Friday, January 30, 2009

The Fine Art of Mapping

Today I meet a very nice young Jewish man named Michael. Like all Jewish Israeli citizens he served in the army from the age of 18 to 22. Non-Jewish citizens which make up over 20% of the population of Israel are not required to serve, with a few minor exceptions, but Jewish boys and girls are required to. Boys serve for three years and girls for two. It is such a traumatic experience for them that most leave Israel for some period of time after their service to put it behind them for a while and regroup mentally. Drug and alcohol abuse are real problems during both their service and after. On the flight over I sat next to another very nice young Jewish man who was just then returning to Israel after three years in San Francisco. He said, “I just needed to get away”. He met an Israeli girl there who was getting away too and they are getting married in a few months. They will return to live in Israel. MIchael had to leave for a while too. He came back to get married and is now happily married and living in his home town of Jerusalem.

Why is it so traumatic for these young people that they need to leave? Michael is one of an increasing number of young Israelis who are breaking the silence to help their families and friends understand but also to help them to heal. They have formed a group called Breaking The Silence ( and are publishing word for word interviews with young Israelis who have completed their service and need to talk about it. Michael told us that army service is a significant cultural element of Jewish Israeli society because everyone has been through it. Many people define themselves for the rest of their lives by their army experience. Males must continue to be in the reserves, on paper at least, and many serve in that capacity for a month at a time until they are 35.
Michael was deeply impacted by what he saw and he said he is ashamed of what he did during that time. He is afraid of the impact on his generation. He told us about many different structured (orders) and unstructured (random) abuses that he witnessed against Palestinians. It has become something of a sport in the army to invent new ways to make the lives of innocent Palestinians as difficult as possible. Verbal abuse is expected and it is common for solders to beat people up including children for no reason or any reason at all. Young Israeli women are particularly harsh so they can prove their toughness to their male platoon mates. He talked about many incidents of random violence against Palestinian by him and his fellow solders, “just to pass the time”. He said, “It becomes a game”. One thing he told us is that they are not required to account for anything other than live ammunition so they can use as many sound bombs, smoke bombs and “rubber bullets” as they want to. They use a lot because it is “fun”. Rubber bullets are not actually rubber. They are lead covered with rubber, and he told us there are many solders that sharpen the rubber ends to make them more lethal of modify them so they fragment. Many people have been killed by 'rubber bullets'
There are many abuses that are built into the systems of the occupation such as the checkpoints and limiting access to roads among hundreds of others. He highlighted one that I had not heard of. It is the practice of ‘mapping’. This is done throughout what Israelis call ‘the territories’; what the world calls the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Mapping is a process whereby a heavily armed platoon goes from house to house to document each of the residents and literally make a detailed drawing of the inside of the house. It takes about an hour per house. The platoon storms the house without any warning forcing the family out of their home. The home is completely searched and a detailed drawing made of the layout. When this is done solders are told to leave as much mess and damage as possible. They them move on to the next house and repeat the process. The plan is to map every house in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Literally every soldier has had this experience as it is a very common practice. One thing I did not tell you is that this is almost always done in the middle of the night for maximum mental impact on the household.
A few weeks ago the EAPPI team in Jayous a rural farming village in the West Bank experienced a different spin on this type of invasion. A helicopter appeared over the village in the middle of the night and a paratrooper team rapelled from the Helicopter and surrounded a house in the village. They broke into the house forced the family into the street and ‘mapped’ the house. When the EAPPI team asked what they were doing and why, they were told that it was just a training exercise. When asked how they happened to choose the house they choose for the “exercise”, they were told. “It was as good as any other!” They left as fast as they arrived in the helicopter leaving a devastated family in tears.

60 Minutes - Is Peace Out of Reach?