Last night I saw a screening of the movie “Breaking the Silence,” which featured stories of former Israeli soldiers, as well as interviews and stories of Palestinians who suffered at the hands of Israeli soldiers.
Based on my own training with abuse, as well as personal experiences with abusive relationships (my own and those of friends – partner abuse, child abuse, labor exploitation), I saw essential parallels between abusive relationships between individuals and military occupation.
Let me be clear that what is going on in Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan is not ‘war;’ but rather military occupation. There are no Palestinian soldiers in Israel, no Iraqi soldiers in America, and no Afghan soldiers in America. The occupying armies maintain military control of the occupied countries’ civilian populations.
There are two essential characteristics to abusive relationships which are also present during military occupation: fear and shame.
In the movie ‘Breaking the Silence,’ a Palestinian father whose home in a refugee camp has just been destroyed expresses to the filmmaker: “What is the point of rebuilding our home when the Israelis will just destroy it again?” This is a perfectly rational fear, as the previous destruction of his home and everything he owns was completely arbitrary and random, and thus could be repeated at any time. Similarly, those being abuse also live in constant fear of recourse. This is often referred to as ‘walking on pins and needles’ because the abused will go about their day so cautiously as to not incite the violence of the abuser. The constant threat of violence by the abuser allows for absolute control by way of this fear.
One Israeli soldier in the film spoke of the soldiers’ training to consistently ‘have their presence felt’ from a very early point in their training. Whether the soldier is checking the ID card with an M16 rifle in his/her hands at one of the over 2000 checkpoints in the West Bank, or the soldier is maintaining a lookout or marching the streets of Hebron, Israeli soldiers are trained to let their presence – and control – be known to Palestinians, and to exert this control randomly and arbitrarily, so as to keep Palestinians on pins and needles, in constant fear. Such is an occupation.
If external fear of violence does not keep a victim silent, the victim also must contend with a second essential characteristic of an abusive relationship – shame – before speaking out and telling others of the abuse.
Shame can work in many different ways, in many different circumstances. A victim may be too ashamed to admit that he/she has been raped (and many Palestinians, Iraqis, and Afghans have), thus nobody will know about the rape, the victim will have to deal with their fear in isolation, and the rapist will go unpunished.
Shame can work in much the same way in situations of assault or torture (because what man wants to lose a fight?), or when parents are unable to find work to feed their children, or when there isn’t enough water to drink, or when you have no roof to put over your family’s heads because a missile hit your home.
As I have expressed, fear and shame are not mutually exclusive. Many people are ashamed of being afraid. As is the case of the Palestinian man, being in an abusive relationship can be absolutely debilitating to the abused. Of course he needs to put a roof over his children’s heads. But why should he invest thousands of dollars to build his home if it will just be demolished?
These are the conditions under which the subjects of military occupation live.
Before we condemn any Palestinians, Iraqis, or Afghans for not speaking up and not practicing democracy, we must look at the way in which America – or Israel – conducts our military occupations.
So write op-eds, write to your congressmen and Obama, educate yourself, boycott those who allow and maintain military occupation, and stand with love in solidarity with the people we are responsible for oppressing. We can make a change.