The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News November 17, 2006

Off the Cuff: Dotan Greenvald

Dotan Greenvald grew up in Haifa, Israel, and enlisted in the Israeli Defense Forces in August of 2002. He served for two years as a sniper in Hebron, encountering daily abuses of power and extreme cruelty. A day after being discharged, he joined Breaking the Silence, an organization of discharged soldiers committed to making public what he described as  the harsh conditions and repercussions of war.

Greenvald, along with colleague Yehuda Shaul, spoke on Monday to a packed King lecture hall about the rhetoric of war, the myth of the “enlightened occupation” and their own harrowing experiences. After the lecture, Greenvald sat down with the Review for further reflection.

Mr. Greenvald?

What is this “Mister” business? Just call me Dotan.

Yehuda interjects: “It’s a bad habit of polite Western people.”

My apologies. Dotan, Israeli youth are obliged to join the army at age 18, but American youth are not. Does this cause or reflect any pervasive cultural differences?

The war in Iraq is exactly the same. It’s the same occupation as ours, with a different excuse. Yesterday I saw a commercial encouraging people here to [enlist].  For us, it’s natural for us to go to the army and defend our country. For you, it’s to stop communism, stop the Islamic Wave, or something. In Israel, growing up, you don’t know…The media tells IDF soldiers, “We don’t fight; we return fire.” Then when you enlist in Israel, you try to join one of the elite forces, because it’s about pride. You can call us a militant society, but someone on the inside can’t see that.

It’s not a question of dilemma. There’s no dilemma. You’re going to the army. And you don’t know about [the violence] because no one talks about the moral aspects of the occupation. Nobody’s looking in the mirror.

How do you think media can be more responsible in how it covers situations like Israel’s?

The media has its own interests. [Foreign media] wants blood. They want pictures of me smiling with a dead body. They want to see how we abuse [people]. A person who needs pornography to understand the message is a sick person. I’m not going to play this media game. I have my own way of speaking. It’s harder, but it’s better than what the media has to say.

The Israeli media, on the other hand, believes it is a clean occupation, and believes [casualties] are mistakes. What happened in Gaza is not a mistake. Whoever was giving orders knew that when you’re 500 feet away from your target, [innocent] people could get hurt. Everyone who works in the Israeli media has also served in the army, and everyone denies. The whole society lives in denial. We like to hear that what we’re doing is right. When we watch the BBC, we say they are liars. We want the occupation to be clean. So we choose to read the paper that says [things like] “clean hands” and “mistake.”

You said before that you feel that the U.S. is partially responsible for what is happening in Israel. Would you like to elaborate?

Of course! You know that song “Born in the USA?” Well, in the army we sang, “made in the USA!” From bottom to top. Uniforms, guns, ammunition, helmets, tanks: all USA.

What inspired you to join the group Breaking the Silence?

A big bubble finally burst. There are no excuses anymore. You can’t take back what you’ve done. So what can you do? You can say, it’s the shitty government, the shitty settlers, and blame it all [on others]. But you can also start a process of looking in the mirror.


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