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Front Page |  In Depth |  Middle East |  Voices from the conflict 
Voices from the conflict
Introduction
Yonatan Yagodovsky
Israeli emergency worker
Mahmoud Shahin
Palestinian from Bethlehem
Mohammed Bakri
Israeli Arab doctor
Yehuda Aslan
Israeli restaurant owner
Abu al-Abed
Palestinian militant
Gila Svirsky
Israeli peace activist
Rifka Goldschmidt
Israeli settler in Gaza
Map indicating Jenin

Israeli army reservists
Ron is a 26-year-old law and business student living in Herzelia, just north of Tel Aviv. He was serving as a reservist officer on guard duty near Jerusalem when Israel launched its Operation Defensive Wall on 29 March 2002. He was with the first units to go into the Jenin refugee camp.

It was a time when people in Israel were experiencing a suicide attack almost every day. Then during Passover, there was a very big attack in one of the hotels inside Israel. This is when we were restationed and told we were going to go into the refugee camp in Jenin. We were told the objective was to search the camp for weapons and explosives and for wanted people that were terrorists.

It all started with the allegations of a massacre, and everybody knows that was a lie. You must understand that the allegations the Israeli Defense Force was out of control in response to this resistance is false as well. This was an act of war, but no immoral acts were committed.
Listen to audio Real 28k
It is important to understand that we did not anticipate such heavy resistance. We though that we were going to go into the camp knock on the doors and people would let us in to search. During the very first minutes we were in the camp, we started to get effective fire directed towards us and our people started to get hurt. In the first hour, my unit commander was shot dead. We understood that this was going to be a totally different thing, so we started to advance in a very secure way, in a more military fashion.

It all started with the allegation of a massacre, and everybody knows that that was a lie. You must understand that the allegations that the Israeli Defense Force was out of control in response to this resistance is false as well. This allegation, like the allegations that there was a massacre is false. This was an act of war, we were not going in there as a peace keeping force, but no immoral acts were committed.

As an officer I am responsible for my soldiers' behaviour, and I know that nothing like that happened. There were hardly any encounters between soldiers and civilians, because most of the camp was deserted in the first place. The only people that were left there during the fighting were people who wanted to defend the camp or very poor people who had nowhere to go.

The allegations of war crimes leave me frustrated, sad and upset. Everyone must understand how this whole operation was run. The IDF had decided to send in infantry. It had decided not to use its firepower to achieve its military goals. Ask any general in any army and they will tell you that this is not the way to do it. I believe the IDF did it this way because this is the way to distinguish between who should get hurt and who shouldn't.

An Israeli Defense Force tank on a hill overlooking Jenin They knowingly risked soldiers' lives. Being a soldier in that situation, knowing that this could be done differently, without risking your life, is very hard. We were very angry about this while we were there. It seemed very, very wrong. We were putting our lives and our families' lives on the line, because the lives of a family who lose their son are ruined as well. It was a high price for us. Although they were risking our lives when we thought they shouldn't, we kept doing what we had to do, doing our mission.

And then, when we came out, these terrible allegations after the army had done the best it could to not hurt civilians I can't begin to describe the terrible feeling that we had.

We have to look at this in two ways. In the short term if you look at what we were living before the operations, it was a reality of day after day suicide attacks. No one can really comprehend this from the outside. If you look now, during and after the operations, we have experienced nearly no suicide bombings. So in the short term, it has helped.

They knowingly risked soldiers' lives [in Jenin]. Being a soldier in that situation, knowing that this could be done differently, without risking your life, is very hard. We were very angry about this while we were there.
Listen to audio Real 28k
Having said that, none of us have any illusions that this operation is going to decrease the Palestinian's motivation to send suicide bombers. The whole operation was an act of war, and I'm sure it has not made any Palestinians like us more. I have no doubt in the long term that this will not end the cycle of violence, but this is part of the tragedy that we are all living. We cannot solve our problems in a military way, and the Palestinians must understand that they will not solve their problems with terror.

It is a very difficult transition to go to war, especially when you don't expect it. There are times when you know where you are headed and what to expect. All of us as reservists are civilians, we don't see ourselves as soldiers. We have a normal life, we are students or have families, we do normal everyday things. All of a sudden when you find yourself at war, it is something that you don't really comprehend. For myself, it will take me a lot of months to process what I have gone through.

Many people are now debating whether they want to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. It's a question first of obeying the law. If the government of Israel decides that the army shouldn't go into the territories that is one thing, but as long as that it is the policy to do so, then you must obey the law. The law is that you are a reservist and you must come and serve. It is not an optional thing. Refusing to serve is taking the law into your own hand.

I have served in the territories on my army service. I didn't encounter any immoral actions by soldiers. The spirit of the army I am serving in is a very moral one. I don't believe there is an army more sensitive to human rights than the Israeli army. For these reasons I see no reason for people to take the law in their own hands.

I know that the things I have seen, I will never get used to. I saw people, fellow soldiers, get seriously hurt. I saw my commander die. I really don't know what the right way to handle this is.
Listen to audio Real 28k
I can't take responsibility for every soldier in the army. In every society you have the law abiding mainstream and there are criminals. I can't say that in the whole Israeli army there are no soldiers doing anything wrong, but if they do that they are reported and punished and treated as they should be. In any war, there is no army in which these things do not happen. Try to think about the situation we are in. We are surrounded by enemies, and there is a long history of fighting between us and our neighbours, and still we are trying to keep our sanity and our high moral standards. This is part of the way we are educated.

I know that the things I have seen, I will never get used to. I saw people, fellow soldiers, get seriously hurt. I saw my commander die. I really don't know what the right way to handle this is. What I try to do is talk about it as much as I can. This is what I have told my soldiers to do. I don't have nightmares about it, but I feel it constantly, it is has a very strong presence in my life.



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