Former Israeli soldiers will launch a striking photography exhibition in the Gallery of Photography, Dublin (June 19th – June 29th), that reveals the reality of daily life for soldiers and Palestinian civilians living under occupation. In the lead up to the exhibition, Trócaire's Eoghan Rice tells of his experiences in the West Bank.
We had seen and heard a lot during our time in Hebron but one soldier’s words stood out.
On a side street in this racially segregated city in the West Bank we had watched as the soldier stopped a young boy – 12 years old, perhaps maybe 13 – and searched his schoolbag. It was a curious sight – a soldier in full combat attire armed with a machine gun checking to see whether a child with a schoolbag posed any threat.
The soldier had seen us watching him and when he had finished with the child he approached us. I had expected him to issue us with some sort of warning but his words took me completely by surprise.
“We’re just ordinary people doing a job,” he said, as he walked away to the next checkpoint or the next military post.
Caption: Israeli soldier searches a boy's school bag in Hebron. The boy is a member of one of the few remaining Palestinian families to live in the old centre of Hebron. Palestinians who do not live in the old city are not allowed enter. Photo: Alan Whelan
His words were telling on a number of levels. Firstly: “a job”. That’s what it is. The day-to-day reality of a soldier’s life in the West Bank is not like an action movie.
It’s stopping old men and demanding to see their ID. It’s telling the old woman that she can’t go down this street and that she’ll have to walk the long way. It’s reminding Palestinian families that this footpath is only for Israelis and that they have to walk on the other side of the road. It’s looking inside schoolbags of children who are just trying to go home.
It’s a routine of a thousand little jobs, each monotonous and pointless in equal measure.
The other thing the soldier’s words told me is that he knew what he was doing was wrong. He knew that the child posed no threat to him, and he knew that searching him served no purpose other than to subjugate and control. He knew this because why else would he try to justify it?
If that soldier felt guilt or unease about his job he would not be the only one. In 2004 a group of former Israeli soldiers decided to speak up about what they had done during their service. In the 10 years that have followed, more and more ex-soldiers have joined them.
Captions Left: A photo shows the contrast between a Hebron street in 1999 and today. The markets in the old city centre have been closed to all Palestinians. Right: A photo contrasts life in a busy Hebron market in 1999 and life on that street today. The old centre of Hebron has been closed to Palestinians, turning the city into a ghost town. Photos: Eoghan Rice.
Breaking The Silence photography exhibition:
For the next two weeks, ‘Breaking The Silence’, the organisation those ex-soldiers founded, will be in Ireland, giving public talks in Dublin, Cork and Belfast, as well as hosting a photography exhibition in the Gallery of Photography in Dublin’s Temple Bar (June 19th – June 29th).
The purpose of Breaking The Silence is to raise awareness of the reality of daily life living under military occupation. Their website www.breakingthesilence.org.il contains many video testimonies of former soldiers. Some speak about shootings, but mostly it’s the mundane routine of being a soldier in an occupied land that make it so fascinating. The checkpoints, the harassment of civilians, the endless orders to “make your presence felt”.
By speaking out against the continued occupation of the West Bank, Breaking The Silence highlight an important point: not everybody in Israel agrees with what is happening in the West Bank.
Not everybody thinks that Israel’s best interests are served by a 47-year-old military occupation of a civilian population.
Not everybody thinks that it is right for a city to be segregated on ethnic lines.
Not everybody thinks that peace can be found by searching the schoolbags of young children.
Not even the soldier whose job it is to do it.
Breaking The Silence tour:
Dublin Exhibition: Photography exhibition in the Gallery of Photography (Temple Bar) from June 19th to 29th. Opening hours 11am – 6pm daily and 1pm – 6pm on Sunday. Entry to the exhibition is free of charge and members of Breaking the Silence will be in attendance each day to offer guided tours.
Dublin Panel Discussion: There will be a panel discussion at the Gallery of Photography from 6-8pm on Wednesday June 25th on the subject ‘the role of photography in conflict situations’ with Yehuda Shaul (Breaking the Silence), Dearbhla Glynn (film maker), Anthony Haughey (photographer) and Eilish Dillion (lecturer). Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to attend.
Belfast Talk: Lunchtime talk in the Black Box in Belfast on Monday June 23rd, 1 – 2pm.
Cork Talk: Breaking the Silence talk in association with Kinsale Peace Project at 8pm on June 26th in the Carmelite Friary, Kinsale.