Friday, February 15, 2008


Breaking the Silence: What it means to be an occupier

A group of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers have undertaken to "break the silence" surrounding the occupation of Palestine. One of the group's co-founders, Yehuda Shaul, gave a talk this past weekend that was covered by C-Span.

Shaul describes himself as a 25-year-old observant Orthodox immigrant to Israel from North America now living in Jerusalem. He attended high school in an Israeli settlement and was drafted into the IDF at 18. He became a commander and remains an IDF reservist. He spent 14 months in Hebron, the second largest Palestinian city in the West Bank, as an enforcer of martial law upon the Palestinians.

As he was coming to the end of his active duty, he recalls that "some questions popped up" and says of the time he spent as an occupier that—

... you become more and more numb and think more and more about yourself. Later on you become a commander. It's even worse because you know that if you will start to think it's not only you, it's 50 soldiers behind you will start to think—and that's the worst thing that can happen to a soldier.

It's clear that Shaul has thought. He says of that time, "I found myself losing justification for 90% of what I took part in." After deciding to reveal what he saw and did, he and other soldiers formed the group "Breaking the Silence."

The method

Shaul says,

We decided to try to tell the small stories of reality behind the titles [headlines] through the eyes of a soldier....

The story is not the extreme cases. The story is not the nasty stuff. The story is the banal reality that allows these extreme cases to become a routine. This very, very bad stuff that we have done becomes logic to us.

Their primary vehicle has been to videotape and audiotape soldiers willing to remember and to speak.1

Perhaps his most poignant justification of the effort is this: "As time goes by we break more and more levels of silence in us." Though Shaul is not especially articulate, his sincerity and authenticity are compelling.

The role of occupier

In the question-and-answer session following his talk, Shaul makes clear that the focus of "Breaking the Silence" is not the deeds of soldiers at war but during an occupation. And his most essential insight is not into the suffering of the Palestinians but into the suffering of the occupiers and the corruption of the society responsible. Some members of the audience did not fail to note the parallels with the occupation of Iraq.

Shaul's talk is well worth watching if you're concerned for the Israelis and the Palestinians or for the Americans and Brits vis-à-vis the Iraqis. But my own interest was more selfish, since more and more of America is itself under occupation—or being prepared for occupation.

Some of us recognize that Native Americans have suffered an occupation, that the ghettos of minorities are under occupation, that the mobile home parks of poor whites are under occupation. But as the middle class has become more and more a "them" to the elites and to their burgeoning armies patroling the streets and prisons, so have the territories in which the middle class live and work come to be included in the occupied zones. And the behaviors typical of occupiers are more and more in evidence.

The "we's" live in gated communities and work in office towers protected by guards. Their administrators work in courthouses or other public buildings—even in academia—surrounded by guards. And the guards themselves are tacitly granted leeway to treat the populace as they please. The rest of us are under guard.

Watch Yehuda Shaul to see what that means, regardless of which side of the fence you're on.

Breaking the Silence has put together an exhibit currently being shown in Philadelphia at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street, University City. It runs through February 24. The hours are M-Th 12-5, F 12-4, and Sun 10-5. It will subsequently be shown in Boston at Harvard University.

Related posts
Are they practicing for Iraq or for Toledo? (12/30/04)
Ohio may get its own Patriot Act (8/23/05)
More bad apples (2/14/08)



1To date the group has collected over five hundred interviews, some of which are online. In the videos the faces have been obscured and the voices disguised. The soldiers speak in Hebrew, but the videos are subtitled. [back]

Thursday, February 14, 2008


News of note — Feb 14 08



More bad apples

The widely publicized incident in Florida of a quadriplegic man being dumped from his wheelchair by a sheriff's deputy has resulted in the suspension without pay of the dumper and the placement of three other officers on administrative leave. That appears to account for all the officers present, which is a lot of bad apples in one room. And if the incident hadn't been caught on video, I believe we would be reading a story of how the victim Brian Sterner had "suffered from an accident while in police custody."

The crime that brought Mr. Sterner to the police station was a driving offense and his provocation of the police was to fail to stand up from his wheelchair when ordered. Meanwhile from Baltimore, Maryland, we've been treated to the video of a policeman physically abusing a teenager for the offense of skateboarding in a popular commercial area and addressing the policeman as "dude."

All citizens besides those "of consequence" are now subject to arbitrary brutality and abuse in almost any interaction with the police. The political authorities turn a blind eye unless forced to react to video evidence or the abuse of one of their own. The situation is deteriorating with no end in sight.

When and if the U.S. ends the occupation of Iraq, veterans who were unskilled before joining the military can expect to find jobs in our police departments and prisons or with private security firms. Here they will continue to oversee a subject population with the impunity they've come to expect while abroad.

Related posts
Epiphany of the Day (5/4/07)
Little Shop of Horrors: Get ready to puke (8/8/07)
Underreported Story of the Day (8/13/07)


Tuesday, February 12, 2008


A manual for the empire

You have to be of a certain age to remember when the Secretary of State was second only to the President in managing foreign affairs. That role has now been replaced by the Secretary of Defense. The Army promises to adapt to its new function and hopes to produce diplomat-soldier-occupiers sometime soon.

