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Israeli ex-soldiers expose abuse of Palestinians

In a report this week, 39 soldiers give eyewitness accounts from their patrols in and around the West Bank city of Hebron.

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One of Efrati's worst experiences started when some Palestinian kids threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at his unit when he was out on patrol in south Hebron. About 40 minutes afterward, he says, other soldiers in his unit identified and shot dead one of the youths who threw a flaming bottle. He was 11 years old.

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"It was reported in the Israeli media later that one terrorist with a Molotov cocktail was killed," he recalls, sitting in a Tel Aviv cafe. "I didn't feel so good, but most of my friends didn't care, and we had so much to do. These things were happening all the time," he says.

The IDF spokesman said that in the event of an incident, "Officers from every unit that comes in direct contact with the civilian population in the West Bank take steps to ensure that similar incidents, whether commonplace or highly unusual, are never repeated."

But Efrati describes numerous actions he witnessed on a regular basis. One involves locking an entire family into one room, and then using the rest of the house – the roof included – as a base. He says that in one such mission, in the village of Tarkumiyeh near Hebron, soldiers stayed overnight. Additional jeeps with sirens came in the morning, trying to draw a crowd. When the stones started flying, soldiers were able to shoot from the roof.

Michael Manekin, one of the leaders of Breaking the Silence, which has collected testimonies from more than 500 soldiers, says that's a "fixed procedure." Efrati says the only explanation given for the operation is that there were "a lot of terrorists in the village." He says that on one occasion where he witnessed clear violation of policy – he saw an army comrade hitting someone who was already handcuffed and calm, he complained to his commander. The answer? "Let's leave the dirty laundry in the company."

Efrati also describes regularly being sent on late-night missions that involved raiding homes in the wee hours of the morning, turning over the house and searching for weapons. This often was carried out for the purposes of "mapping" – keeping track of who lives where – but he and most others who gave testimonies for the reports said that this technique was not carried out to target specific militant activity, but to instill fear. "It's done because we want the Palestinians to feel that we can be anywhere at anytime," he says. "The first time you enter some family's home, you feel, why am I doing it? But then after two, three times, you get used to it."

Efrati's stories are far from the worst in the report. The testimonies include details of beatings and detaining Palestinians for checks without reason and making them sit or squat in uncomfortable positions. According to one troubling testimony, a soldier who gets annoyed at the sight of a Palestinian farmer whipping his donkey decides to ride the man and give him a taste of the same. The soldiers describe a constant stream of settler violence and vandalism against Palestinians, some of which is captured on the extensive camera system through which the IDF monitors what happens in the city. But if the report is correct, the footage is rarely turned over to the police to prosecute settlers.

Some of the most damning testimonies have been given on condition of anonymity – some soldiers fear legal action, and others are afraid of the social pressures to keep quiet. Says Mr. Shaul: "I hope that by doing this, it will get people to break their silence earlier."

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