to the sense of chaos and senselessness and may prove emotionally exhausting to the reader, who is repeatedly confronted with stories of abuse and violence.  The geography and IDF terminology may also prove confusing to the average US reader, but the relevancy and poignancy of the testimonies themselves remain.

Our Harsh Logic was originally compiled to enlighten Israelis about actions carried out in their name and for their "protection."  Would to God that it would also enlighten US Christians to the violent actions we endorse when we give our unwavering, unquestioning support to the state of Israel.

Rebecca Hall is an ESA Sider Scholar and recently graduated with an MDiv degree from Palmer Theological Seminary.

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