Of course no one is making the point so bluntly, but what are we to make of the Army's new operations manual that is to be unveiled later this month? Michael R. Gordon reports,

Military officials described the new document, the first new edition of the Army’s comprehensive doctrine since 2001, as a major development that draws on the hard-learned lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, where initial military successes gave way to long, grueling struggles to establish control.

What those military successes gave way to were occupations of the countries.

It is also an illustration of how far the Pentagon has moved beyond the Bush administration’s initial reluctance to use the military to support “nation-building” efforts when it came into office.

"Nation-building" is an odious, Orwellian euphemism for "invading and occupying." Our categories of thought are so imbued with this Newsspeak that I do not believe we have available a simple phrase that can accurately describe what we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan. A phrase that is still euphemistic but more accurate might be "creative destruction," if you understand the term "creative" in the same cynical sense as it is used in the phrase "creative capitalism." After all, all destruction is "creative" insofar as something new will eventually emerge.

The Pentagon has been told to expect more of the same—

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has cautioned the Army not to assume that the counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are anomalies.

You bet!

The manual describes the United States as facing an era of “persistent conflict” in which the American military will often operate among civilians in countries where local institutions are fragile and efforts to win over a wary population are vital.

"Persistent conflict"? I like that. It sounds better than John McCain's "100 years of war."

“The operational environment will remain a dirty, frightening, physically and emotionally draining one in which death and destruction result from environmental conditions creating humanitarian crisis as well as conflict itself,” the manual states. It will be an arena, the manual notes, in which success depends not only on force in defeating an enemy but also “how quickly a state of stability can be established and maintained.”

Iraq and Afghanistan were in a state of stability before the invasion. We purportedly went there to establish "democracy." It will be interesting to learn, once the full text of the Army's manual is revealed, how much talk remains of that.

The manual is expected to be a “blueprint to operate over the next 10 to 15 years.”


Monday, February 11, 2008


Crime of the Day: The Avocado Caper

A 44-year-old Fillmore man was arrested Friday morning on suspicion of grand theft after he allegedly stole avocados from a farm. —staff writers for the Ventura County Star reporting in "Officials suspect man of stealing avocados"

This is the sort of story that makes me want to drop my pen and rush down to the Pink Snapper.

Here's the remainder of the item—

Deputies said Jose Casillas fled the Baymore Farms area in Fillmore after they arrived to investigate the theft of avocados.

Casillas was caught running through a riverbed about 7:10 a.m., deputies said.

They did not say how many avocados were found on Casillas, only that it was at least $100 worth, enough to make the alleged theft a felony.

They said Casillas had the avocados in a backpack.

He was taken to Ventura County Jail where he was being held late Friday.

Deputies are also investigating a similar theft at the farm earlier this week.

The haul

I assume here that the authorities were playing the same trick they use to inflate the value of drugs seized in a drug raid.1 Since the police didn't reveal how many avocados Sr. Casillas stole, I thought I'd do an estimate, based on their alleged value. Inquiring minds want to know.

Today I checked at the local greengrocer and found I can buy a California avocado for $1.29. Since I'm a helluva long way from California, we may safely assume that an avocado in Ventura County will retail for a dollar or less. The Haas avocado, most typically grown there, weighs in at about a half pound. So for Sr. Casillas to have absconded with more than $100 worth of avocados, he would have had to run along the riverbed with a knapsack filled with more than 100 avocados weighing altogether at least 50 pounds. Can you imagine the size of that backpack?!

The victim

California avocado growers are having it tough. After successfully restricting the entry of Mexican avocados for more than a decade after NAFTA went into effect, the restrictions were dropped this year.

If the thief in the present case is an undocumented Mexican, this would be a crime that assumes the proportions of cattle-rustling.

The police

I wish we had more details of the capture. Was the SWAT team brought in? Was a helicopter used? Did the deputies actually run?

The perp

Again we have no details on either the alleged thief or his motives. Is there a black market for avocados in the area? Is he a fool for guacamole? Or was he just homesick?

The crime

For Sr. Casillas' sake I hope he doesn't have any felonies on his record. In California, famous for its "Three Strikes and You're Out" law, a third felony—no matter how inconsequential—can trigger a sentence of 25 years to life.

The justice of it

Whatever the event, we may be sure that the costs associated with this capture will greatly exceed $100. With the jail, the court and the attorney, they should run into the thousands—maybe tens of thousands. And I have to wonder if it wouldn't make more sense simply to give the man a ticket, which would be resolved by repayment to the victim of the value of the avocados plus payment of a hefty fine to the clerk of the court.

The media hold up cases such as these as examples of "law and order" while politicians and business executives steal us blind. I would feel better about this case if even one of them could be captured running along a riverbed.

Related posts
California: Where money's still worth something (5/1/07)



1If a pound of marijuana is confiscated, for instance, the police may report that they seized drugs worth more than $10,000. This figure can be arrived at if you multiply the number of grams in a pound (453.6) by $25, which itself is likely to be an exaggeration of the actual street value of the drug. This calculation assumes that the pound would have been divided into grams and sold individually—a highly improbable scenario but perhaps not so different from how some corporations calculate their profit expectations. [back]

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